Archive for the ‘1990s’ Category

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

 

Kylie and Jason – the glory days of Smash Hits

May 29, 2015
The best-selling issue of Smash Hits magazine on 30 November 1988  with Kylie Minogue  and Jason Donovan on the cover

The best-selling issue of Smash Hits magazine on 30 November 1988 with Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – ‘the most famous “couple” in the world’ – on the cover

One of the frustrations of writing a book about the history of magazines is what has to be left out. Smash Hits is one of those great titles that, in the end, has just snuck into the book with one cover and a couple of other mentions. Smash Hits is well gone now, having lasted for 28 years after its 1978 launch by Nick Logan, but its power as a teen icon lives on – just look at the Facebook fan site Smash Hits Remembered.

It carved a place in the hearts of millions of teenagers – in Australia and America as well as Britain – with scurrilous gossip, song lyrics, posters, stickers and free gifts. In February 2006 – just after Emap had announced the title’s closure – a first issue of Smash Hits sold on Ebay for £30. The seller, Ruth, summed up the magazine’s appeal: ‘Smash Hits was the best pop magazine of its time. I used to buy it regularly from about the age of 8 to 13. I remember tearing out the posters to cover my walls and singing along really girlie to the songs.’ At its 1988 peak, Smash Hits sold a million copies of the Kylie/Jason covered issue dated 30th of November. Its average issue sales for the second half of 1988 jumped almost half over the first six months to 767,540 copies.

These days, it’s the retiring baby-boomers of the 1950s who rule the economic roost in Britain, with their property-based wealth and political voting power, but in the 1980s, it was the number of teenagers that was booming, and no magazine publisher caught that wave better than Emap with Smash Hits.

Pete Waterman as music magazine columnist The Hitman!That November 1988 issue coincided with the release of the single ‘Especially for You’ from Neighbours-actors-turned-pop-stars Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. The phenomenon of the Aussie soap opera was exploited by Stock Aitken Waterman – pop impresario Pete Waterman with song-writers and musicians Matt Aitken and Mike Stock – in a year that saw the recently-formed music producers dominate the charts. Pete Waterman is known to today’s TV audiences as a former judge with Simon Cowell on Pop Idol and Popstars. In 1988, he was also The Hitman!, a columnist on Number One – a rival magazine to Smash Hits. ‘Especially for You’ was a single from Donovan’s first album Ten Good Reasons and he would go on to eclipse even Kylie’s record sales in the next year (though he has lacked her staying power).  But Stock Aitken Waterman had already made 19-year-old Kylie Minogue one of the biggest successes of 1988.

It's Kylie!!! Neighbours soap star Minogue is reborn as a pop star on her first cover for Smash Hits magazine in (7 July 1988)

It’s Kylie!!! Neighbours soap star Minogue is reborn as a pop star on her first cover for Smash Hits magazine (7 July 1988). Note the exclamation marks – Smash Hits was renowned for them!

Neighbours had been one of the most popular television programmes for two years and, although I raised the possibility of spinning off a magazine from the soap opera with BBC executives, the fact the British broadcasts were months behind the first Australian showings stymied the idea. Minogue’s fame allied to the skills of Stock Aitken Waterman saw her debut single ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ at number 1 for weeks – a feat it repeated around the world. Her other releases in 1988 – ‘Got to Be Certain’, ‘The Loco-Motion’ and ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi’ all reached the top 5 and the album Kylie dominated that chart for six weeks.

Smash Hits had it all covered. The May 18 issue had Kylie Minogue as one of its three posters in the centre (Five Star and A-Ha’s Morten Harket being the others). The issue also printed the lyrics to Kylie’s ‘Got To Be Certain’. Climie Fisher was on the front cover and Dirty Dancing actor Patrick Swayze was on the back.

The issue of 27 July ran its first Minogue cover – ‘It’s Kylie!!!’. For  20 September, there was another Kylie poster. The issue of 19 October carried Kylie on the front for the second time – ‘It’s … Smylie Minogue!!!’ was the cover line. November 2 had centre posters of Kylie and Michael Jackson.

It's ... Smylie. Kylie Minogue on the cover of Smash Hits magazine in October 1988

It’s … Smylie Minogue!!! Kylie Minogue on the cover of Smash Hits magazine in October 1988 (eight exclamation marks on this cover!)

Incredibly, amid the Kylie phenomenon, Stock Aitken Waterman also had hits with Mel & Kim, Sinitta, Rick Astley, Bananarama, Hazell Dean and Brother Beyond. They were known as the ‘Hit Factory’ and BBC radio ran a recent programme with that title in its Reunion series, which is still available on BBC iPlayer. Donovan had also reached the top 5 with ‘Nothing Can Divide Us’, so the pairing of the Neighbours duo in ‘Especially for You’ was a sure-fire hit.

The single was pitched into a battle for the lucrative Christmas number 1 against Cliff Richard’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ – 1950s rock ‘n’ roller versus 1980s soap stars. However, even though the release of  ‘Especially for You’ coincided with Kylie and Jason’s on-screen Neighbours wedding, the pop veteran who had seen his first hit in 1958 with ‘Move It’ won out with the biggest-selling song of 1988. However, ‘Especially for You’ did top the charts in the new year.

The Guardian has listed Donovan as one of its ‘pop casualties of the 1980s’, saying:

Before [in their Neighbours hey-day, with a cheesy photo of him with Kylie]: He was Scott to Kylie’s Charlene in the Aussie soap in the 80s, and later her boyfriend in real life. In 1990 he won Best Male Solo Singer and Worst Male Solo Singer at the Smash Hits Awards.
After [2000, with shaven-headed photo]: He is now a father of two and reportedly has found happiness with long-term girlfriend Angela Balloch.

Smash Hits may be gone – sales were down to 120,000 copies an issue when it closed in 2006 – but it is not forgotten. There are even two books about it – the 2006 Best of Smash Hits by former editor Mark Frith, and Pop Life (2011) by three former writers and editors of the Australia edition. The best-selling issue in Oz was also in 1988, with a Bon Jovi cover for the 30 November issue. That sold 150,000 copies.

Profile of British music magazines 

British teen magazines

 

The fall of the lads: Loaded and Clarkson

April 1, 2015
The May 1994 first issue of Loaded - a landmark title under James Brown

The May 1994 first issue of Loaded – a landmark title under James Brown

There’s a certain irony that Loaded, the magazine credited with sparking the lad’s mag boom under editor James Brown, announced it was closing last month, just as the BBC drew the curtains on Jeremy Clarkson’s tenure fronting Top Gear. Loaded  is closing, with the last issue, dated April,  published on March 26.

Loaded was launched by IPC (now Time UK) with the strap line ‘For men who should know better.’ It seems incredible now, but Loaded and its arch rival FHM once shifted more than a million copies a month between them. The better-selling, babe-infested FHM even topped Cosmopolitan, then the best-selling women’s  monthly, in the sales stakes.

An in-your-face spread from Loaded in May 1995

Influential design: an in-your-face spread from Loaded in May 1995

And Loaded was not just influential in its sector, it rode the wave of irreverence led by Viz (1979) and TV series such as Men Behaving Badly  (1992) to help pave the way for the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC’s TV mega-hit Top Gear (2002). Emap furthered the trend not just by buying up and relaunching the 1985-founded FHM but also by bringing out Minx in 1996 – ‘For girls with a lust for life’. Furthermore, Loaded‘s design attitude spread throughout the magazine industry, both in the UK and overseas.

However, IPC sold Loaded in October 2010 to Vitality. Although its sales once regularly exceeded a quarter of a million, IPC offloaded Loaded as part of a sale of several ‘niche’ titles. In truth, Loaded had been dead on its feet for a long time, the latest in a line of lad’s mags to bite the dust. Yet, they helped expand the mainstream men’s magazine sector, which is now more vibrant than at any time.

At the lads’ end of things, the two survivors are Bauer’s monthly FHM – selling about 75,000 copy a month, a tenth of the total at its peak in the mid 1990s – and the weekly Zoo, selling 30,000.

It just seems a shame that, even as Clarkson goes out with a bang, the equally loud-mouthed Loaded is going out with a whimper.

What about the undies?

January 19, 2015
A Woman's Own centre spread from 1939 - 'She likes undies'

A Woman’s Own centre spread from 1939 – ‘She likes undies’

Undies. When did you last see that word? It used to be used on women’s magazine covers and in headlines quite a lot. But where do you see it now? Fashion journalists in magazines were certainly not afraid to use it in 1939 – as this centre spread from Woman’s Own shows – ‘She likes undies.’

And in Woman’s Fair in its January 1940 ‘Wishful thinking’ editorial for the new year: ‘We are going to stop hoarding old evening dresses and decrepit undies and make instead the beauteous evening gala outfit on page 24.’ At the end of the 1940s, here are undies as the topic for the main cover line above the title on Woman’s Pictorial:

Woman's Pictorial magazine from 1949 with the cover line: 'Beutiful undies to make and embrioder'

Woman’s Pictorial magazine from 1949 with the cover line: ‘Beautiful undies to make and embroider’

But note that these were the days when fashionable women made their own. I can’t see such an article causing Woman’s Own to go flying off the shelves today. Fashions change and it seems that reliable, cheap undies from Marks and Spencer tempted women away from their sowing machines. By 1991, the Times could inform us: ‘And we know that Margaret Thatcher gets her undies at M&S. “Doesn’t everybody?” she asked a television reporter.’

The full Oxford English Dictionary defines undies as meaning ‘Articles of girls’ or women’s underclothing’. In support, it quotes:

  • 1906. Punch 30 May: ‘She’d blouses for Sundays, And marvellous “undies” concocted of ribbons and lace.’
  • 1920. Arnold Bennett, the Woman editor and novelist, in his book Our Women: Chapters on the Sex-discord: ‘You have only to reflect … upon the astonishing public importance given to what are delicately known as “undies”.’
  • 1939. Arthur Ransome in Secret Water: ‘Go on, Bridgie. Off with your things. Undies too.’ (Doesn’t sound like it’s from one of his Swallows and Amazons children’s books!)
  • 1967. Crime writer Nicolas Freeling in one of his Van der Valk books, Strike Out Where Not Applicable: Arlette … knows I’m not just belting off for the afternoon because of the black undies.

But that OED definition needs rewriting because undies are for men these days, as the Christmas clash of the male models shows:

David Gandy has claimed victory over David Beckham in the battle of the undies – and even made the astonishing claim that his underwear range has single-handedly saved Marks & Spencer (Mail on Sunday, 18 January 2015)

Undies meaning men’s underwear is a trend that goes back to at least 1993, when the Evening Standard talked about a company ‘that makes men’s undies’ and there was an ‘offer’ in another newspaper that year, the a Daily Star: ‘Buy a pair of Gazza’s undies.’

However, a quick flick through the newspaper cuttings suggests the word is these days much more likely to appear in the Sun than a broadsheet. While the ever-so-posh Lucia van der Post was quite happy to talk about undies for How to Spend It, the Financial Times glossy magazine, the FT put the word in quotes last year in a column by David Tang; almost as if it’s not quite a safe word to touch for its tycoon columnist (a sense suggested in that ‘delicately known as’ phrase from Arnold Bennett in 1920):

A stay at a flash hotel in Miami last year had us in a suite of rooms with a huge art-deco style bathroom, beautifully decorated in black and white, but with nowhere to sit or put one’s ‘undies’

‘One’s undies.’ Now that’s a really rare phrase.

Press freedom in Indonesia

April 5, 2007

A Jakarta court yesterday cleared the editor of Playboy Indonesia of distributing indecent pictures to the public and making money from them. Erwin Arnada argued that his magazine was good for developing a pluralistic society, while the prosecution and Islamic protestors said he had harmed the nation’s morals. The judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to take account of press freedoms developed since the 1998 downfall of Suharto. Tempo September 1999 in Indonesia

One of the drivers in creating those freedoms was Tempo, when the news weekly continually challenged Suharto’s corrupt regime in 1995. The government took away its licence to publish, so when I visited the magazine in 1996 it had gone online and published its articles in a book instead. (Some of the journalists later launched another title, Gatra.) The final straw for Suharto’s cohorts had been an attack on the president’s son, known as ‘Tommy’, who had broken the country’s laws to set up a company assembling cars. Threats to the editors and the website came to nothing because there was no legal basis to censor a website and supporters in Australia had declared they would host the magazine if there were problems in Jakarta. The September 1999 cover shown here is typical of Tempo‘s style.

I doubt if the journalists on Tempo had a US behometh such as Playboy in mind when they took on Suharto’s bullyboys to fight for the right to speak out, but the fight to establish – and test – the limits of such freedoms is one that never ends.