Time turns NME into a freesheet

July 7, 2015

The image used to head the NME freeesheet  announcement The image used to head the NME freeesheet announcement

The message from Time Inc UK, the US-based  owner of what was IPC, came out as gobbledegook:

Iconic brand NME today announces the latest stage in its evolution as an audience-first global media business. As well as a new nme.com and digital products, in September NME will become a free weekly magazine. With music firmly at the heart of the brand, NME’s authority will be the gateway into a wider conversation around film, fashion, television, politics, gaming and technology.

According to Marcus Rich, chief executive:

This famous 63 year-old brand was an early leader in digital and has been growing its global audience successfully for the best part of 20 years. It has been able to do so because music is such an important passion and now is the right time to invest in bringing NME to an even bigger community for our commercial partners

NME was a digital pioneer for IPC, as both a driver of the Unzip CD-Rom and one of the company’s first websites, alongside New Scientist and Uploaded.com (who remembers that?). It is the last survivor of the ‘inkies’ – the tabloid weekly music papers that once numbered Melody Maker (which dated back to the 1920s and put a toilet roll on its last cover), Melody Maker, Disc, Record Mirror and Sounds – and sold in their hundreds of thousands.

Has such a freesheet strategy ever gone well for the magazine that started it all?

 

A winning magazine cover?

July 4, 2015
Home Chat, a leading women's popular weekly, from 14 May

Home Chat, a leading women’s popular weekly, from 14 May 1910

How’s this for a front cover? For Woman’s Own or Hello!, perhaps? Home Chat was a leading small format women’s weekly, which, surprisingly with such designs, survived until 1959 when it was merged into Woman’s Weekly.

Victorian advertising – snake oil for hairless magazine readers

July 2, 2015
Koko: Victorian hair advertising from Flashes magazine in 1892

Koko: Victorian hair advertising from Flashes magazine in 1892

Would you like to stop your hair falling out? Make it grow faster? Judging by this magazine advert for Koko, it was a simple ask to ensure ‘magnificent tresses’.

For Edwardian men it was moustashes, for women it was hair that attracted reams of such adverts promising the earth, or at least a straighter nose (another preoccupation for the Victorian consumer).

This advert was in Flashes magazine in 1892. The editor was B. Fairlee, author of The Mystery of a Type-Writer (of which there is no sign in the British Library’s online catalogue).

Marilyn Monroe magazines from 1953 on eBay

June 21, 2015

Picture Post from 1953 with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on the cover from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Picture Post from 1953 with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on the cover from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Among the 815,281 magazines presently listed on eBay in the UK are two classic illustrated weeklies with Marilyn Monroe covers. The first is Picture Post from 1953 with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on the cover from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Illustrated magazine from 1953 with Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable on the cover, from the film How to Marry a Millionaire Illustrated magazine from 1953 with Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable on the cover, from the film How to Marry a Millionaire

Second is Illustrated magazine from 1953 with Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable on the cover, from the film How to Marry a Millionaire.

Both these weekly magazines are priced at £29.99 from the Advertising Archives as buy-it-now or best offer lots.

Lilian Hocknell’s cute kids still have vintage value for women’s magazines

June 21, 2015
Lilian Hocknell artwork revived for Christmas 2014 Vintage View from Woman's Weekly magazine cover

Lilian Hocknell artwork revived for Christmas 2014 Vintage View from Woman’s Weekly magazine cover

Woman’s Weekly has been one of Britain’s most popular magazines for more than a century. The cover here is from a compilation magazine – Vintage View – of its past articles as owner Time UK exploits its archive. Although no signature is visible, it’s clearly by Lilian Hocknell, who was renowned for her illustrations of children in the art deco period leading up to the Second World War. You can even recognise the same cute toddler from this Mother cover of 1936:

Mother magazine cover of child with toys by Lilian Hocknell from November 1936

Mother magazine cover of child with toys by Lilian Hocknell from November 1936

Woman’s Weekly was originally published by Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press (later rebranded as Fleetway), which was one of the three big groups that formed IPC in the 1960s and is today controlled by the US published Time Inc.

In its late 1950s heyday, Woman’s Weekly sold 1.5m copies a week and was one of IPC’s ‘big three’ women’s weeklies that ruled the roost in that market until the arrival of new niches in the 1980s, such as Best from Germany and the celebrity weeklies such as Hello and Heat. The other members of that vaunted trio are Woman (originally Odhams Press) and Woman’s Own (George Newnes). In 1959, they were massive money spinners, selling in total about 7 million copies a week between them. Then, both Woman (3.2m copies a week) and Woman’s Own (2.4m) outsold Woman’s Weekly (1.5m). Today, all have dropped sales but Woman’s Weekly has overtaken its rivals. The respective totals are 252,000, 220,000 and   307,000.

More genius of colour printing – Vogue cover

June 20, 2015

 

The 'London Babes' cover from Vogue in December 1993

The ‘London Babes’ cover from Vogue in December 1993

This is a great issue of Vogue, with Danish fashion model Helena Christensen on the cover photographed by Nick Knight (his second Vogue cover, the first being the month before). Inside, is Steven Meisel’s ‘London Babes’ photoshoot styled by Isabella Blow. From a printing point of view, the cover is interesting for several reasons. The Blighty colour cover I discussed last week was printed colour letterpress. That technique produces quite a crude result compared with modern-day offset lithograph printing, which is used for most magazines today, including this 1993 Vogue. Nick Knight is renowned for his digital manipulation of photographs and as a proponent of its ‘extremely exciting’ possibilities.

Detail of Helena Christensen's eye from the cover of Vogue in December 1993

Detail of Helena Christensen’s eye from the cover of Vogue in December 1993

The detail of Helena Christensen’s eye from the Vogue cover demonstrates several things. First, the skin tones are purely made up of magenta dots. Compared with the Blighty cover, the dots are finer – more like 300 lines per inch than the 150 of the 1950s. Click on the images here to see them at a larger size. Notice how much blue there is in and around the eye – this looks to me as if a blue shadow has been added in Photoshop. Similarly with the blue highlights in the eyebrows and hair.

Detail of Helena Christiansen's lips from the Vogue cover

Detail of Helena Christensen’s lips from the Vogue cover

This close focus on Christensen’s lips shows a much higher density of the magenta, a tinge of yellow at the centre of the mouth and then a shadow of cyan, which becomes heavier moving to the right. Below is a a magnified image of the whole face, with the bottom of the G from the title across the forehead. This is printed in solid magenta.

Detail of Helena Christiansen's face from the Vogue cover

Detail of Helena Christiansen’s face from the Vogue cover

The genius of colour printing

June 19, 2015
Blighty pin-up cover for the popular men's weekly by MB Tompkins in 1958 (16 August)

Blighty pin-up cover for the popular men’s weekly by MB Tompkins in 1958 (16 August)

Colour printing has always seemed to me to be a bit of a miracle – seemingly every colour under the sun can be printed from just four colours, cyan (sky blue), magenta (a pinky red) yellow and black. The colours are abbreviated as CMYK – with K being black, the ‘key’ colour. In theory, the black is not necessary because the other three should merge to black, but in practice, the result is a bit washed out, more a murky brown.

In the 1950s, when this cover was printed, the colour painting of the glamorous dancer would have been photographed through a filter and a metal screen to produce a sheet of printing film for each colour. The screen would be a metal screen capable of showing 150 lines to the inch. The film would taped on to the other pieces of film of each colour for the rest of the page and then paired up with its partner page – the back cover in this case – and that assembled film used to make a printing plate for each colour. Each plate would have been wrapped around its cylinder on a four-unit press. When the paper is run through the press, each colour ink in its turn would have been passed from the printing plate on to the paper. The overprinting of the colours builds up the image.

Detail showing dots of printed ink from the lower face of Blighty magazine cover in 1958

Detail showing dots of printed ink from the lower face of Blighty magazine cover in 1958, Click on the picture to see it in more detail.

Look at the magnified detail here and you can see individual dots for each colour. In the bottom left, there are dots of pure cyan. You can see that the dots are in regular lines at an angle of about 10 degrees to the horizontal. In the darker blue areas, you can see black dots among the cyan. The skin tones are mainly magenta with yellow highlights. The red lips are a combination of magenta and yellow. The teeth are simply the white paper. You can make out some of all the colours in the black areas.

Blighty was a popular men’s weekly magazine published by City Magazines at 64 Fleet St, but it was printed 200 miles away by Eric Bemrose in Long Lane, Liverpool. The Long Lane plant closed down in 1991. The illustration was by MB Tompkins, an artist about whom I only know that he produced Blighty covers in 1958, and some pulp book covers.

MB Tompkins signature from Blighty magazine cover in 1958

MB Tompkins signature from Blighty magazine cover in 1958

 

Harry Linfield – a down-to-earth side of the Star Trek and Doctor Who artist

June 19, 2015
Harry Lindfield drawing for Annabel magazine in 1966

Harry Lindfield drawing for Annabel magazine in 1966

Type the name Harry Lindfield into a search engine and up will come a gang of results pointing to illustrations for Gerry Anderson-based comics such as Joe 90, TV21 and Lady Penelope from City Magazines and Polystyle’s Countdown. For Lindfield drew Star Trek, Doctor Who and others strips from about 1968 in the great heyday of TV-based comics – when some issues were selling in excess of half-a-million copies a week. The illustration above predates that – it’s from a September 1966 issue of DC Thomson’s monthly Annabel. Lindfield had already drawn strips for the Eagle‘s sister paper Swift at Hulton Press.

A colour centre spread of Star Trek by Harry Lindfield from Joe 90 . Click on the image to find a larger version on Beano cartoonist Nigel Parkinson's website

A colour centre spread of Star Trek by Harry Lindfield from Joe 90. Click on the image to see a larger version on Beano artist Nigel Parkinson’s website

The Gerry Anderson website quotes Look-In writer and TV21 script editor Angus Allan on Lindfield:

[Lady Penelope] went into colour, with an artist – a genius – called Harry Lindfield. If ever I had to choose something that I’d done, and was proud of, those strips would be the ones. Harry was brilliant, and it was a pleasure to write for him. And up went the sales. Not to a million, though. Not ever. But 750,000? That was money to Century 21 and City Magazines.

Annabel saw itself as a ‘New young and lively monthly for women’ and was just in its seventh issue. The large page format – almost A3 – could show off the photography and illustration.

Harry Lindfield's Dr Who cover for Countdown comic

A Harry Lindfield Dr Who cover for Countdown comic. Click on the image to see a larger version on comic artist Lew Stringer’s website

The shape that inspired the Daleks

June 15, 2015
Maxwell Wood Astra coffee set from the 1960s - favourite for the Dalek shape

Maxwell Wood Astra coffee set from the 1960s – favourite for the Dalek shape. Note the bobbles down the ‘skirt’

I mentioned last week in a Radio Times/Dr Who piece that the BBC designer Raymond Cusick had been quoted as saying that he got the idea for the look for Terry Nation’s Daleks ‘while fiddling with a pepper pot’. But it just doesn’t ring true. Top of my list of potential inspiration for the iconic aliens are the above 1960s Maxwell Wood coffee pot, called Astra, and conical kulfi moulds, below.

Mould for kulfi, the Indian ice-cream, with its screw-on lid. Definitely Dalek

Mould for kulfi, the Indian ice-cream, with its screw-on lid. Definitely Dalek

Kulfi moulds also used to have bobbles on the side. I’ve seen these in Britain and as far afield as Indonesia (where I won a symbolic 50p bet on the shape of the ice-cream in an Indian restaurant in Jakarta with a former editor of New Scientist!).

In a BBC obituary piece, Cusick is quoted as being more vague, and that the pepper pot was used during a lunch to describe how the Daleks should move:

[Cusick] explained that, in fact, the pepper pot detail came from a lunch with Bill Roberts, the special effects expert who would make the Daleks, when Mr Cusick picked up a pepper pot and moved it around the table, telling him: “It’s going to move like that – no visible means.”

“Ever since then people say I was inspired by a pepper pot – but it could have been the salt pot I picked up,” he said.

Incidentally, the pale green colour of the Astra pottery is ‘celadon’, the theme colour chosen for the revamp of the Savoy Hotel in 2010.

Sun printers’ role in the atomic bomb programme

June 14, 2015

The repro department at Sun Engraving took the skills needed to process images for photogravure and letterpress printing to great heights in the 1930s, with Picture Post, Vogue and Woman’s Own among the many magazines it printed.
During the war, the company turned over much of its production to military purposes, printing maps and documentation. Now, an exhibition at the Science Museum in London, ‘Churchill’s Scientists’, has revealed a less likely activity – Sun’s work for ‘Tube Alloys’, Britain’s atomic bomb project.

A Sun printing screen used for uranium enrichment at the Science Museum A Sun printing screen used for uranium enrichment at the Science Museum

Sun took the screens it made to produce printing films for photographs and illustrations and developed them into ultra-fine screens that would ‘enrich’ uranium by a process called gas diffusion. The screens progressively concentrated the proportion of uranium-235, the lighter isotope of the metal that is essential to a nuclear explosion, from less than 1% to the 85% needed for weapons-grade material.


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