First issue cover of the Sunday Times Colour Section, 4 February 1962
The first Sunday of February 1962 saw the advent of the Sunday Times Colour Section. It could not call itself a magazine then because the law prohibited magazines being published on a Sunday.
However, the colour supplement was a big factor in changing the nature of the magazine industry. The advent of commercial television in the mid-1950s had brought down general weekly magazines such as Picture Post, Everybody’s and Illustrated. And monthlies too, such as Lilliput. From 1962, the Sunday papers became another nail in the coffin of weekly magazines. John Bull had relaunched itself as Today but would last just another two years; Tit-Bits, Reveille and Weekend would soldier on before eating each other up and closing in the 1980s. It was a story of slowly falling sales for women’s weeklies too, with their circulations having peaked in 1960.
Yet it was not all plain sailing for the first 1960s colour section. Mark Boxer had been tempted across from the upmarket monthly Queen as launch editor. He said he had only seven weeks to produce the first issue and would later say he was ‘amazed by its success’. He wanted to change the name to Sunday Times Colour Magazine but aside from the legal question, he was told that this might be interpreted as a sign of losing confidence. A few weeks after the launch, he said: ‘The supplement is still not being taken seriously. It is like the toy in the cornflake packet.’
The art director was John Donegan, who had worked in advertising and later became a cartoonist for Punch and the Sunday Express. The cover for the first issue shows 11 photographs taken by David Bailey of Jean Shrimpton wearing a Mary Quant dress. They encircle a colour shot by photojournalist John Bulmer of Burnley’s legendary striker Jimmy McIlroy. The issue also published the Ian Fleming short story ‘The Living Daylights’, but was described ‘a crashing bore’ in the news weekly Topic.
At the start of its second year, the Colour Section began calling itself a Colour Magazine. That word ‘colour’ was the magic ingredient, enabling the Sunday Times to offer a colour national advertising vehicle to big advertisers.It finally became the Sunday Times Magazine in 1964.
The idea of supplements is not new, of course. The Times launched a women’s supplement in 1910, and a colour version a decade later, though bother were short lived. And the Times Literary Supplement and the paper’s Education and Higher Education supplements are still published. But these are exceptions to the rule that supplements cannot make it as magazines. The last one to try – the Mail on Sunday‘s You, was an embarrassing failure when it tried.
Roy Thomson starting the presses at Sun Engraving for the first Sunday Times Colour Supplement in January 1962
‘Bore’ it might have been, but it pulled in the advertising revenue for Sunday Times owner Lord Thomson (a tycoon often remembered for saying that television was ‘a licence to print money’). Other papers took notice, with The Observer following suit on 6 September 1964 with a cover portrait of Lord Mountbatten by John Hedgecoe, who established the photography department at the Royal College of Art the next year. It took its inspiration from magazines such as Life and Paris Match as well as the Sunday Times supplement. A Daily Telegraph supplement was launched the same month. Late in the decade, the Mirror had a ago, but this did not last long. Nowadays, however, most of the national papers have several magazine supplements, as do many local and regional papers.
Painted Mini by Alan Aldridge for the Sunday Times 1965 Automania special
Under editors such as Godfrey Smith, Hunter Davies, Ron Hall, Philip Clarke and Robin Morgan, the Sunday Times Magazine was a breeding ground for photographers, editors and designers, with people such as Peter Crookston, the future Nova editor; David Hillman, the Nova designer and later Guardian redesigner; and Peter Fluck and Roger Law (Spitting Image puppet makers); and art editor and Soviet archive owner David King all going through its doors.
Michael Rand ran the art side of the supplement between 1963 and 1993. In a commemorative issue (5 February 2012) he said:
I never attempted a style for the magazine. I just wanted it busy but simply laid out, and there had to be tension there: grit and glamour. I realise now my unconscious influence was Picture Post. It had those great covers and was unashamedly a picture magazine. And I used a lot of illustration — David Hockney, Peter Blake and Ian Dury did front covers. There was a feeling that, creatively, you could do anything.
And the supplements could do pretty much anything. The October 1965 front cover above – an Automania special issue – is an example. It is a real Mini painted in his psychedelic style by Alan Aldridge. The car was white-washed and painted with 100 tubes of designer’s gouache, six cans of silver spray from Woolworths and checkered tape. It took five days. And then Denis Rolfe took the photo.
To encourage advertisers to prepare better artwork, the Telegraph group produced the Daily Telegraph Magazine Guide to Gravure Printing, a book written by its technical adviser, Otto M Lilien, in 1968. The expensive, 100-page guide was printed by Eric Bemrose, Aintree, the company that printed the magazine, with acetate pages produced by Harrison & Sons (High Wycombe) and binding by Tinlings of Liverpool.
The process and its technical differences from Letterpress and offset [lithography] are fully set out and illustrated In the following pages. Explanations are given to assist the achievement of the best possible results from the use of gravure through suitable basic design, typography, Artwork, photography and layout
The cost of printing the Mirror Magazine lost IPC millions of pounds in 1970
Supplements had massive print runs on the country’s biggest gravure presses, and budgets to match because their economics were not the economics of a paid-for magazine.
However, get it wrong on a supplement and the printing costs could kill you – as it did the Mirror Magazine. IPC launched the supplement but the massive 5 million print run was too long for the copper cylinders on the gravure presses at Odhams Press in Watford. That meant two sets of very expensive cylinders – and the Mirror Magazine closed within a year having lost £7 million.
What’s a copy of the Sunday Times Magazine worth?
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