The best magazine cover

Voted the best US cover of the past 40 years

Best US cover

This year, there was some fuss about the PPA’s favourite magazine cover vote. Magculture, for example, set out its best recent covers from a designer’s viewpoint.

The ASME/MPA in the US ran a similar project a few years ago with Annie Leibovitz‘s Rolling Stone portrait cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono published just after the Beatle’s murder taking the prize there.

There was no attempt by the PPA to add any historical context and, to my mind, the Dr Who cover from the Radio Times proposed by BBC Gardeners’ World editor Adam Pascoe was a worthy winner within a very limited framework.

THe PPAs vote winner

The PPA’s vote winner

So, I took a look around my archives and was struck by Alfred Leete’s brilliant image from 1914 for London Opinion. Of course, this was an era before radio, TV, colour newspapers or the web, so any magazine cover today immediately starts off with a lot more competition.

Look familiar? Alfred Leetes Kitchener cover

Look familiar? Alfred Leete’s Kitchener cover

However, how many images, whatever their source, are so familiar – from Russia to Italy to the US – as Leete’s, 95 years after they appeared? And today’s publications (and even many others in 1914) have the advantage of colour, glossy paper and time (remember  London Opinion was a weekly). As an image, it echoes around the visual universe in the same way as Big Brother or Clockwork Orange.

And although few people have heard of London Opinion now, it was a leading title of  its day; a racier Punch and in the 1950s, ‘probably the funniest magazine of its era’, for Dennis Gifford. In 1907, London Opinion had introduced limerick competitions and started a ruckus comparable with today’s Celebrity Come Dancing phone-in and the National Lottery combined. So many people had a go that the Post Office nearly ran out of the 6d postal orders needed for entry – 1,140,000 were bought in six months against a normal sale of 700,000-800,000. It was debated by MPs and legal action started to try to have the competitions banned as illegal lotteries.

Does London Opinion have any relevance today? Two examples prove its undying influence for me. First, the US version of the wartime poster was the basis for an Economist cover in September. Second, on a walk last week in Sarratt Bottom in Hertfordshire, what should be staring out at me from a poster but Leete’s Kitchener, calling on the locals to do their bit for an event in the village. You just can’t get away from 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


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