Archive for the ‘magazine history’ Category

How Radio Times marked VE Day

May 8, 2020

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This is the front cover of the Radio Times listing VE-Day celebrations in Britain to mark Germany’s surrender in May 1945. Special victory radio programmes on the BBC marked the week, celebrating each of the armed services and the civilian effort.

Beautifully illustrated as always, even the advertising, such as this Nestle advert, drawn, I reckon, by Mabel Lucie Atwell. She was an incredibly successful illustrator, renowned for her drawings of cute children.

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Lockdown – the magazine

May 6, 2020
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Hand-drawn cover for a 1924 school magazine

I took a good look and I can find no trace of a magazine called Lockdown. Which was a bit of a surprise, because there tends to be a magazine about just about anything.

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British prisoner of war magazine from 1915

And there have certainly been plenty of magazines produced by people in much nastier versions of lockdowns than today’s. I certainly associate the word ‘lockdown’ with prison and The Wooden City was first produced in 1915 by British prisoners of war.

 

At around the same time, the hell of the mud and bombardment at Ypres inspired troops during the First World War. They found an abandoned printing press and came up with The Wipers Times or Salient News, which has been reprinted as a book and has been the subject of documentaries by the likes of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.

And, in January 1915, Ernest Shackleton and his men got trapped in the South Pole ice in their ship, the Endurance, and lived on board for ten months. They scrubbed the decks, played football when they could get out but even so, ‘in May they all had a fit of madness and decided to shave their heads’. They had to bring in ice every day to melt for water. And had to kill their dogs when food ran short. But, in November 1915, things got worse – the ship sank, so they had to live in tents on the ice. That left them with no choice but to drag an open boat across the ice for seven days to the sea. Shackleton and five others left their 22 comrades behind and then rowed 750 miles across the ocean to South Georgia to get help from whalers there. It was August 1916 before everyone was rescued.

Luckily, Shackelton had taken books with him and a typewriter, which the men used to produce a magazine to entertain themselves.

Alongside diaries and ships logs, such journals were a Royal Navy tradition and Robert Scott and his explorers produced the South Polar Times, for both of their Antarctic exhibitions. Scott himself wrote several articles, ‘including Horticultural Notes’, a humorous piece, for which the manuscript survives. Twelve issues of South Polar Times were produced, including four from the second, ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. The issues are ‘marked by their jollity‘. However, the last issue was produced in 1912 at the expedition base hut, by men who would have known that Scott and his four companions were dead because their food would have run out. They were trapped in their tent in a blizzard, where they died, apart from Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates, who walked out of the tent with words that have gone down in history: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ Scott’s journal was found in his pocket after he had been dead for eight months.

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How Arthur Conan Doyle recorded his voyage to the Arctic

But it was a trip to the Arctic at the other end of the world that inspired a more mainstream writer. In 1880, Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, took six months out of medical school to work as a ship’s surgeon on a whaling expedition. This has been published as a facsimile book. He produced a magazine-like journal of the voyage, something he had also done at school. And he carried on making such notebooks as research in his later work, such as The White Company.

 

Schools aren’t exactly prisons, but they’ve produced many magazines – often going back a century or more. The Lyttletonian from 1924 is one example, which recently went up for sale on eBay. It came from a girls’ school and is typical in using mimeographed pages (today it would be a photocopier), with an ink and watercolour cover – ‘I expect the girls made their own,’ said the seller.

And no doubt penned-in children and adults around the country are producing their own magazines, News from Over the Road or Our House Journal or Lockdown Fashion World. And these are far more likely to be accessible to our descendants another century from now than a website or blog post. After all, you probably can’t even read your emails from a decade ago, never mind a floppy disc from 20 years ago.

Magazines and adverts in Fleet Street

April 20, 2020

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Fleet Street has run with printing ink ever since Wynkyn de Worde moved Caxton’s press from Westminster into Shoe Lane, just off the east end of the street, in the 1490s. This coloured postcard tells of much of that history.

The view looks east along Fleet Street across Ludgate Circus and through the railway viaduct that once spanned Ludgate Hill up to St Paul’s Cathedral. The church spire in front of the cathedral’s dome is St Martin’s Ludgate, a church that, like St Paul’s, was rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the 1666 Great Fire of London. Ludgate Hill station closed in 1929, but the bridge was not demolished until 1990 as part of the construction of Thameslink, the line that crosses the capital to join the south coast with the Midlands.

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Newspaper seller by Poppin’s Court

Bride Lane is the the right and a newspaper seller stands on the left at the archway leading into Poppin’s Court. Shoe Lane would be behind to the left.

At least three pubs can be seen. The King Lud is in front of the rail bridge on the left. Today, it’s split into a Santander branch and a Leon fast food joint. There’s a plaque up on the wall on the Ludgate Hill side of the Leon marking the site of publication of the first regular English daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, in 1702. The pub was named after the king who, legend has it, founded London and gave his name to Ludgate. A statue of Lud and his sons that was once part of the gate now stands in the porch of St Dunstan-in-the West at the other end of Fleet Street.

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Signs for Smith’s Advertising Agency, Quiver magazine and Tit-Bits, probably in May 1914

On the right of the postcard, can just be made out the square white sign for the Punch Tavern (No 99), which was called the Crown and Sugar Loaf, but took the new name after Punch magazine moved to 85 Fleet Street in 1845. The pub developers Saville & Martin rebuilt the pub in 1890s and it is now grade II listed. Smith’s, one of the biggest advertising agencies, occupied the offices above the Punch Tavern, named Publicity House. The SAA lettering can be seen on the corner of a building it occupied from 1885 to at least 1936. Coming back in this direction on the right is Bride Lane, home to both the journalists’ church and now St Bride’s Printing Library. There’s then an awning with a shop frontage below and the white sign for The Old Bell Tavern (No 95).

Today, the newsagents under the awning is gone and there is a fancy windowed frontage to the Old Bell, but photographs show there used to be just a tiled entrance way into the pub (like the Punch Tavern today).

Above the Old Bell are two hoardings. The lower one with a green background is for Tit-Bits, promoting ‘£500 in simple cricket competition’.

The larger hoarding shows a poster for The Quiver, a popular monthly, headed up with the words ‘Special mothers’ and daughters’ number’. The name Annie S Swan tops the billing. Swan was a famous romantic fiction writer, and editor of Women at Home from 1893 to 1917. She was also a founder of the Scottish National Party. The Quiver serialised Swan’s Corroding Gold from early 1914 and Cassell published the book that same year. The poster appears to be advertising the May issue, suggesting the photograph was taken at that time.

Other writers on the Quiver list include Amy B Barnard LLA (author of The Girls’ Encyclopaedia), the author Mrs George de Horne Vaizey,  Mrs Elizabeth Sloan Chesser MD, and Helen Wallace. 

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The Quiver, February 1914. The cover lines are for Arnold Bennett’s ‘mental stocktaking’ and the romantic serial ‘Heart’s Desire’ by Mrs George de Horne Vaizey

The Quiver, which ran from 1861 to1926, was published and printed by Cassell at La Belle Sauvage Yard, a few hundred yards away near the foot of Ludgate Hill. Cassell was a publishing house that pioneered cheap reprints of classic books and hit it big in 1883 with Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines two years later. The Quiver was originally ‘designed for the defence and promotion of biblical truth, and the advancement of religion in the homes of the people’, what would have been called ‘Sunday reading’, but became more general in its coverage in the Edwardian era. The name Cassell is now associated only with books, but the company was also one of the biggest magazine publishers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and sold its titles to Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press in the late 1920s. The titles included Cassell’s Magazine, the short-lived Woman’s World (edited by Oscar Wilde), Cassell’s Saturday Journal, Chums, the Penny Magazine, New Magazine and The Story-Teller.

La Belle Sauvage Yard no longer exists, but John Cassell moved his publishing and printing offices there in 1852, when it was part of one of the oldest inns in the City of London, The Bell Savage, dating back to 1380. According to The Story of the House of Cassell, the name derives from a combination of William Savage and the name of the hostelry he owned, Savage’s Inn, otherwise called the Bell on the Hoop. It later became a theatre and coaching inn.

The book places the Francification of the name to La Belle Sauvage at the door of no less a literary figure than Joseph Addison, co-founder of the original daily Spectator in 1711. In issue 82 of the Spectator, despite customers finding their ale at ‘the Sign of a Savage Man standing by a Bell’ he writes about ‘the reading of an old Romance translated out of the French, which gives an account of a very beautiful Woman who was found in a Wilderness, and it is called in the French La Belle Sauvage.’

Cassell gradually took over the yard and rebuilt it. The entrance was through an arch off Ludgate Hill. The inn was demolished in 1873 to make way for the railway viaduct. The rest of La Belle Sauvage was destroyed, like much of Fleet Street, by bombing in 1941.

Notice how prolific the advertising sings are. The Bovril sign atop the building on the far side of Ludgate Circus was there from about 1900 for 40 years. Below are promotions for Schweppes and the Isle of Man office with its Legs of Man logo.

Smith’s, one of the biggest advertising agencies, occupied the offices above the Punch Tavern, named Publicity House. The SAA lettering can be seen on the corner at the level of each of the three floors of the building.

Finally, the postcard demonstrates image manipulation, not only because it was a black-and-white photograph that has been coloured, but part of the view has been edited. Compare the bottom-right corner of the postcard with the close-up of the Quiver poster; you’ll see that the lorry with the Robin starch advertising on its canvas side has been removed and painted over with pedestrians, probably because it was felt to detract from the card.

Postwar crossword days at Elle

April 19, 2020

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Today, Elle magazine is renowned as a glossy fashion monthly licensed by its French owners and published globally from New York to Moscow. But it has its origins as a general women’s weekly founded in postwar Paris.

The cover here is from 1947 (dated October 21). It’s unusual for its crossword-based design with the woman and background taken as a single photograph with the masthead title added later. The cross words act as cover lines, describing the attributes of the magazine: gay and practical, but with work spelled out twice as downward words.

Inside was the actual mots croisés for the issue, which is reproduced below. Note the non-symmetrical grid, there being two or three clues for each words, and unusual numbering for the grid. In Britain, the crossword craze dates to the mid-1920s and the symmetrical shape and numbering style were ubiquitous in the 1930s.

The vertical numbers can just be seen on the left edge of the cover design, in Roman numerals. Answers on a postcard please …

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Black and white artists in London Opinion

March 5, 2020
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London Opinion cover, dated 11 April 1908

London Opinion was a popular weekly magazine of the Edwardian period that was heavily illustrated by various black and white artists, such as Alfred ‘Your Country Needs You’ Leete and Bert ‘Are a Mo, Kaiser’ Thomas. This cover, dated 11 April 1908, is signed, but heaven knows what the signature says!

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The cover by the unknown illustrator is unusual in that it combines both line illustration and halftone. The halftone reproduction is reserved for the face.

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Halftone reproduction is only used for the face on this London Opinion cover

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At this stage, Leete does not appear to be one of the star illustrators, though he was regularly doing covers by 1914 when he did the Kitchener image that became the famous recruiting poster. He has at least three illustrations in this 1908 issue, judging by his signature with its dropped ‘T’.

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Alfred Leete’s signature can be seen on this cartoon

 

 

 

 

 

When ‘Put-U-Up’ was a trade mark

March 1, 2020

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‘Put-U-Up’ is one of those expressions that’s a household phrase to me for a folding bed, but, as this pre-war colour advert shows, it was an actual brand, made in Clapton, east London.

The full-page advert is from a 1939 copy of the tabloid-sized Illustrated, one of the biggest-selling weekly magazines at the time. It was a rival of Picture Post, and later John Bull, when the latter adopted colour after the war. Its sales at the time will have been about a million copies a week. Illustrated was printed in Watford for its Covent Garden-based publisher, Odhams Press. It closed in 1957, a time when magazines were losing advertising revenue and readers to commercial television.

> General weekly magazines

 

Online conference focuses on national identity in magazines

February 1, 2020

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The Centre for Design History at Brighton University in running a magazine conference on 23 March – 5 April. Future States: Modernity and national identity in popular magazines, 1890-1945 includes academic presenters from 15 countries with free access for registrants to keynote addresses, panels, Q&As, abstracts, notice boards and contacts lists. 

The programme has yet to be published, but the conference theme is being developed in 35 talks on print cultures across the world. Topics include the Soviet satirical magazine Krokodil, Der Rote Stern (The Red Star), the weekly illustrated supplement of the German communist party daily paper, and the populist illustrated periodicals of fascist Italy published by Rizzoli. Panels are set to explore the magazine cultures of North America and Europe, Britain and Australia, Mexico and Peru, Turkey, Iran, and the Soviet Turkic states.

The presentations are being recorded in advance, and will be published over the two weeks of the conference and participants can contribute to discussions. Afterwards, all the material will be maintained as a permanent online record.

In what looks to be an interesting experiment, Future States aims to be a ‘nearly carbon-neutral conference’.

 

 

Harry Furniss: he Lika Joko

January 10, 2020
Lika Joko first issue cover

Lika Joko first issue cover in 1894. It was ‘conducted’ by Harry Furniss

Harry Furniss was a popular black and white artist of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods who launched his own magazine, Lika Joko in 1894 after he left Punch. The name was a pun on ‘like a joke’ and one of his noms-de-crayon. Like many periodicals of the time, the cover was dominated by advertising.

Note how Furniss portrays himself alongside the magazine’s title with his quill pen piercing the artist’s palette and the nib appearing to be covered in blood – the pen being mightier than the sword. He is dressed in a kimono with sheets of paper held in place at his back by the belt. The patterns on the kimono are formed from parts of his signature. The lettering of the title also has a Japanese feel. Furniss had produced a series of cartoons, ‘Our Japanneries’, under the name Lika Joko in 1888, pretending to be ‘the celebrated Japanese Artist … who is now on a visit to this country’. In the late Victorian period, Japan had a huge influence of art in Britain, resulting in a phenomenon known as Japonisme. Japan and Britain were great allies until World War II.

Illustration from Lika Joko editorial page: How Harry Furniss portrayed Mr Punch and Toby

How Harry Furniss portrayed Mr Punch and Toby in the Lika Joko editorial

On Punch, Furniss was renowned for his quick-fire caricatures of MPs in parliament for the Essence of Parliament pages, which were collated into books, but he turned his pen to all sorts of subjects and illustrated many books. RGG Price in his History of Punch (1957) says: ‘During the years of his Punch work, Harry Furniss dominated the pages. He was all over the place with jokes, illustrations, dramatic criticisms, headings and parliamentary sketches … It is said that he would chat to a man and caricature him on a pad held in his pocket.’

One of his cartoons in the satirical weekly was a spoof on advertising for A&F Pears (now part of Unilever), which used endorsements from celebrities such as the actress and notable beauty, Lillie Langtry, to sell its translucent amber soap. The spoof (26 April 1884) showed a tramp writing a letter saying:

I used your Soap two years ago; since then I have used no other.

Furniss and Punch fell out when the magazine sold the copyright in the drawing to Pears for use in advertising. Price describes Furniss as being ‘dictatorial and slick’ over the issue and the Punch people as ‘patient and disinterested’ in their correspondence. Despite this, the Pears advert was carried on the back cover of the first issue of Lika Joko – see at the bottom of this post – though with a slightly different caption. Pears used the Furniss cartoon advert at least for 16 years – I have a copy of it in a 1910 issue of TP’s Magazine.

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Pears took the Millais painting ‘A Child’s World’, added a bar of soap by the boy’s foot to advertising reproductions, and called it ‘Bubbles’

Pears famously turned another image, the painting ‘A Child’s World’ by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Millais, into advertising – the  image became so famous because it was reproduced as colour lithographs millions of times over several decades. Thomas Barratt, the company’s managing director, bought the painting from Illustrated London News owner Sir William Ingram, who had reproduced it in the magazine as a colour poster for a Christmas issue. Pears had the image copied with a bar of its soap added and today we know it as ‘Bubbles’.

Barratt has been described as ‘the father of modern advertising’ for his innovative strategies. The boy in the painting was the artist’s grandson, Willie James, who later became a Royal Navy admiral. Like Pears’ soap, ‘Bubbles’ is now owned by Unilever and is on loan to the Lady Lever art gallery in Port Sunlight, on the Wirral. Copies of the colour advertising can be seen online from the V&A museum catalogue.

Pear's soap took the back page of Lika Joko with its Harry Furniss advertisement

Pears took the back page of Lika Joko with its Harry Furniss advert

Lika Joko lasted for just 26 issues, from 20 October 1894 to 13 April 1895. Price describes how Furniss was refused a gallery ticket to parliament for Lika Joko – a disaster for a political caricaturist – and that this proved fatal to the paper. Later, Furniss went to the US, where the Internet Movie Database lists him as directing, writing and appearing in three films for Edison Studios, a company controlled by the inventor Thomas Edison: The Mighty Hunters and The Artist’s Joke (1912), and Rival Reflections (1914). Furniss returned to Britain and has been credited with helping to pioneer animated cartoon films in 1914 with War Cartoons and Peace and Pencillings. The BFI credits Furniss on 15 films.

There is a short film online at Brighton University, Winchelsea and its Surroundings. A Day with Harry Furniss and his Sketchbook, which shows Furniss at the cottage of Helen Terry and painting the actress. Other scenes are filmed in Winchelsea and Hastings.

Price reckons Furniss made a lot of money but lost most of it to making films. He died in 1925, in the seaside town of Hastings, where he is buried.

The National Portrait Gallery has a self-portrait of Furniss and more than 450 of his sketches for sale online as prints.

>> Harry Furniss profile in Tit-Bits, alongside Sir Leslie Ward (‘Spy’ of Vanity Fair) and the theatrical caricaturist Alfred Bryan

>> More on Punch, a weekly satirical magazine that lasted 150 years


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

 

 


Reed, Pearson and Future: lessons in media strategy

January 8, 2020
12 magazine logos: Some of the magazine brands Future in buying from TI Media

Fifteen of the 41 magazine brands Future is buying from TI Media

In my days as a media academic, I developed a case study comparing the corporate strategies of Reed International and Pearson. Their progress has been brought back to mind as I ponder what Future is planning for the 41 media brands it is buying from TI Media. These are the remnants of what used to be IPC – Britain’s ‘Ministry of Magazines’ as it was called for its massive size and bureaucracy – and one of the biggest divisions of Reed back in 1980.

At a basic level, it’s a nice little project to map TI’s list of iconic brands, against Future’s justification for the £140m purchase. What divisions would you put the purchased magazines into? And why? Notice that Future lists Country Life in both the Lifestyle and Home Interest ‘verticals’; so where should that venerable title – founded in 1897 – belong? I argued two years ago that it was one of brands being neglected under TI:

[Moving Country Life out of London into a business park] suggests a lack of investment by its owners. However, even if this penny-pinching strategy leads to a decline in Country Life‘s fortunes, its history and contacts should enable it to attract a better owner – and its history can never be taken away. If I were the editor, I’d be trying to do a management buy-out.

And what will Future do with all the yachting and boating titles – sport or lifestyle? Do the hunting and shooting titles fit Future’s skills and company ethos? Where does CelebsNow belong? That’s the digital stump of Now, all that’s left since the magazine, which had a reputation for upsetting celebrities, closed in March last year. Is it worth pushing further into the celebrity sector?

Future’s managers will no doubt be running the Boston matrix over their purchases, deciding which ones are a good fit, which stars to fund for their growth potential, and which dogs to close or sell on to companies where they are a better fit. The UK periodical publishing industry is nothing if not dynamic.

200 years of Reed and Pearson history

More at the business degree end of things, Reed and Pearson are fascinating companies and between them encompass the fortunes of a huge part of British magazine and book publishing for much of the past 175 years. They are among only 28 survivors of the original companies in the FTSE 100 when the index was created in 1984; Future did not yet exist. Yet Reed and Pearson both have their roots outside publishing.

Reed started out as a papermaker in 1895, growing quickly alongside the boom in magazines and newspaper publishing that created a massive demand for newsprint made from wood pulp. This was a time when Fleet Street was the centre of the global media world and Reed’s business brought it into contact with printers, publishers and the building trade. Being a well run and profitable company, it had the cash to buy up companies in these sectors, so by 1980 Reed Group controlled IPC Magazines, Mirror Group newspapers, Odhams printers, Crown wallpapers and paints, and Polycell, among others.

Financial Times eggcup photo: Pearson owned the FT from 1957 to 2015

Pearson owned the FT from 1957 to 2015

Pearson was founded in 1844 as a building contractor and evolved into an international group working for governments across the world. If you’ve ever been to Malta, some of those Valetta harbours and fortifications are of its making, as are chunks of infrastructure in New York, London, Cairo and Mexico. It was also big in oil services. In the 1950s, Pearson became a conglomerate running a portfolio of companies in five sectors: financial services, publishing, oil, manufacturing, and investment trusts. The assets included Lazard bank, the Financial Times, the Economist, Penguin, Longman, Westminster Press, Yorkshire TV, Château Latour, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Madame Tussaud’s. The only common factor was that each one was regarded as being the best in its field.

Future was founded in 1985 by Chris Anderson (now better known for heading up the TED talks). Future’s first title was Amstrad Action, a games magazine for owners of Alan ‘Your Fired’ Sugar’s Amstrad computers. It was produced cheaply using computer technology outside London and the company then expanded into hobbies such as cross-stitch as a self-professed ‘anorak publisher’. Pearson actually owned Future for four year from 1984 as it pursued growth in multimedia.

Reed and Pearson were both massive and successful companies, with market capitalisations of £2.4bn and £1.7bn respectively in 1988. However, conglomerates were out of fashion and found it hard to justify their strategies to the financial markets. They were regarded as takeover targets that were more valuable by being split up; and Pearson was described as a ‘collection of rich man’s baubles’. They decided to change their strategies and concentrate on media – both were founder investors in British Satellite Broadcasting in 1989. However, they met with very different results.

All change in 1990s media

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

Reed sold its building divisions, newspapers and print plants; out went book publishing and IPC, publisher of iconic magazines such as Country Life, NME, Woman’s Own and Loaded. By 1990, it had changed analysts’ views – they regarded its share price of 443p as undervaluing the company compared with other international publishing businesses. It then merged with Elsevier, a Dutch professional publishing group, and concentrated on information and data that could be sold internationally over digital networks at high prices.  It moved up the ‘value pyramid’ in marketing jargon, away from high volume, low value fiction paperbacks and weekly magazines into expensive, global professional information and data. The nearest it kept to a consumer magazine was Reed Business Media and New Scientist – and that went in 2017. The strategy was a great success and Relx, as the company is now known, has a market capitalisation of £37bn and employs 30,000 people. Its share price is 1,905p and it is ranked 15 in the FTSE 100.

Penguin logo: Penguin was controlled by Pearson from 1970 to 2013

Penguin was controlled by Pearson from 1970 to 2013

Pearson sold Penguin and its other consumer imprints to concentrate on academic and educational publishing, student testing, and the FT and Economist. The strategy worked and by 1990 its shares were at 777p. The share price shot through the roof in the ‘dotcom boom‘ of 2000 – peaking at about £24 – because the company was seen as a ‘digital play’ for investors. But that bubble popped. The company’s valuation recovered to about £14 under former Economist publisher Marjorie Scardino as she pursued a ‘learning company’ strategy, but has since bombed under her successor John Fallon. He sold the FT and Economist to focus even more on education and testing, but exposed the company to falling sales as students and schools in the US cut back on buying books, its digital distribution did not take off and the share price dropped like a stone. Today, Pearson has a market capitalisation of £5bn and employs 24,000 people. Its share price is 634p, and it has dropped to 96th in the FTSE 100.

So, in 1980 Reed had a market capitalisation half as big again as Pearson’s; 30 years later it is seven times as big. Two conglomerates tried to focus on digital media, Reed executed the strategy far better.

So, what about Future?

Amstrad Action magazine first issue cover: Future's first title magazine in 1985

Amstrad Action was Future’s first magazine in 1985

Bath-based Future is a minnow compared with Reed and Pearson, just 35 years old with a market capitalisation of £1.4bn and 1,200 employees. It is ranked at about 240 on the FTSE. Future went through the dotcom bubble – publishing Business 2.0, which mapped the hopes for the ‘new economy’ – and nearly became a cropper through over-expansion and reliance on the US economy.

Now, Future plc has a similar level of turnover per employee as the enviable Reed. However, does it really have the skills and resources to exploit the historic shift being forced on periodical publishing by digital media? Investors think so. Future’s share price tripled in 2019 because they reckon it can buy up moribund print magazines and turn them into digital goldmines. That’s what Future says it will do with the 35 magazines and six websites it has bought from TI Media. What do you think?

 

Scare fiction and War of the Worlds

December 29, 2019
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War of the Worlds by HG Wells as re-envisaged by the BBC

The BBC’s Christmas adaptation of the War of the Worlds has brought the HG Wells work to fresh audiences. The original serial is an iconic piece of fiction and certainly boosted the reputation of Pearson’s, the monthly magazine that first published it, in 1897. It was part of a genre called ‘scare fiction’ that was popular – and influential – from the 1870s into the First World War. The inspiration for such works came from the changing European alliances of the Victorian era.

Britain was at war throughout the nineteenth century. Having put Napoleon’s ambitions to rest – with Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar and then Wellington’s at Waterloo in 1815 – there came the Crimea War against Russia. That ended in 1856, after which the hostilities were mainly outside Europe. The conflicts were about cementing the empire – the Zulu war, Abyssinia, two Anglo-Boer wars, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Nile campaigns among them. The British were able to win using small, well-drilled forces on land and sea, local allies, and superior weapons. Meanwhile, alongside these far-flung conflicts, writers were imagining how war might look closer to home, against a modern European power.

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The Battle of Dorking by George Tomkyns Chesney sparked a new genre, scare fiction

A short story in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine fired the starting gun for scare fiction in May 1871. The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer, told of an invasion and was to influence public debate right up to the start of the Great War. Blackwood’s was an influential right-wing monthly – known as ‘Maga’ – that was sold globally as well as at home. Blackwood’s established the careers, among others, of Middlemarch author George Eliot and Joseph Conrad with Heart of Darkness. The initially anonymous Battle of Dorking (by army engineer George Tomkyns Chesney) describes how a secret weapon deployed by the unnamed enemy (though clearly Prussians – who had secured  the victory against Napoleon at Waterloo) destroys the Royal Navy, with the ineffectual defenders on land being defeated near Dorking in Surrey when they try to block the invaders’ road to London. The invading force conquers Britain and the empire is then broken up.

The work sold more than 100,000 copies as a pamphlet and was published in a number of editions as a book and translated into several languages. In the Second World War, a German edition was issued to Hitler’s army as Was England Erwartet (What England Expects). The Blackwood’s story was mentioned is several parliamentary debates from June 1871 and such was its influence that William Gladstone, the prime minister, had to speak out against the ‘alarmism’ it had generated. Four months after the May issue of Blackwood’s appeared, army manoeuvres involving 30,000 men were held on the Hog’s Back, a ridge between Farnham and Guildford in Surrey. Later, forts were built in the area. Chesney went on to become a reforming general and was knighted for his work in Britain and India. For one academic, Patrick Kirkwood:

The Battle of Dorking was central to the parliamentary, military and public ‘invasion’ controversies of the 1870s. Subsequent developments, ranging from recurring print and parliamentary debates, to military manoeuvres and the eventual building of a series of forts along the North Downs support this position … The Battle of Dorking was equal parts fantasy ‘invasion literature’ and policy document. Its frequent citation by members of both houses of parliament, and by military men engaged in public and private debates, serves to back this claim, as does Chesney’s rapid integration into the pro-military reform wing of the Conservative Parliamentary Party of the 1890s.

Adding to the genre, Liverpool-Irish journalist Louis Tracy wrote several books about future war, the best known being the 1896 Final War, a book dedicated to ‘Private Thomas Atkins’ (a nickname for the average British soldier that dates back at least to the time of the Battle of Waterloo – from which we get ‘Tommy’). He saw his work as describing ‘a great war to be the end of all war’ and it ends in victory for the British with the help of the United States against the Germans and French. Tracy’s books include elements of science fiction, with a British secret weapon, the ‘Thompson Electric Rifle’, helping ensure victory.

Martian-machine-War-of-the-Worlds-Warwick-Goble-1897

A Martian machine wreaks havoc in War of the Worlds, illustrated by Warwick Goble, 1897

The invasion theme was taken up by HG Wells in War of the Worlds, which was published in Pearson’s Magazine in parts from June 1897. The brilliant illustrations were by Warwick Goble. For Wells, the enemy comes from another planet and, though the aliens easily overwhelm the defenders, they are ultimately defeated by nature, in the form of bacteria. As with Chesney’s book, the Surrey stockbroker belt is pivotal, with the Martians landing on the edge of the town of Woking, just fourteen miles from Dorking.

The big-selling penny weekly magazines did not miss out on the invasion craze, with Northcliffe’s Answers, one the best-selling, serialising Frederick White’s The Lion’s Claw, which has the old enemies, the French and Russians, invading. And the next week in 1900, Pearson’s Weekly put out one of Tracy’s thrillers The Invaders: A Story of Britain’s Peril, with the Germans as the villains of the piece.

Three years later, Germany returns as the enemy when a gathering invasion force is discovered in Robert Erskine Childers’ ripping yarn, Riddle of the Sands. In 1906, The Invasion of 1910 by William Le Queux adds German fifth columnists to the mix. Two years after that, in War Inevitable by Alan Burgoyne, an MP who specialised in naval affairs, a fictionalised Lord Kitchener comes to the rescue after German motor torpedo boats devastate the British fleet in a sneak attack.

A year before the horrific real war breaks out, When William Came by ‘Saki’ (Hector Hugh Munro) was published. This book follows on from Chesney’s theme of forty years earlier, describing life under German occupation: the ‘William’ of the title is Kaiser Wilhelm II – ‘Kaiser Bill’ to the British people at the time. With the outbreak of the real war, a new edition of The Battle of Dorking was published.

Ralph Straus wrote a summary of ‘scare-fictionists’ in the second issue of Bystander magazine after the Great War was declared. The genre is often referred to by academics now as ‘invasion literature’. The article, ‘Armageddon – in prophecy’, is illustrated with a painting of aerial warfare by Guy Lipscombe from Burgoyne’s War Inevitable. He discusses how ‘About the middle of the century Germany definitely emerged to take France’s old place as our potential enemy’ and describes how such writers ‘have come to the truth’.

The greatest writer of the era, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was slow to come to the genre, but addressed it in a prophetic way, for both world wars. In its July 1914 issue, The Strand published ‘Danger! Being the log of Captain John Sirius’ by the Sherlock Holmes creator. He envisaged Britain being starved into submission by enemy submarines. The enemy was the fictional country of Norland, a thinly disguised Germany.

These fictional works spurred debate in the real world. As the new century began, Britain was the only European power that did not have a large conscript army, even though prominent figures had been pressing for compulsory military service since the first Boer War. Among these advocates was George Shee, a barrister and Liberal imperialist, who in 1901 published The Briton’s First Duty: The Case for Conscription in which he argued for a compulsory home defence army to protect against invasion. Despite the strength of the Royal Navy on the high seas, it could not guarantee being able to prevent an invasion force crossing the English Channel, only that it would be able to cut the invaders’ supply lines. Out of the conscription movement came the National Service League, a group founded in 1902. It argued the army was too weak to fight a major war and that national service was the only answer. Boer War hero Lord Roberts later led the league and saw its membership increase from 2,000 to about 95,000 by 1913.

And the success of The Invasion of 1910 – built on Le Queux’s ability to secure the backing of Lord Roberts and the media might of Lord Northcliffe – has been identified as a factor in the founding of the Secret Service in the form of MI5 and MI6. As a result, 41 German agents were identified and arrested in Britain between 1911 and the outbreak of the war.

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This post is based on a section from the book, ‘Kitchener Wants You’, by Martyn Thatcher and myself.