The demise of a magazine is normally a sad time but note the cover line below this image on the front of War Illustrated from 1919: ‘The Happy End’. The cheery angle came about because this issue marked the end of the Great War after more than four years of slaughter. Also, the magazine was about to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of closure with a different name – New Illustrated – the next week. In essence, it was being relaunched with a different name and editorial strategy under its editor JA Hammerton.
Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press had a winning team on its hands under Hammerton and the back cover ran his editorial ‘An end and a beginning’, along with an order coupon for the next issue. Yet, relaunching a magazine is always a challenge – keeping the established readership while attracting new buyers is very difficult.
John Hammerton was one of the most successful editors of his generation. He is best known for his work with Arthur Mee producing magazines and partworks that were then republished as some of the best selling books of the day. These included the Harmsworth Self-Educator, Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopædia and the Children’s Encyclopaedia. In 1933, his Popular History of the Great War was published in six volumes. So, Hammerton set about the task of changing the editorial philosophy of War Illustrated from one of recording a war’s progress to creating New Illustrated as ‘a fascinating pageant of the living history of our own times’.
First, the changes were announced several weeks in advance with a competition to come up with a name for the relaunched magazine – and a tempting £100 prize. This was at a time when a soldier’s pay was about £1 a week, so such a fortune was great publicity. For a month, the back page ran its editorial focusing on the idea with introductions such as: ‘Some of my readers have asked me to help them think of a title for the successor to the War Illustrated … I am yielding to the requests that have reached me by giving a very brief outline of my scheme.’ (By ‘very brief’ Hammerton means the whole of the back page.)
The War Illustrated was launched to record the progress of the war in photographs and illustrations and was designed to be bound into annual volumes. The format was an A4-ish page size on newsprint. Each issue was 32 sides plus the covers (wrappers in the language of the day) and they were numbered sequentially: issue one, 1-32; issue two, 33-64, and so on. Later issues added a four-page centre section printed gravure, which gave a much better reproduction for photographs and raised the pagination to 36 plus 4.
New Illustrated kept to this format and initially looked little different. The volume strategy was still in place with the new title being seen as a ‘continuous sequel’ to War Illustrated. However, as the issues went on, the martial content was slowly decreased. In April, a marked shift took place with a switch to gravure covers. Hammerton announced:
there is nothing quite so costly as the photogravure process which the New Illustrated is introducing for the first time to popular British journalism
Very good artists were always used, such as Harry Rodmell and Francisco Sancha, and the photographs would have looked amazing at the time. May saw a woman on a cover – Lady Diana Manners dressed as Britannia. Manners was one of the leading socialites of the day, and is better remembered today under her married name of Lady Diana Cooper (or as the great aunt of Tory prime minister David Cameron).
From June, the covers always showed women and colour was introduced with dazzling designs befitting the start of the Jazz Age and illustrations by artists such as Billy Bunter illustrator Leonard Shields and photographs by Lallie Charles – who, with her sister Rita, was one of the most successful portraitists of the early 1900s. The women portrayed were shown in the latest fashions, or at parties or at play in the snow, or using the latest technology in the form of the telephone.
However, depression set in as the economy struggled to switch from wartime to peacetime thinking with millions of demobbed troops looking for work. So the start of 1920 saw another relaunch in progress. The masthead became ‘The Record New Illustrated Weekly’, though with the emphasis still on ‘New Illustrated’. With each issue, the emphasis changed until Record Weekly fully emerged from its chrysalis in March. However, the strategy failed and 20 March saw the last issue.
This might finally have been the end of War Illustrated, had not an Austrian painter called Adolph Hitler come along to give rise to World War II. Hammerton – by then Sir John Hammerton – dusted off the War Illustrated strategy and the magazine rose again to record that conflict in a similar way.
The illustration for the last issue of War Illustrated is by Edward Frederick Skinner, whose works are held by both the Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum. These paintings all depict industry and factories harnessed to the needs of war, but Skinner was a varied and sought-after artist, as the Father Christmas image and the lengthily titled ‘High Priest Coifi riding up Goodmanham Lane to smash the Idols‘ from Little Treasure Island by Arthur Mee (Hodder & Stoughton, 1920) show. The much-enlarged signature here also highlights the crude tones produced by letterpress printing as compared with modern colour lithography.