Author Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare, the daughter of the founder of Penguin Books, marked the official opening of the UK’s first Penguin book vending machine at Exeter St Davids station on Friday (April 21).

At the ceremony, which saw the Morpurgos cut the ribbon and announcing the vending machine officially open, Great Western Railway (GWR) representatives, members of the literary community and journalists celebrated the opening with champagne, cake and the chance to get in some book signings from the celebrated children’s author himself.

Clare Morpurgo, whose father founded Penguin Books nearly 90 years ago, said: ‘I am delighted to have been invited to unveil the new Penguin vending machine at Exeter St David’s station. Nearly 90 years ago, at the same station, my father, Allen Lane, was inspired to start a publishing revolution. His aim was to make buying a book as easy as buying a packet of cigarettes. He would have been tickled pink by the Penguin vending machine. And he loved being tickled pink!’

Since the vending machine was installed in the station less than a month, over 200 books have been sold. Profits from the vending machine will support Exeter City of Literature, a charity that champions stories and storytellers locally and globally, and Bookbag, a beloved local independent bookstore. Organiser will regularly change the titles available for purchase.

Michael Morpurgo talks about the benefits of reading

Anna Cohn Orchard, executive director of Exeter UNESCO City of Literature, who approached the publishing company in 2021 with the idea for a book vending machine, said: ‘The immense popularity of this vending machine shows how much joy books and reading bring to peoples’ lives. Exeter has inspired readers and writers for centuries, and we’re honoured to have been the place of inspiration for the founding of Penguin Books and for future iterations of Penguin Book vending machines around the country.’

In 1934 Sir Allen Lane was waiting at Exeter St Davids train station and couldn’t find a good book to read; only magazines or reprints of Victorian novels.

Right there and then, he decided that high quality, engaging and reasonably priced books should be available to everyone, anywhere. The following year saw history made with the birth of the paperback as Penguin Books released its first ten titles.