This cover for the Christmas 1919 issue of Blighty magazine looks to have been inspired by Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, which was already regarded as a classic – and had been published in two editions since the start of the First World War. Like so many books, Kingsley’s was first published as a serial in Macmillan’s Magazine (1862-63).
Among the illustrators for the various editions of the book were Noel Paton (first book edition of 1863), Linley Sambourne (1885), Warwick Goble (1909), W. Heath Robinson (1915) and Jessie Willcox Smith (1916), all of whom were established magazine illustrators. The artwork on the cover here was not credited.
Blighty magazine was an inspired idea and was produced solely for Britain’s fighting forces under the control of the Committee of Blighty from 40 Fleet Street. It was ‘a budget of humour from home’ sent free to the forces with a publishing strategy loosely based on the popular humorous titles of the day such as Punch and London Opinion. Many of their contributors drew or wrote for issues, but the magazine also encouraged contributions from men fighting at the front.
It was funded by advertising along with a special enlarged issue with a colour cover produced for sale at a shilling each Christmas and summer. The 1916 Christmas issue stated: ‘Every copy sold sends three to the trenches.’ This Xmas Home Number came out after the war had ended, of course, and makes no mention of free copies for the troops, because it had been turned into a commercial operation. Though still published from the same Fleet St address, it was now run by The Blighty Publishing and printing had been switched from Walbrook & Co in Whitefriars to George Berridge & Co in Upper Thames St.
A half page at the back of the magazine encourages people to buy a magazine that was ‘favourite reading’ for the armed services. The copy reads:
‘The paper is now on sale to the public. It is full of pictures and stories by the best humorous artists and writers, amongst whom are many men who sent their first contributions from the mud of Flanders, the sands of Mesopotamia, or the stormy waters of the North Sea … It was sent to you in the trenches. Now you can buy it at the shops and bookstalls. All Old Service Readers should be Civilian Readers now.’
Among the illustrators were Punch artist Ricardo Brook, Glossop, Dyke White, US ‘Gibson Girl’ artist C. Dana Gibson, Horace Gaffron (who had fought with the Gordon Highlanders and drew Good Housekeeping covers in the 1930s) and Arthur Ferrier (one of the most popular cartoonists of the 1940s and 50s).
Yet the strategy did not work, and the title closed within a year. However, Blighty was resurrected for the Second World War, again with official support as a free weekly for the troops. When hostilities ended, it was again turned into a men’s humorous weekly, this time successfully. It was rebranded as Parade in 1960 but collapsed as both advertising and readership were lost from all the weeklies to television and Sunday supplements, and became a top-shelf title.