Four things to blame magazines for.
The ‘greatest liar on Earth’
Louis de Rougemont conned the Victorian world with his fantastic accounts of being shipwrecked and spending decades fighting off sea monsters and living with cannibals in Australia.
What brought his stories to the public attention was the Wide World Magazine, which used ‘astounding pictures’ and ‘thrilling adventures’ to appeal to readers under the line ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’.
The magazine was published in both the UK and the US and serialised de Rougemont’s life story from its August 1898 issue. The opening page for the first instalment sets the scene: ‘The Adventures of Louis de Rougement … the most amazing experiences a man ever lived to tell.’ Even 55 years later in the US, the articles were the topic of comment in Time magazine’s letters page.
His tall tales were eventually debunked. In truth, de Rougemont’s real name was Henri Louis Grin and he was born in Switzerland. He had several jobs before ending up in Australia. After the scandal, Grin became a music-hall attraction, billed in South Africa as ‘The greatest liar on earth’. As ‘Louis Redman’, he died in London in 1921.
His life inspired books such as The Greatest Liar on Earth (1945) and The Most Amazing Story a Man Ever Lived to Tell (1977). In 2009, Donald Margulies, a US playwright, brought de Rougemont’s story to life for a modern-day generation with Shipwrecked!, reviewed as ‘a breathless story’ and ‘theatrical pop-up book’.
The online magazine HotWired is credited as being the first website to sell banner advertising in large quantities. It also coined the term ‘banner ad’ and established the idea of providing reports on clickthrough rates to its advertisers. The US phone company AT&T bought HotWired‘s first first banner, which went online on 27 October 1994. The web itself was just five years old, having been invented by the British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee while working as a software engineer at CERN, the particle physics laboratory near Geneva.
The swindling Horatio Bottomley
Horatio Bottomley was the founding chairman of the Financial Times, twice an MP and one of the greatest orators of the Edwardian era. His Great Patriotic Rally a few months into the start of the First World War saw London’s Albert Hall crammed with 12,000 people. Yet, he had been forced to resign from his first seat as a Liberal MP after filing for bankruptcy in 1912.
The foundation of his mass popularity was the weekly magazine John Bull. By 1915 it was selling a million copies a week with Bottomley’s editorials thundering from the cover of every issue. It was the pulpit from which he supported his money-making schemes and fended off his enemies.
However, Bottomley was pursued by one of the men he had robbed over many years and finally sentenced to seven years hard labour for fraud in 1922. He blew most of the money he had swindled on champagne and horse-racing. Bottomley’s house near Eastbourne, The Dicker, is now Bede’s school.
Hello arrived in Britain from Spain in 1988. Subjects were given approval of the article and pictures head of publication, encouraging a fawning attitude towards anyone who could sell a few copies that week.
The parent title, Hola!, focused on royalty but rival OK! went after actors and pop celebrities. Owner Richard Desmond famously signed up the Beckhams and the two titles fought a massive battle over access to photographs of the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas.
Soon all the publishers were jumping up and down on the bandwagon, such as Here!, with Heat moving away from its focus on entertainment to carry cover pictures of stars at their ugliest. Soon Closer (to the stars) and Now joined the fray every week. There was even a magazine just called Celebrity. The launches took their toll on the mainstream women’s weekly magazines.
In the US, Talk hit the streets, but it was a rare failure for the self-exiled British editor Tina Brown, despite having Hillary (opening up), Gwyneth (going bad) and George W. (getting real) on the cover (surely you know who I mean?).