Google is really going nutty

January 8, 2021
Oh no! I’ve been censored by Google AI!

Google has objected to one or more of the images on a page devoted to monthly women’s magazines. This page has been up for more than 10 years. Google keeps doing this and finding a new page every month to stop serving its adverts on. Each time I just take the Google ads code down and replace it with one of my direct advertisers or Amazon.

Its bots send messages saying: ‘Adult: Sexual content’ and ‘Some advertisers are choosing not to advertise on your page because of issues relating to some of your content.’

What could this be? A 110-pixel wide magazine cover with Cate Blanchett in a red dress? Does someone not like Kylie Minogue? Or Michael Caine? Even with all their clothes on?

Such arbitrary censorship reminds me of the story told by Nobel Prize winner Sir Harry Kroto in the mid-1990s. He said that his emails were being blocked because of their sexual content. What was that? His email address ended @sussex.ac.uk – it had ‘sex’ in the address!

If this is Google AI, then heaven help us!

A right Royal 12th day of Christmas

January 4, 2021
December 1907 cover of Royal – a milestone in the history of periodical production

This, the last of 12 covers in a magazine version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, is a milestone in the history of periodical production. It is the December 1907 cover of Royal. What marks it out as special is that it is the first cover I’ve seen that looks as if it was printed from a colour photograph.

There were lots of examples of magazines colouring black-and-white photographs, but these usually used just a second process colour with the black, such as on Quiver and The Million. Unfortunately, this copy of Royal is a rather grubby example and there is a fair bit of type show-through from the re

verse side, but this would have been a spectacular image on the bookstands, the like of which would not become common for another 30 years.

The printing of photographs in magazines had only started in 1885; and the application of colour to illustrations, at first from wooden blocks, dated back to 1855. True photographic colour separations and printing did not materialise until the mid-1930s.

So this is a very early and very skilled example of colour cover printing using a photograph. It gives a very punchy result, but was not achieved easily. It was probably printed using two-colour process engraving (red and blue) with additional solids for red, blue and yellow. Some ink squash at edges of the red working suggests this is relief-printed. The design style with the white background is familiar to us today from Dorling Kindersley book covers of the 1980s.

The ‘string’ by which the teddy is holding up the Japanese doll is printed tone using the warm red used for the post box and sock with some yellow.

Detail from the cover showing the letterpress dots on the box of crayons and part of the blue R in Royal

The Royal was published by C. Arthur Pearson, whose offices were in Henrietta Street in London’s Covent Garden. It was printed by Horace Cox, at Bream’s Buildings, which is a street between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane, just north of Fleet Street in London. 

For more Christmas covers, take a look at the selection from 2019.

A be-baubled Marsha Hunt

January 4, 2021
Hair singer Marsh Hunt on the 1968 Christmas cover of Queen magazine

The Queen dated back to the pioneering days of Mr and Mrs Beaton as a society weekly, but was reinvented for the Swinging Sixties by Jocelyn Stevens, who bought the magazine for himself on inheriting a fortune at his 25th birthday. He later turned into a toothy Fleet Street management bully (hence his Private Eye nickname, Piranha Teeth).

The American model and singer Marsha Hunt is on this 1968 cover, complete with Christmas-tree-style decorations. Her breakthrough was in the West End production of the seminal rock musical Hair, in September that year. She brought the afro into fashion – just like it is now – with Justin De Villeneuve’s iconic silhouette photograph of Hunt used for the show’s publicity. That led to a nude picture taken by Patrick Lichfield for US Vogue and the be-baubled Queen cover. Hunt was the muse for Mick Jagger’s song ‘Brown Sugar’ and mother of his first child.

This is the penultimate of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

The millennium at Christmas

January 2, 2021
Private Eye’s millennium bug cartoon cover

‘Oh No! It’s the Millennium Bug!’ is the plaintiff cry from Father Christmas as his sledge plunges earthwards towards London’s Millennium Dome. That was cartoonist Nick Newman’s take for Private Eye on the software peril that the computer industry feared could bring the world to a halt at the start of 2000.

It may seem ridiculous now, but the worry was that there was a lot of software around that had not been written ever expecting to reach the end of the century, and so it was expecting all dates to begin with the numerals 19. Millions were spent searching for the bug, but in the end the catastrophe never came to pass.

Notice that the issue covers the two week-period over Christmas and New Year – a common strategy for weeklies, including Radio Times, the Economist and the Spectator.

Newman knew Private Eye editor Ian Hislop at school and university, and has supplied cartoons to the satirical fortnightly since 1981. He is also a pocket cartoonist for The Sunday Times. ‘Oh No! It’s the Millennium Bug!’ is for sale at the Chris Beetles Gallery.

This is the tenth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

9th day: romance at Christmas

January 2, 2021

This 1945 issue of Woman promised Christmas Specials! But this was just six months after the defeat of Hitler, so it was a thin issue – paper rationing was still in place until 1952. Among the special features were a romantic fortune-telling game and the ‘loveliest jumper in colour contrast’. Top of the bill though – as was typical in women’s weeklies for a century – was fiction, in this case by Mary Howard and Dorothy Black, who between them wrote more than 150 romantic novels spanning most of the twentieth century. Alongside writers such as Ida Cook (Mary Burchell), they were stalwarts of the Mills & Boon style of fiction.

Howard, born Mary Edgar in 1907, started writing romantic novels in 1930 and was a past chairwoman of Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

Black, writing under what was her maiden name, worked as a journalist before becoming a novelist in 1916. She was a vice-president of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The association gave its annual award to Howard three times between 1960, its founding year, and 1980.

This is the ninth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

8th day: The Strand at Christmas

January 1, 2021
A coloured cover for the 1903 Christmas double issue of The Strand

Most British magazines were slow to introduce colour covers, but many made an exception at Christmas. The Strand followed the trend – set by the Illustrated London News in 1855 – with a 1903 double issue and a coloured version of George Charles Haité’s iconic rendering looking eastwards along the famous street from the bottom of Southampton Street. (The first version was from the bottom of Burleigh Street, but this was updated by just changing the street sign when the George Newnes office moved a couple of streets farther west.)

The ‘grand Christmas double number’ also doubled the price to a shilling (12 pennies).

A&F Pears, the soap maker, tended to take the back covers for these issues. For the Christmas 1904 issue of the Strand, it used the famous ‘Bubbles’ painting, which had first been published as an advert almost 20 years before.

‘Bubbles’ on the back cover of The Strand in 1904

This is the eighth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

Some comedy for Christmas

December 31, 2020
Pictorial Comedy for a new century

Pictorial Comedy was a monthly magazine of ‘stories, humorous pictures, varied reading’. Each issue typically ran to 32 pages plus the covers. At a shilling a copy, it was expensive. The Strand, for example, was sixpence – half the price – as was the society weekly the Queen.

Pictorial Comedy aimed to depict ‘the humorous phases of life’ through the eyes of eminent artists. Prominent among its roster was Charles Dana Gibson, an American artist renowned for portraying beautiful women. Its pages were slightly larger than A4, and many images were printed full-page, or across a spread, so many will have been mounted and framed.

The printer and publisher was James Henderson at Red Lion House in Red Lion Court, just off London’s Fleet Street.

The striped effect visible on the cover is caused by the impression of the letterpress type on the reverse of the page coming through.

This is the seventh of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

Our Bubble for Christmas

December 30, 2020
Our Bubble, a children’s magazine edited by Dr Barnardo

The title of this children’s weekly – Our Bubble – has a certain resonance these days. Back in 1894, though, soap bubbles were reminiscent of childhood, as exemplified by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Millais’s ‘A Child’s World’. Pears had added a bar of soap to that 1886 painting to turn it into one of the world’s most recognisable advertising images, ‘Bubbles’.

Our Bubble was edited by Dr Barnardo and was one of several publications he published between 1874 and 1900 to raise funds for his children’s homes and other charitable activities. These included the Children’s Treasury, Our Darlings, and then Our Bubble: Coloured Pictures for Boys and Girls.

Four weekly issues, costing a penny each, were collated with a supplement each month and sold for sixpence. A chromolithograph was added to the Christmas part. The monthly parts were then gathered as an annual volume entitled Our Bubbles.

Thomas Barnardo opened his first home in 1870 and by the time he died in 1905 had helped almost 100,000 children.

In the late Victorian era, children’s magazine’s were far more likely to use colour than their adult counterparts. It was seen as a big factor in appealing to youngsters. Even the biggest-selling mainstream titles such as the Illustrated London News reserved colour for Christmas and other special occasions. This stayed the case in Britain pretty much until the 1930s, when a combination of colour covers and some pages inside using photogravure printing became common.

This is the sixth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Nova’s edge on the 5th day of Christmas

December 30, 2020
Nova magazine from 1966

Nova set out to break the mould of monthly women’s magazines and many of its covers were built on hard-hitting ideas with words and images to match. Even at Christmas, the lines on this 1966 cover – ‘Still no room at the inn?’ – remind the reader that all is not right with the world. Edgy cover lines on other issues included: ‘They consent in private’; ‘Fifty years after the vote, only the chains have changed’; ‘Why can’t they stay at home?’; and ‘We know she fell – but did TV give her a push’. That fourth cover line was above a Peter Blake painting of the 11-year-old Mary Bell, who had killed two babies; I leave you to figure out the topics behind the other three.

This is the fifth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Ideas for the 4th day of Christmas

December 29, 2020

Ideas magazine in 1923

A blue paisley pattern jacket and yellow trousers provide a colourful outfit for this skater as she inscribes the magazine’s name on the ice. The artist isn’t credited but Ideas, a general weekly magazine, was printed and published by E Hulton & Co in Withy Grove, Manchester. Sir Edward Hulton had built up the company, which was based on newspapers and magazines founded by his father, also Edward Hulton. These included the Daily Sketch. However, he had sold the company earlier in the year.

His son, the third Edward Hulton, bought Farmer’s Weekly in 1937 and used it as the foundation for Hulton Press, buying up Stefan Lorant’s Lilliput and launching Picture Post. After the Second World War, Hulton’s Eagle revolutionised the comics sector. With the demise of Picture Post in 1957 and contraction in the magazine industry, Hulton sold off his titles and was himself knighted.