Magazine titles: what’s in a name?

February 20, 2018
Title from the first issue of men's monthly Loaded-in 1994: for men who should know better

Title from the first issue of men’s monthly Loaded in 1994: for men who should know better

My mention of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop included his editorial philosophy on the satirical magazine. He sees his job as to:

Make jokes about what people know and then tell them things they don’t know.

Simplifying an editorial strategy to a few words is a great skill. Today, companies have their ‘mission statements’ but magazines have been coining these for centuries. What is the magazine about? What is it about a magazine that is different from its rivals?

A Tit-Bits cover from 1955

A Tit-Bits cover from 1955

For James Brown’s Loaded, it was ‘For men who should know better’; for the science fiction weekly Scoops in 1934, ‘Stories of the wonder-world of tomorrow’; FHM‘s mantra coined by Mike Soutar was ‘Funny, sexy useful’.

George Newnes came up with the not-so-pithy title Tit-Bits from all the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Contributors in the World for his pioneering weekly magazine in 1881, which was soon shortened to Tit-Bits.

Sometimes, the title goes a long way to saying it all: Answers to Correspondents, Men Only, Motor, Woman, Razzle. But even in these cases, differentiation is needed from rivals.

Alfred Harmsworth's Home Chat from 1895

Harmsworth’s Home Chat from 1895

Think of the woman’s weekly Home Chat. The name dates back to an Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) launch in 1895.  Would House Chat have been as good? Or Home Talk? Or Fireside Chat?

Probably not, and certainly Home Chat lasted until 1959, when it became a victim of new technology in the form of television. The word ‘chat’ was resurrected for the weekly Chat by ITV/IPC in 1985, though by that time the word ‘home’ was a no-no for a woman’s magazine.

A rival to Home Chat was Home Notes (1895-1958) from C. Arthur Pearson. This carried a line of poetry on its cover: ‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,’ by the US poet William Ross Wallace. This summed up the influence of the mother, but today it has sinister connotations.

Charing Cross magazine took its name from a famous place in London -1900-first-issue-magazine-cover

Charing Cross magazine took its name from a famous place in London in 1900

Many Victorian publishers took their titles from fashionable places in the world’s greatest city. Examples include Cornhill, Pall Mall, The Strand, Charing Cross.

In doing so, they spread the fame of these thoroughfares and places even farther around the world, in a way that song lyrics would do in the 20th century (Ferry Across the Mersey, Wichita Lineman, Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa) and TV does today (Jersey Shore, The Only Way is Essex).

Many magazine titles have changed the meaning of words, or at least influenced our perception of them, such Punch, Eagle and Delayed Gratification.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


 

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Type portrait of the royal family on a Monotype in 1937

February 16, 2018
Type portrait of the royal family composed on a Monotype machine. Published in Newspaper World magazine in 1937

Type portrait of the royal family composed on a Monotype machine. Published in Newspaper World magazine in 1937

Moiré fringing is probably going to ruin this image, but it’s a type portrait of George VI with the royal family, ‘set up and composed on the Monotype [hot metal typesetting] machine by Battley Brothers Ltd, of Clapham Park’. The image was published in Newspaper World & Advertising Review, dated 15 May 1937. I associate such images with typewriters and computer printers, so it was a surprise to come across one from 80 years ago.

The skin tones on Princess Elizabeth in the type portrait are made up of the letters 'e' and 'f', with the § symbol used for darker tones

The skin tones on Princess Elizabeth in the type portrait are made up of the italic letters ‘e’ and ‘f’, with the § symbol and ‘g’ used for darker tones

The portrait was printed half-page size in Newspaper World,  and it’s possible to make out many of characters used. The skin tones on Princess Elizabeth, for example, are made up of the letters ‘e’ and ‘f’, with the § symbol used for darker tones. That year – 1937 – marked the new king’s coronation after the abdication of King Edward VIII after the Wallis Simpson affair.

george vi royal family portrait. margaret. elizabeth. 1937

George VI royal family portrait with princesses Margaret, left, and Elizabeth, in 1937. This is probably the shot used for the type portrait

Newspaper World was published by Benn Brothers from Bouverie House off Fleet Street.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 

 


 

£149 for an Argos catalogue

February 14, 2018
Argos catalogue No 6 from autumn 1976 sold on eBay for £149

Argos catalogue No 6 from 1976 sold on eBay for £149

How did I miss this? An Argos catalogue from 1976. And it sold for a whacking £149 before Christmas.

As the eBay seller, Halcyontoys, noted:

From the mists of time comes this original and highly collectable Argos catalogue. Released for the autumn/winter 1976/77 season, it runs to 200 pages and is a fascinating ‘window’ into the lifestyles and technologies prevalent at the time.

From record decks to teas-maids and Evel Knievel toys – they’re all here in garish 1970s colour!

The catalogue has some age-related signs of wear, mainly handling/stress marks to the cover and some discolourisation to the back page. However, it remains in good condition and all 198 internal pages are present and correct with no annotations or creasing.

A very enjoyable, rare and historic publication.

Read and weep all ye who missed it.

The cameras spread from Argos catalogue No 6 from 1976 sold on eBay for £149

The cameras spread from Argos catalogue No 6

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 

 


 

 

One for Madonna fans

February 13, 2018
Madonna strip cartoon of her life 1986

Madonna strip cartoon of her life: The Story So Far

Hotspot-5 has 156 Madonna issues up on ebay at prices ranging from £4.95 to £24.95.

One of the earliest issues dates back to January 1986. It’s issue 2 of Look-In, the weekly TV magazine for teenagers, which carried a cartoon strip of Madonna’s life called ‘The Story So Far’.

In response to queries, I’ve done several Madonna posts, including identifying the first Madonna magazine cover (and it’s not Smash Hits or i-D).

Madonna front cover Esquire magazine 1994

Madonna on the cover of Esquire magazine in September 1994, dressed up to meet Norman Mailer!

Hotspot-5’s Madonna issues.

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 

 


 

Guardian drops Berliner failure for tabloid in redesign

January 15, 2018
Guardian redesign 2018

Today’s relaunched Guardian comes in 3 sections. Sport returns to the back page – led by Liverpool’s thrilling victory over Manchester City. The 2012 redesign had  Man City beating Wigan above its masthead. The paper was the Manchester Guardian until 1959 and moved to London in 1964

The Guardian downsizes today, switching from the Berliner format to tabloid. It’s the end of an experiment that began 12 years ago with a massive £80m investment, and has been forced on the paper to save money. Being the only British paper to use the Berliner format,  it had to build new print halls in London and Manchester with specially commissioned presses.

The weekday paper now has three sections:

  • main section: news, politics, international affairs and financial news with sport starting on the back page;
  • a new, pullout opinion section called the Journal. This will carry the columnists, long reads, obituaries, letters and the cryptic crossword;
  • G2, the features-based section.
Promotional video for the new look by the Guardian 

The Guardian claims a great design history, based on its breaking new ground in 1988 with an approach developed by David Hillman, a Pentagram founder who made his name on Nova in the 1960s. It had already dropped the ‘hang and drop’ approach favoured by the other Fleet Street broadsheets in favour of modular layouts. The other broadsheets’  focus was on getting as many stories and words on a page as possible. The Guardian wanted to differentiate itself for readers.

The 1960s newspaper design guru Allen Hutt gave way to Harry Evans and then Hillman introduced a grid system with lots of white space around the headlines at the Guardian. Alongside the white space, most striking element on the front page was the dual font title, with the ‘The’ in ITC Garamond Italic and the butted-up ‘Guardian’ in Helvetica Black. Nothing new for a magazine, but a first for a British newspaper.

The design industry liked it; the reaction in much of Fleet Street was: ‘art holes’! There was also a lot of negative reaction internally at the Guardian as fewer stories were carried and copy length was cut.

These internal complaints from editors were exacerbated when the paper’s second section dropped from a broadsheet to a tabloid in 1992 – at a stroke, story lengths had to be cut by a third. That is not an obvious effect, but is the result of a number of factors: headline sizes stayed the same; pictures stayed the same size or even got bigger; each tabloid page needed as much margin space around the edges as each broadsheet page; more ‘signposting’ to features in the rest of the paper.

It has been a similar tale with every redesign since for all the papers since: more white space; bigger pictures; fewer stories, fewer words.

September 2005 saw the move under editor Alan Rusbridger and designer Mark Porter to the Berliner mid-size format – along with the need to buy a new set of expensive printing presses that were unique in Britain. The switch took three years and the paper described itself as a ‘factory’. In January 2012 the paper design and format was changed again ‘to reflect changes in news consumption’.

Today marks the Guardian giving up on its expensive Berliner experiment and following the Independent and Times down the tabloid route they took in 2003. Of course, the quality papers don’t like the ‘tabloid’ label, because it is associated with the more downmarket Sun, Mirror, Mail and Express, which adopted the format decades ago.

The other change alongside design is that the print agenda is now dictated by online data and readerships. What the likes of the Guardian don’t appear to appreciate as they quote digital readerships is that the online audience is heavily influenced by non-paying US readers. The news agenda becomes more US-influenced, moving the paper away from the home audience all the time.

Robert Harling, the long-serving editor of House & Garden and typographical adviser to the Sunday Times railed against the Continental modular magazine design approaches in the Times Literary Supplement with an article entitled ‘Poor old words’ (1972). His redesign of the cover for Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack in 1938, with its Ravilious engraving of Victorian cricketers, is a typographic classic. For Harling, the likes of Hillman’s Nova was dominated by ‘pictures and type-patterns subduing the words on every page’. The approach was ‘a menace to the freedom of the printed word’.

A features spread in the Berliner format Observer. It could have come from a magazine 30 years ago. The picture is the size of a tabloid page

A features spread in the Berliner format Observer. It could have come from a magazine 30 years ago. The picture is the size of a tabloid page and the text only occupies a quarter of the page area

Yet that approach became mainstream in magazines and Hillman brought it to the Guardian in a process of magazinisation. Photo-reduce many newspaper spreads today and they appear strikingly similar to the sort of designs in the 1960s in Town and Nova (which had been heavily influenced by Continental design, particularly Germany’s Twen). ‘Poor old words’ said Harling. Poor old readers too.

The Guardian‘s sister paper, the Observer, will go tabloid on Sunday. The switch was seen as step too far for the two papers in 2005, with staff fearing that changing to tabloid would damage the paper’s character. Those fears have been swept aside now as the need to save several million pounds a year bites.

The redesign features a new font, Guardian Headline by Commercial Type, the foundry that created Guardian Egyptian for the Berliner redesign. The main text font stays the same, no surprise given how much the 2005 relaunch cost.

And cutting costs is what has driven the changes. Expect to see lots of mentions of ‘150 million’ readers each month, but at the end of the day, most of these are browsers and bear no comparison in revenue or commitment to the value of a print reader. Money – getting enough of it is the big problem for the press.

British newspaper profiles


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


 

 

Beano: a cheery cover for grey days

January 12, 2018
Beano magazine was launched in 1934 by Nalgo, the trade union, to raise funds for members widows and orphans. Did it inspire the comic title?

Beano magazine was launched in 1934 by Nalgo, the trade union, to raise funds for members widows and orphans. Did it inspire the comic title?

Here’s a cheery cover for a rainy day (and I’m off to a funeral today for Tom Pride, a Times journalist I first worked with in 1980).

Beano comes from B ‘n’ O, the abbreviation for  Nalgo’s benevolent and orphan fund (B&O).  Nalgo – the National Association of Local Government Officers trade union – was founded in 1905 and is today part of Unison. It appears to have been produced in Scarborough, described as the ‘conference town’ because of the number of big meetings held there, such as political party annual conferences.

The NCTJ used to hold training courses there – on one of them, I met Tom Baker, the would-be monk and former Doctor Who star; the Yorkshire boxer Richard Dunn, who took on Muhammad Ali in 1976; and Brian Glover, the wrestler, teacher and actor best known for his role in Kes. All in the same hotel bar. What a night that was!

Winter's Pie, an edition of Printers' Pie, magazine cover from 1913. The cover is by John Hassall

Winter’s Pie, an edition of Printers’ Pie, magazine cover from 1913. The cover is by John Hassall

Producing special magazines to raise funds for charitable purposes was a popular strategy right into the Eighties. These included Printers’ Pie, where the funds went to printing charities, Christmas Pie, ‘All profits to King George’s Jubilee Trust’ in 1939, and Blighty, which raised money for the troops in both world wars. The most famous writers and illustrators would provide work for these and volunteer printers would produce them on Fleet Street presses.

The Nalgo Beano cover appeared in 1934, four years before DC Thomson launched the famous  Beano comic on 30 July 1938 in Dundee. And, of course, its most famous strip – The Bash Street Kids – was about the perils of a group of public service workers – teachers and janitors – in a state school.

The Oxford Dictionary relates the word ‘beano’ – a rowdy celebration – to the printing industry, going back to 1888:

CT Jacobi, Printers’ Vocab. 7 Beano, a slang abbreviation for ‘beanfeast’, which is, however, usually termed ‘goose’ or wayzgoose by compositors.

So, a trade union – Nalgo – was the inspiration for the Beano comic. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 

 


 

Ian Hislop’s philosophy at Private Eye

January 11, 2018
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop is interviewed by Al Murray on Chain Reaction

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop is interviewed by Al Murray on Chain Reaction

Comedian Al Murray – the ‘Pub Landlord’ – interviewed Private Eye editor Ian Hislop in the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Chain Reaction yesterday. It’s worth catching up online to hear the team captain on Have I Got News for You discuss the cut and thrust of British politics, making social history documentaries and his editorial philosophy on the satirical magazine. He sees his job as to:

Make jokes about what people know and then tell them things they don’t know.

He knows the cartoons are as important as the words and has a strong feel for history and the influence of Punch (and where that satire giant went wrong). As well as his long-running career in print satire – he has been Private Eye editor since 1986 – Hislop wrote with Nick Newman for Harry ‘Loadsamoney’ Enfield, basing the ‘Terribly Nice But Dim’ Tim character on a public school friend, as well as Spitting Image (‘It took us 11 years but we got Thatcher out!’) in the 1980s.

One of the many covers in Private Eye's battle to expose Robert Maxwell

One of the many covers in Private Eye’s battle to expose Robert Maxwell

What’s it like being sued? Private Eye‘s tribulations on this front are legendary, one resulting in Robert Maxwell launching Not Private Eye as a form of revenge, both for the corrupt media tycoon and many other ‘victims’ of the satirical fortnightly.

Hislop says he has faced 40 libel cases and won just one.

He is particularly vociferous about the Sonia Sutcliffe case, in which a jury initially awarded damages of £600,000, which would have added up to £1.5m  with costs.

That resulted in the reaction: ‘It that’s justice, I’m a banana.’  The damages were lowered on appeal. The case then sparked a change in British law so that damages are no longer set by juries.

Flann O’Brien, Goldfrapp and the BBC

December 6, 2017
Flann O'Brien

Flann O’Brien shown on the TLS website in a 2011 article

Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory chose Flann O’Brien as the subject of Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 yesterday (you can still hear it on the BBC’s iPlayer). Astoundingly,  Matthew Parris said he did not know the Irish writer and his masterpieces, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman.

Carol Taaffe, who has written about O’Brien, explained that the books were only hailed as literary masterpieces after the author’s death. O’Brien worked as a civil servant and wrote under three pseudonyms – Brian O’Nolan, Flann O’Brien, and Myles na gCopaleen, the last of these for his satirical columns in the Irish Times newspaper, which he wrote in Gaelic.

Town, the mainstream men’s magazine, ran a profile of O’Brien in its September 1965 issue, a year before O’Brien’s death. The Times Literary Supplement celebrated O’Brien on his centenary in 2011 and the Irish Times ran an O’Brien homage in 2015.

London Life prices go through the roof

November 1, 2017
London Life magazine front cover from 1966 with Laurence Olivier, blacked up for Othello

London Life magazine front cover from 1966 with Laurence Olivier, blacked up for Othello

The weekly listings magazine London Life, which was developed to replace Tatler in the 1960s, has long been a good seller on eBay, but a 1966 copy with a Laurence Olivier cover – with the actor blacked up for Othello on the cover – has just gone for £91. A Julie Christie issue from the same year fetched £71 and another issue £57.

London Life was ‘a comprehensive guide to the entertainment scene: films, theatre, restaurants, night life, music, sport’; a Time Out for the Swinging Sixties. It’s usually the earlier issues of London Life under editor Mark Boxer that fetch such high prices.

London Life profile at Magforum

London Life magazine cover checklist


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


 

What does a Bolshevik look like?

October 30, 2017
Portrait of a rabid Bolshevik by Charles Sargeant Jagger on the cover of War Illustrated in January 1919

Portrait of a ‘frenzied fanatic’ Bolshevik by Charles Sargeant Jagger on the cover of War Illustrated in January 1919

War Illustrated magazine left its readers in no doubt where its stood on the prospects of Russia in the control of the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. This ranting maniac was portrayed on the weekly magazine’s front cover for 11 January, 1919, by CS Jagger. Inside, Sir Sidney Low wrote about the revolutionaries as ‘frenzied fanatics’.

I take this illustration to be by Charles Sargeant Jagger, one of the pre-eminent sculptors of the early 20th century. He served with the Artists’ Rifles in the First World War and created several war memorials – most notably the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner (1925). There is a British Pathe film of Jagger at work.

Sir Sidney Low was a journalist during the war and edited the wireless service of the Ministry of Information. He had been knighted the year before.

War Illustrated‘s editor at Amalgamated Press was John Hammerton, one of Alfred Harmsworth’s most successful editors. War Illustrated was relaunched as New Illustrated after the war.

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design