A Madonna for the 1920s

November 25, 2020
Lady Diana Manners as Britannia on the cover of New Illustrated in May, 1919

Diana Manners was a socialite and a member of ‘The Coterie’ set in London before the First World War. A popular activity of the leisured rich at this time was fancy dress parties, which may explain the photograph above on a 1919 cover of New Illustrated above (May 24). This was the year of her marriage, at the age of 27, to Alfred Duff Cooper (later the first Viscount Norwich), and she became Viscountess Norwich, Lady Diana Cooper.

Lady Diana Cooper at a screen test on this 1919 Home Chat cover

She went into acting, as this 1921 cover of Home Chat shows. The caption describes her as a ‘film debutante’ who was taking part in a ‘film test’.

Manners was regarded as a beauty – at least when seen from her right side according to these pictures – which led to her being photographed in 1916 by Emil Otto Hoppé, one of the most important portrait photographers of his day. He then included her as one of 32 subjects* representing beautiful women from around the world in the Book of Fair Women published in 1922.

Lady Diana Duff Cooper in EO Hoppé’s Book of Fair Women

A year later, Cooper took on her most famous role was as the Madonna in Karl Vollmoeller’s play The Miracle, directed by Max Reinhardt. The IMDB credits her, as Diana Manners, with four films, including The Virgin Queen (1923) and The Glorious Adventure (1922).

The National Portrait Gallery holds 37 portraits of Cooper, including images by Bertram Park and Cecil Beaton, the latest taken in 1977.

As for New Illustrated, this was published by Amalgamated Press and had been called War Illustrated. It changed its name at the end of WWI, and was an early adopter of photo gravure printing, but it was a short-lived strategy.

Home Chat lasted far longer. Alfred C. Harmsworth launched the weekly women’s magazine in 1895. Harmsworth incorporated his magazines as Amalgamated Press, which ran Home Chat until 1959.

*The 32 women were listed as:

  1. America — Lady Lavery
  2. America — Mrs Lydig Hoyt
  3. America — Viscountess Maidstone
  4. America — Miss Malvina Longfellow
  5. America — Miss Marion Davies
  6. Red Indian — Princess White Deer
  7. England—“Hebe”
  8. England — Lady Diana Duff-Cooper
  9. England — Miss Gladys Cooper
  10. England — Miss Kathlene Martyn
  11. Scotland — Viscountess Masserene And Ferrard
  12. Ireland — Miss Grace D’arcy
  13. France — Mlle Raymonde Thuillier
  14. Algiers — Madame Revalles
  15. Spain — Señora Tortola Valencia
  16. Gipsy — Miss Fedora Roselli
  17. Italy — Signora Comanetti
  18. Portugal — Señora Maria Di Castellani
  19. Russia — Mlle Fedorova
  20. Poland — Madame Mika Mikun
  21. Norway — Miss Olga Morrison
  22. Sweden — Miss Anna Q Nillson
  23. Armenia — Armen Ter Ohanian
  24. Chile — Countess Lisburne
  25. Ecuador — Mrs Haddon Chambers
  26. India — Princess Monchsa
  27. Japan — Mrs Tokugawa
  28. China — Mrs Wellington Koo
  29. Cuba
  30. Haiti
  31. Hawai
  32. Dutch West Indies

Magazines in the movies: The Italian Job

November 15, 2020
The tale of a daring robbery in Turin – ‘The Great Drains Robbery’ – that graced the front page of this copy of Tit-Bits involved the thieves gaining access through the city’s drains. It sounds like the plot of the 1969 film The Italian Job, but the real robbery took place 13 years earlier. And it’s a frogman who travels through the drains, rather than souped-up Minis. Troy Kennedy Martin would have been 24 when that copy of Tit-Bits came out. I wonder if he read it and tucked it in a drawer? His first credit listed at IMDB is the 1958 TV movie Incident at Echo Six. The Italian Job came out in 1969, with the Minis symbolising the go-getting Britain of the Swinging Sixties and Michael Caine in the lead role. It’s a caper movie – which coins the classic quote, ‘You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!’ – and centres on an ingenious plan to steal gold being transported across Turin and then escape in three Mini Coopers by creating a massive traffic jam. As part of the escape, the Minis drive through the city’s underground storm drains to avoid the gridlock. Kennedy Martin would later write for TV series such as Colditz, Z Cars, The Sweeney Reilly: Ace of Spies. He crafted the superb Edge of Darkness in 1985 (not to be confused with the weak US remake of 2010). It’s difficult to imagine Benny Hill and Noël Coward in the same film but they are both in The Italian Job. As for walk-on parts by newspapers and magazines, the criminal underworld supremo played by Coward is seen reading newspapers – the Daily Express and the London Evening News – in his luxury prison cell, the walls of which are covered in photographs of the Queen. And there’s a surprising bit part for Private Eye – a poster for the satirical fortnightly is on the wall of the flat Caine’s character goes to after he is released.

From Mr Codd to codswallop

November 12, 2020


Look up codswallop in a dictionary and you’ll find it means nonsense, but there’s a nice bit of history to the word – and a prized Victorian invention.

Soda water and fizzy drinks were popular with the Victorians, but there was no reliable way of trapping that fizz once a bottle was opened. Until, that is, Hiram Codd came up with a bottle fitted with a ‘globe stopper’ in the 1870s. The glass stopper in the neck was pushed into the bottle when it was first opened. After that, the gas from the soda or lemonade in the bottle kept the stopper pushed against a rubber washer in the neck, creating a seal. When the bottle was turned upside down, the stopper was dislodged, allowing the drink to be poured.

By 1878, 450 soda water makers were using the invention in Great Britain and Ireland, according to Codd’s advertising in the first issue of The Caterer and Refreshment Contractors Gazette (April 6).

It’s unclear how the phrase ‘a load of codswallop’ came about, but ‘wallop’ is a word for beer, and the wallop in a Codd’s bottle – fizzy soda – would not have been much good as beer.

caterer-magazine-title-1878John Plummer was credited on the cover as editor of of The Caterer. Notice the voluminous description of the journal: ‘A monthly journal issued in the interests of the proprietors and managers of hotels, restaurants, dining rooms, cafes, refreshment bars, coffee houses, and confectionary establishments.’ Quite a mouthful, but it certainly defines the target readership.

The Idler: a bookshop and a magazine

November 10, 2020
The Idler bookshop in Hadleigh High Street

The Idler bookshop in Hadleigh, a favourite of mine for its stock specialising in art and humour, has had to shut again with lockdown, having just celebrated 40 years in the business. The shop is owned by Jane and Brian Haylock, who regularly do special displays to mark events.

The display to mark their four decades explained that they sought the permission of The Idler magazine to use the name when they opened in a former greengrocer’s. The Idler was founded in 1892 and Jerome K Jerome – author of Three Men in a Boat – was an early editor.

Notice the embroidered Idler figure based on artwork from the Victorian magazine

Jane and Brian were both leaders in the battle to prevent a Tesco superstore coming to the town – and Hadleigh became one of the few places to see off the mega grocer after three attempts a decade ago.

Lilliput illustrator Victoria Davidson was an Idler customer

Brian is a fount of knowledge about cartoonists in particular – and no bad practitioner himself, having illustrated an edition of The Ballad of Dan McGrew. Jane has been a stalwart of local politics and a great driver of projects to liven up the high street and encourage trade.

The shop used to sell art materials as well, and Brian counted Victoria Davidson – the famed Lilliput illustrator – among his customers. I like the way that Victoria’s moustachioed gent on the Lilliput cover above resembles the Idler character. She established her reputation with detailed silhouette images for Lilliput‘s Gulliver diary. The diary was written by Macdonald Hastings, who took Gulliver into the criminal underworld, at the behest of deputy editor Tom Wilkinson, to contact a different type of crook each month.

Cops and robbers drawn by Victoria for Lilliput’s Gulliver diary

A comic’s view of Remembrance Day

November 6, 2020

It’s difficult to imagine now the effect that the First World War had on people’s lives, but this issue of The Modern Boy, a weekly comic, perhaps gives a clue. Can you imagine a comic today running a cover feature like this? The issue came out in 1928, dated November 10. It shows a coloured photograph of the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London and the two minutes’ silence.

The background to the left of the memorial has been replaced with an illustration of the Western front. The photograph probably dates back to 11 November 1920, when a gun carriage bearing the Unknown Warrior was brought to the Cenotaph for an unveiling ceremony by King George V. The Unknown Warrior was later interred in Westminster Abbey.

Artist’s portrayal of a Western Front battlefield beside the Cenotaph

Many relatives and friends I know can recount personal tragic stories of the Great War even now, such as the pilot in Orford churchyard shot down the day before peace was declared, or the 13 German prisoners who died on Orford Ness in the influenza pandemic of 1918-19.

And the deaths carried on well after the end of hostilities, such as the Iolaire disaster of New Year’s Day 1919 when 280 men drowned in a shipwreck as they returned from war service to Stornoway. Or the uncle of a friend of mine who survived for decades after the war with a shrapnel hole in his groin that he cleaned out every day, only to die from an infection after an operation that was supposed to ensure he no longer had to do that tedious task.

And then there were the wives and families of the 14 million soldiers who died on all fronts, 900,000 of them from the British empire. About 6m British men were mobilised and 700,000 killed.

The historian Dan Snow reckons it was not the bloodiest conflict until then, however, citing the 14-year Taiping rebellion in China, with a toll of 20m–30m; he reckons 17m soldiers and civilians were killed during WW1. In terms of the proportion of the population killed, it was not even the bloodiest in British history; that terrible record he gives to the Civil War of the 1600s. Some 4% of the population of England and Wales died – twice the level of WW1.

As for The Modern Boy, it ran from 1928 until 1939, when it was merged into Boy’s Cinema Weekly – an early publishing casualty of the Second World War. Many magazines were shut down then as the publishing and printing workforce was conscripted, and there were more losses once paper rationing was enforced. Roy Harris on his website about Modern Boy describes the comic’s popularity as the publisher of some of the earliest Biggles stories by WE Johns, who was also a magazine editor and illustrator.

The Queen and Lady Penelope

November 5, 2020
The Queen magazine from 1961 – the inspiration for Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds?

This week’s post about Lady Penelope comic led to a comment from a friend that prompted me to dig out this superb Queen cover and air a pet theory.

Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds

The first time I saw this cover of The Queen, I thought: that’s Lady Penelope! The pink dress, the blonde hair, the cigarette holder, it all added up. However, this issue appeared on February 1, 1961 – and the first episode of Thunderbirds would not be broadcast for another four years.  Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, to give the character’s full name, featured in the third episode, ‘The perils of Penelope’.

Look closely at the magazine cover and the details reinforced my thinking – she’s holding a revolver and a torch, and sitting on a safe that has been ransacked. In Thunderbirds, Lady Penelope is a spy for International Rescue, and her cockney chauffeur, Aloysius Parker, is a skilled safecracker and ex-convict. The Lady Penelope comic carried a regular strip about him, ‘The perils of Parker’.

So I reckon Sylvia Anderson, who came up with the Lady Penelope character, designed all her fashionable clothes and did her voice, may well have been influenced by this cover.

Unfortunately, Anderson died four years ago and I can see no reference to The Queen in any of her interviews. In fact, the story goes that the puppet was carved in Sylvia’s image. Still, Anderson was a fashion buff and The Queen is precisely the sort of magazine she – and Lady Penelope – would have read.

Lady Penelope with her 21st century gun

What’s a magazine worth?: Lady Penelope

November 4, 2020
The first issue of the Lady Penelope comic in 1966

Lady Penelope took me by surprise a decade ago when a copy of the Thunderbirds offshoot comic sold on eBay for £155 – and there were 16 bidders, suggesting a lot of demand. It was the first issue, but even so, that’s quite a feat.

I haven’t seen any copies reach near that recently and it may be that something was happening at the time – publicity on TV or Thunderbirds puppets auctions tend to boost interest. I watched Jarvis Cocker last week telling Jools Holland how he was inspired to become a musician by The Monkees TV series. That was one of the cartoon strips in Lady Penelope, so perhaps Cocker read his sister’s copy – and maybe his fans will be out looking for them!

Some 40 copies have changed hands on eBay since August, at prices ranging from £5 plus postage to £75. A copy of the 1966 first issue (dated January 22) sold for £55. The best price was for a copy of the third issue – but that came with a Lady Penelope gold-plated spy pendant, which was sold through the comic for four shillings. At 12 pennies to a shilling in the pre-decimal days of Britain’s pounds, shilling and pence, that’s about nine times the cost of the 7d comic. Nineteen of the auctions fetched between £20 and £50 including postage.

As well as featuring Lady P’s exciting adventures, the comic offered strips based on The Man from UNCLE, Bewitched, The Girl from UNCLE, Marina (one of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Stingray character), and the Perils of Parker (her Cockney chauffeur and safecracker sidekick). Another US TV series, The Beverly Hillbillies, also made an appearance – no doubt the right for these will have been cheap to buy in.

When Cannon & Ball became a comic strip

October 30, 2020

Bobby Ball and Tommy Cannon star in Look-In (1981)

The BBC news all day today was about the death of comedian Bobby Ball from Covid-19. But his mirth lives on, as in this issue of Look In – the ‘junior TV Times‘ magazine – from 24 October 1981.

The pairing of Bobby Ball and Tommy Cannon – both former welders – was as popular with kids as adults. The Cannon and Ball Show ran on ITV for nine years, from 1979. And their website shows Cannon & Ball were still doing shows together until recently.

‘Rock On, Tommy!’ – Bobby Ball’s catch phrase – was the name of the double-page comic strip inside. This first outing has Bobby turning into a punk in a ‘pop star plan’. As always, it all goes wrong, leaving Tommy Cannon to make a really bad joke in the final frame.

Look-In also ran a competition to win a talking typewriter

The copyright is for Cannon & Ball and there’s an artist’s signature, but it’s hard to decipher.

All the cartoons strips and articles were related to ITV programmes, including Buck Rogers, The Story of the Beatles drawn by Arthur Ranson (who has a website with a page on Look-In), Chips, and Worzel Gummidge drawn by Mike Noble.

A double-page spread of TV listings for children’s programmes on between 4pm and 7pm only covered the commercial stations. This was because the market for TV listings was not deregulated until 1990. Until then, the BBC published its listings in the Radio Times and ITV provided them only to TV Times and Look-In. Weekly magazines such as Time Out and newspapers had long lobbied to break the broadcasters’ monopoly and be able to publish listings a week ahead.

‘Rock On, Tommy!’, Bobby Ball’s catch phrase, is the name of the comic strip

How can I track down a John Bull Bullets winner?

October 14, 2020

Jeanne Garbett (nee Giblett) wants to track down a copy of the issue of John Bull magazine in which her father won the Bullets prize competition. She writes:

My father won in 1939, which paid for our first holiday ever – and last before the war started. I would love to find the John Bull magazine in which he won. How would I go about it?

This will be tricky because the magazine did not always print the winners’ names, though readers could send in for a list of the winners. I don’t know if the names were published in 1939.

First, I’d suggest narrowing the dates down as much as possible. War was declared on September 1, so, assuming the holiday was in July, that’s half a year’s worth of issues to go through – say 30 copies.

There aren’t many places to find these issues, but potential sources include:

  • a library that stocks the title. Reference libraries such as the British Library will have them. Also, some universities; maybe big city libraries. You may have to register to gain access, but they are usually very happy to help over the phone or by email.
  • eBay. Sellers might be prepared to check issues for you (it also gives them an idea for marketing their copies). However, an eBay search on John Bull shows there’s just one issue on offer at present: Oct 7. Another October issue sold in August. At that rate, it’s likely to be a long wait.
  • An even longer eBay shot: certificates to winners occasionally pop up on eBay.

Of course, getting access to the issues is only any good if they printed the winner names. The 1935 Dictionary of Bullets did not print the winners’ names, just the bullets and answers, so I assume other editions did not either. However, there is another possibility. In the 1930s, Bullets Bulletins leaflets were published. I don’t know if these went out with the magazines or were sent to regular Bulleteers. These ran stories about at least some of the winners. I’ve seen one dated 1 January 1933 and numbered 210, so it must have run for several years. Libraries may have these.

My final suggestion, Jeanne, is asking around, just like you are doing. Ian Cowmeadow and his Bill the Bullet blog is another place to start.

See also: John Bull magazine history

'Dictionary of Bullets' published by John Bull to mark the 1000th competition in 1935

1935 Dictionary of Bullets: no winners’s names

>>A History of British Magazine Design by Anthony Quinn (May 2016)

John Lennon and Yoko – that Rolling Stone cover

October 9, 2020
Rolling Stone: Annie Liebovitz’s
naked John Lennon with Yoko Ono

The BBC is doing an evening of programmes to mark what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday. BBC 4 has shown A Hard Day’s Night from 1964, a Yoko Ono Top of the Pops tribute to John Lennon and a documentary about Lennon’s time in New York. Wilfrid Brambell – renowned from his rag-and-bone dad role in BBC TV’s Steptoe and Son – makes a great fist of playing Paul McCartney’s mischievous granddad in Richard Lester’s film.

I’m too young to have seen the Beatles (though one of my aunts met her future husband at a Beatles gig in Liverpool’s Cavern Club). But I do have a scan of what is regarded as Rolling Stone magazine’s most famous cover.

Annie Leibovitz took the photograph hours before Lennon was shot, though this cover was not published until 22 January 1981, six weeks after the murder. It certainly made Leibovitz’s name – and, I’ll bet, is Rolling Stone‘s best-selling issue. As US editor Dick Stolley said, when it comes to selling magazines, ‘Nothing is better than the celebrity dead’, a line he added to his mantra for choosing cover images after Lennon’s death.

>>>British music magazines