John Bull at the Advertising Archives

John Bull in 1917 - the magazine was used as a promotional tool for Horatio Bottomley's financial schemes

John Bull in 1917 – the magazine was used as a promotional tool for Horatio Bottomley’s financial schemes

John Bull is one of the most collectable of magazines with a fascinating history. It started off as the mouthpiece of the corrupt politician and Robert Maxwell of his day, Horatio Bottomley. But it was very influential during the First World War and Bottomley was feted for his ability to sway the feelings of the nation – persuading men to sign up for the war, being asked to debate with the Oxford Union and being despatched as an unofficial emissary by the government to persuade strikers to return to work.

It was one of the bestselling weeklies, which ran a popular cryptic word series called Bullets – my pet theory is that John Bull‘s Bullets is the reason why cryptic crosswords developed in Britain.

Guinness made early use of a photograph for a magazine cover advert on this 1934 issue of John Bull

Guinness made early use of a photograph for a magazine cover advert on this 1934 issue of John Bull

In the 1920s, John Bull ran to whole page advertising covers – Guinness and Bovril exploited the potential here. These were usually illustrated, but in 1934, Guinness ran photographs for its advertising. Strangely, for such a massive bestseller, John Bull was slow moving into colour, unlike its rivals such as Illustrated and Passing Show, though it did run colour summer and Christmas covers. This is especially the case because it was owned by Odhams, a massive printing group, which built colour gravure presses in Watford in 1937 and launched the weekly Woman that year to keep those machines turning.

Like all British magazines, John Bull had to pull in its horns during the war, with drab, semi-display advertising covers, but blossomed soon after with stunning colour illustrated covers by some of the finest artists of the day.

Larry Viner, who runs the Advertising Archives (and has advertised on the Magforum Collecting Magazines page for the past decade) has told me that John Bull had sparked his interest in magazines and illustration, and so is probably responsible for the Advertising Archives. In fact, he now owns the rights to John Bull and so it’s no surprise to me that he’s put up a page of covers from the magazine. And every one tells a story.

John Bull magazine cover in 1955 - the poor dog with lead in mouth is ignored by the TV-goggling family

John Bull magazine cover in 1955 – the poor dog with lead in mouth is ignored by the TV-goggling family

The poor, expectant dog sat in front of the family, lead in mouth, while everyone is enraptured by the new TV (this was 1955); the wife having to wait hand and foot on her ill husband who’s sat up in bed looking as happy as Larry (‘man flu’ was alive and well back then, too); the worried husband sneaking a look at the price tag of the fur his wife’s trying on.

And there’s often a hidden story behind the images, as a recent post I did about a 1952 Robert Thomson cover for John Bull showed, with Chris Lourdan commenting on the history of the painting and naming three of the coppers.

But, in the era of TV, John Bull lost its way, was relaunched as Today and staggered on until the mid-1960s.

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One Response to “John Bull at the Advertising Archives”

  1. John Bull and its famous Bullets prize competitions | Magforum Says:

    […] illustrations and covers after the Second World War – a thousand of which can be seen at the Advertising Archives – but the game was one of the magazine’s most popular features in the days before […]

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