Colin Firth and that ‘Darcy shirt’

November 18, 2022

‘Still would – Mr Darcy remains our ideal man,’ this Stylist cover told its readers in 2013. I was filing this issue of the ‘freemium’ weekly when I heard a radio discussion of Colin Firth’s Darcy shirt from Pride and Prejudice.

Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy on the Stylist free weekly cover of 16 January 2013

So, for fans of Mr Darcy and Colin Firth in the 1995 costume drama based on Jane Austen’s book, here’s that cover – and the Radio Times issue for the start of the series as an extra treat.

Firth and US co-star Jennifer Ehle on the September 23 Radio Times cover for Pride and Prejudice

And the white linen shirt Firth wore is regarded as iconic within the BBC. As part of the corporation’s centenary celebrations, historian Robert Seatter has been looking at three objects each day from the BBC’s archive stores. One 15-minute episode of Property of the BBC this week considered three iconic items of clothing used for programmes.

And pride of place among them was that shirt. Seatter brought in fashion designer and Great British Sewing Bee judge, Esme Young for the discussion. The other items were a flak jacket worn by John Simpson in Iraq in April 2003; and the cap worn by Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders. The jacket saved Simpson when his vehicle was hit by ‘friendly fire’ from a US jet. He counted counted at least 15 dead after the bombing attack.

>>Film and TV magazines at

Marking the end of the Great War in 1933

November 14, 2022

This November 1933 issue of Pictorial Weekly marked the armistice that ended the First World War.

An Armistice special issue in 1933 for Pictorial Weekly.

>>A Remembrance Day cover for Boy’s Own in 1928

>>1931 Red Poppy fundraising magazine in Scotland

>>Two Great War Christmas magazine covers, from 1914 and 1918

>>Clare Hollingworth: grande dame of war reporters

>>Illustration in the Great War

>>Caricatures in the Great War

>>Blighty magazine for the troops in the Great War

>>Scare fiction and War of the Worlds

Back to the glitzy disco

November 12, 2022

We won’t be clubbing this Christmas, but heading back to the discotheque, according to last weekend’s Sunday Times Style supplement.

Big hair and hoodies with sequins this Christmas, says Sunday Times Style

The party gear shoot is so glam rock. Just look at all this outrageous stuff. The make-up, the big hair, the glitz, the glitter; all that’s missing is the platform shoes. Even the hoodies have sequins. Just think bands like The Sweet (It’s, It’s a Ballroom Blitz) and Slade – will Merry Christmas Everybody be back at number one?

The opening party season spread

All that glitter sparked a revolt in the form of Punk from 1976. That in turn gave us the 1980s, the decade that fashion/taste/style forgot. Shoulder pads, fluorescent towelling socks and heavy metal T-shirts are among the features of the time that have been condemned in polls. And yet ….

Heavy metal T-shirts have never gone away, and, incredibly, shoulder pads seem to be making a comeback. As for fluorescent towelling socks – well, you can’t have everything!

‘Your disco needs you’ is the main cover line (6 November 2022)

>>Magazine launches from the early 1970s and into the 1980s

Withnail’s Desert Island choices

November 11, 2022

An emotional Richard E Grant on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs this morning. He welled up after playing a cover of Sting’s Fields of Bali by Eva Cassidy. I just caught the end, so I’ll have to catch the whole thing on Sunday morning.

The Face Brit pack spread from January 1987: Paul McGann, Colin Firth, Tim Roth, Bruce Payne and Spencer Leigh. Gary Oldman was also in the issue

Grant’s breakthrough film was Withnail and I, with Paul McGann, of the Liverpool acting family. I don’t have a scan of Grant to hand, so here’s McCann as part of a Face ‘Brit pack’ shoot from 1987 – McGann, Colin Firth, Tim Roth, Bruce Payne and Spencer Leigh.

Withnail came out that year with a brilliant performance by Richard Griffiths as the dodgy Monty. The History Boys was another great vehicle for him, but he’s probably best known now for his Harry Potter role. McGann later did The Monocled Mutineer.

I was at school with one of his older brothers, Joe, and my sister knew Paul.

Yates’s Wine Lodge off Church Street was where the acting fraternity hung out in the mid-1980s. Yates’s was renowned for the cheapness of its wines – Red Biddy being one – and sawdust floors and drunken clients. You’d get a clip over the ear from your parents if you were ever seen near one. However, the appointment of a gay manager changed all that, and the success of the Liverpool Yates’s changed the fortunes of the group. Then, it was a Lancashire chain; now they’re everywhere, complete with the Red Biddy.

Grant also chose a Nat King Cole’s When I Fall in Love. It’s a track I associate with Kirkland’s, a former bakery that was the first place I ever saw called a wine bar. The bakery’s claim to fame was having had both Queen Victoria and Hitler’s brother as customers. As a wine bar, old boys would play chess in there from 10 o’clock when it opened, even though it could only serve alcohol between 11 and 3 o’clock in those days. My dad had cleaned the windows there since the 1950s, and I did in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The great and surreal George Melly, another local lad, used to play in the room upstairs.

Russia’s war retreat mystery

November 10, 2022

Military strategists are fond of their histories, and no doubt they are dusting off their copies of Sun Tzu as they try to make sense of Moscow’s announced retreat from Kherson. ‘As Russia retreats, Ukrainians still fear a trap,’ was the BBC’s take on the announcement.

And this article from an October 1915 copy of Penny Pictorial would give them good cause to pause. The cover line ‘The mystery of the Russian retreat’ looks very topical. Inside, a two-page feature discusses this drama from the First World War. Then, Russia was an ally against the Kaiser’s Germany.

The article warns:

the tract of country which Russia has now abandoned to the German armies is not one which offers any military security. It is a tract of country which was, and would be yet again, very difficult to retreat over, as the Germans may find to their cost.

Mysteries of the Great War. The Russian retreat’, by ‘En avant’. Penny Pictorial, 23 October 1915, pages 332-3

The article discusses the danger of stretched supply lines, spies, and the sabotage of a powder factory on the river Ochta in St Petersburg, which had left the Russians short of fresh ammunition. Ivanoff Miassaiedoff is a name that has been lost from the history books, but the hanging of the Russian colonel and his accomplices for high treason was widely reported in September 1915.

Now, Putin is the Kaiser and Russia is in the role of Germany as the aggressor against Ukraine. The opening of the article could apply to Russia and its stalled offensive today, replacing Berlin with Kyiv and Prussians with Ukrainians:

In the earlier days of the war … we were wont to speak of Russia as the great steam-roller, that would pave a road to [Kyiv], macadamising it with [Ukrainians] bones … we forgot that even steam-rollers cannot operate satisfactorily across great marshy tracts. 

Another section sparks echoes, especially as several sections have been deleted by the censor – and the blank spaces attest to the reader what has happened:

We have been allowed to know so little of the troubles that beset our Allies that the average man in the street can but shake his head in ignorance and hope for the best.

Nowadays is is the social media overload that can leave readers scratching their heads.

Although some of the country names have changed there is still the threat today of the war ‘engulfing … Poland, East Prussia, Silesia (today split between Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany), Galicia (Poland and western Ukraine), Courland (western Latvia), Lithuania, and Bessarabia (Moldova and south-west Ukraine).’

>>Read more about magazines and the Great War: Women in the First World War

Laurie Purden – grande dame of women’s magazines

October 28, 2022

Laurie Purden with the astrologer Patric Walker, and in the 1950s

By Wendy James

More than one person who knew Laurie Purden called her a ‘one-off’ when I was ringing round with the sad news of her death at the end of August. She was 93. There was no one like her, that’s for sure. And during her long career she was always in the right place at the right time to use her talents – to reach out to others, to inspire, entertain and inform. She was a communicator, and though the route she followed brought great success, it is the name of the magazines that readers remember, not her’s. It is time to put that right.

The second half of the twentieth century was a time of entrepreneurship, of big companies wanting to make money. The owners of the Fleet Street newspapers saw a huge opportunity to keep their expensive printing plants active by creating magazines that would attract big advertisers wanting to tempt readers. Newspapers remained black and white, but magazines, which were printed outside Fleet Street, had carried colour pages for decades.

World War II had brought rationing of all kinds of goods, including paper and ink, and the last restrictions were not finally removed until 1954 (the July 7 issue of Punch celebrated with a variation of Richard Doyle’s longstanding cover by Norman Mansbridge showing Mr Punch and Toby ripping up their ration book as housewives and shopkeepers celebrated around them).

It was a boom time for magazines as colour photography became commonplace and rich American advertisers displayed their wares. Laurie’s first step into this world began in this era of expansion. In her mid-teens, armed with certificates in shorthand and typing, she was employed as a junior secretary by the George Newnes publishing company in the London office of the Woman’s Own editor. The erudite James Drawbell may well have been her inspiration. He had written books and plays (three of which were made into films, including the 1944 Love Story starring Margaret Lockwood and Stewart Granger) and the impressionable youngster from Tunbridge Wells absorbed it all. Laurie had a good imagination and English and history were her favourite subjects. Woman’s Own was one of the three biggest women’s titles – Woman and Woman’s Weekly completing the trio – that were selling a combined total of seven million copies a week.

She discovered a forte for fiction. Overseen by Drawbell on Home Notes, a small-format Newnes weekly that dated back to 1894, Laurie’s job was to marry bought-in art work (uncredited at that time) with short stories sent in by aspiring writers or republished from the US. When she couldn’t find anything suitable she wrote the stories herself, often in her lunch hour. She handled fiction on Woman’s Own as well, as assistant editor. Her quick rise suggests that her dynamism was noticed by those above. 

It was her marriage to Keith Kotch in 1957 that changed the course of her future. He worked for Hulton Press, publishers of the much-lauded Picture Post and Lilliput, run by the Reverend Marcus Morris. This priest-turned-publisher had made his name in 1950 by inventing The Eagle, the boys’ comic with a moral core, followed by GirlSwift and Robin. He would influence a generation of readers. Later, in 1972, Morris launched the British edition of Cosmopolitan, and became deputy chairman of the National Magazine Company (‘NatMags’), the British arm of US publishing giant Hearst.

After Morris died (in 1989), two of his daughters – Sally Morris and Jan Hallwood – published a biography, Living with Eagles, which Laurie reviewed for The British Journalism Review in 1998. In an article with the headline ‘The unpredictable priest-in-charge’, she said it was remarkably brave of them to attempt to define whether he was ‘saint or sinner’. ‘Fate had given them an admired father of prodigious complexity: a controversial cleric with a mission to communicate,’ she wrote, adding that he was a ‘hugely private man propelled into a notorious public arena’. She summed up by saying that the book ‘holds up a surprisingly revealing mirror to a period of far-reaching change – the turbulence before the real storm of take-overs and mega-mergers’.

The book was clear that Morris liked attractive women. Laurie was, in the language of the day, a ‘glamour puss’ – stylish, well groomed and always looking good. He enticed her to join Hulton where she worked on Girl, then edited Housewife, a glossy monthly that had been created in 1939 as a rival to Good Housekeeping. She gave women’s interests new oomph with specialists who became household names: Constance Spry (flower-arranging), Rosemary Hume (founder of the Le Cordon Bleu London cookery school), and Phyllis Digby Morton (beauty and fashion). 

Hulton’s Housewife magazine in 1958, the Marcus Morris book, and Good Housekeeping in 1969

When Hulton was taken over by Odhams Press in 1957, Morris joined NatMags as editorial director. Laurie left publishing to have her daughters, Emma and Sophie, in 1962 and 1963, and two years later Morris drew her into the Hearst stable. Hearst had entered the British market in 1922 with a local version of Good Housekeeping. The magazine had not been doing well for some months and while he manoeuvred staff so she could take over as editor, she worked on Vanity Fair and then House Beautiful (which was incorporated into Good Housekeeping in 1968). She modernised Good Housekeeping, making much of the testing resources of the magazine’s institute, which reassured readers about home products and helped them gain or expand their cookery skills. The circulation soared and Laurie received the MBE in 1973 for services to women’s journalism.

Morris and Jack Blanche, Good Housekeeping’s publisher, could rely on Laurie and her actress ability to wow and woo the advertisers whose support was essential for the company’s coffers. When Laurie stepped down in 1973 for several months for health reasons, NatMags bought Astra Press, publisher of the first DIY magazine for women, Womancraft. This became the sister magazine of Good Housekeeping and Laurie returned to watched over it as editor-in-chief. For three years the circulation rose. It appeared to have established itself in the newsagents when the plug was pulled and it was sold to IPC to be merged with Sewing & Knitting. The ‘Ministry of Magazines’ as IPC was known, had been formed by the merger of Newnes, Odhams, Mirror newspapers and several other companies in the 1960s. 

In 1978, Laurie joined IPC as editor in chief of Woman’s Journal, inheriting Woman & Home at the same time. She had an instinct for what readers liked to see and read, and both publications thrived over the next decade. She retired in 1988, and despite the efforts of three successive editors, the magazine, which was aimed at older, more glamorous women, closed in 2001.

The three decades since Laurie’s retirement have been marked by mergers and contraction among magazines. NatMags was renamed Hearst UK and bought Gruner+Jahr, the German-owned British group that owned the successful weekly Best and monthly Prima, now produced alongside Good Housekeeping. Emap, a magazine group that had grown like topsy since the 1980s from its origins as East Midlands Allied Press, went to German publishers Bauer; and IPC was gobbled up by Time Inc (a subsidiary of Time Warner in the US). Today, just one company, Future, owns the majority of magazines on newsagents’ shelves, having acquired those companies whose names were synonymous with magazine publishing in the last half of the twentieth century. I don’t think even Laurie, for all her percipience, could have foreseen this. 

A Life in Magazines by Wendy James is available from Amazon

>>More on Laurie Purden and women magazine editors at Magforum

Modern Woman makes advertising case

October 23, 2022
Modern Woman brochure in the form of a briefcase with flap and straps. It opens up to reveal 1957 sales figures

Selling your magazine to potential advertisers is vital for publishers, and they often try to come up with creative ways of getting their message across. This example from Modern Woman in 1958 is a case in point.

This A4 brochure is in the form of a ‘leather’ briefcase, complete with straps. It opens up to reveal some hefty figures for a woman’s monthly – sales of 243,099 and a readership of 1,021,000 (IPA survey from 1957). Modern Woman calculates the cost of reaching a thousand (CPT) housewives as 6/4. Everywoman was the one to beat though, with sales of 302,000 in 1958.

Modern Woman was a big seller in 1957

The brochure was produced in the spring of 1958, prompting advertisers to get their autumn bookings in.

Modern Woman in January 1958
Modern Woman in November 1958. Note the title redesign

>Women’s magazine sales 1938-59

When forecasts come true

September 13, 2022

Nova was betting on Charles to succeed back in September 1967

These are two of the magazines that have forecast Charles becoming king one day. The above is IPC’s Nova back in September 1967. Shame it’s not around to see its forecast come true.

Eleven years later, Time was at it. This 1978 cover is one of Time‘s ‘devilish’ designs where the ‘M’ of the title appears to form a pair of horns. Or could it be a crown? When it comes to masthead design, the devil is always in the detail.

>>Nova magazine covers: 1965-1975

Sans serif in magazines: 1876 advertising

September 6, 2022

Sans serif in 1876 life assurance advertising on the back cover of The Cornhill magazine

The Victorians seemed to go in fear of their lives when travelling by the new-fangled railways, if the amount of life assurance they took out is anything to go by. And the fact that a million pounds had been paid out in compensation by this one company suggests they had a right to be afeard.

This advert, with its 16 lines each set in a different font, gave Spottiswoode & Co a great chance to show off their range of typefaces. Four of the lines are in sans serif:

  • line 7: a condensed bold;
  • line 11: italics;
  • line 13: all caps condensed;
  • last line: italics.

Spottiswoode & Co has a long history and was one of the largest printers in London. It later became Eyre & Spottiswoode, and received royal patronage.

Boy – aghast – landed with baby

August 29, 2022
Terrified boy with baby cover from Woman’s Own dated 5 April, 1946

This cover always makes me smile. Probably because I was in the same situation on many an occasion. Also, the boy reminds me of Tim Rostron, who I worked with years ago. The cover is from Woman’s Own dated 5 April, 1946. The illustrator isn’t credited.

>>Woman’s Own and other weekly magazines