It’s January 1940. the Second World War is four months old, but the conflict still seems far away for most people in Britain. The next few months would see the Germans move into Scandinavia and sea battles at Narvik, but Dunkirk was five months away, the summer would bring the Battle of Britain fought in the air – and then the bombing Blitz on British cities in December. Meanwhile, at Woman’s Fair, an Odhams women’s weekly filled with American fiction and illustration, the war has hit home with the price of paper – an imported commodity from Scandinavia and Canada – shooting up.
The editor bemoans in a whimsical article, ‘We are going up':
Paper has become about as precious as gold and we’ve been wondering whether we should make Woman’s Fair smaller or ask you to pay a tiny proportion of wartime paper costs. We don’t believe you’d like a smaller Woman’s Fair and so instead we’re making it a penny more. Your February issue will cost 7d.
The editor of Woman’s Fair blames wartime paper costs for the magazine’s price rise
All supplies from Scandinavia were soon lost and soon the German U-boats would be hounding Britain’s convoys, where food and weapons no doubt took precedence over paper for magazines.
By 1942, publishers were cut to a ration of less than a fifth of their pre-war usage. The result was that many magazines closed, they all had fewer pages, some cut their page size and the battle was on to cram as many words on to the precious paper as possible – in the case of Woman’s Own, even starting articles on the cover.
The standard fare of the magazine was beauty, as shown by a Pathe news-reel called ‘Beautifying! Where to Put the Accent!’ The short film is based on Jean Barrie, ‘Beauty Editress’ of Woman’s Fair showing us ‘where to put the accent on our beauty’.
Marketing was important in drawing as many readers in as possible before the lack of paper supplies really bit.
‘Once I was a Pretty Girl’ – a poem designed to encourage subscribers to Woman’s Fair magazine in 1940 during the first year of WW2
At Woman’s Fair they took a creative approach with a poem, ‘Once I was a Pretty Girl':
Once I was a pretty girl
A witty girl, a city girl,
Now I’m just a pity girl’
Was poor Amelia’s cry.
‘My skin is yellow, dull and lined,
My hair a mass of tangles twined,
My sex appeal has quite declined
Won’t someone tell me why?’
‘Of course we will the secreet share,
Cried Maud and Milly, Kate and Clare,
‘You haven’t ordered WOMEN’S FAIR,
And wise girls will allow
It’s WOMEN’S FAIR that marks the trends,
That guides the feet and shapes our ends
And turns to husbands our boy-friends –
RESERVE YOUR COPY NOW!’
There’s an order form on page 61
A Pore Em’ly poem in Woman’s Fair preys on the beauty worries of its readers
A few pages later, the message was reinforced, again stressing the danger of becoming a dowdy woman:
Em’ly Brown was a glamour girl,
Witht sparkling figure and hair a-curl,
And luscious teeth of mother-of-pearl’
Oh, Em’ly was delicious!
But that, alass, was in days pre-war’
And now she’s known as the Awful Bore’
Her face is one GIGANTIC poer –
So she stays at home washing dishes.
Poor Em’ly knows as well as not
Why her looks and wit have gone to pot’
For she quite forgot (may her conscience rot,
May she tear her hair in sheer despair)
She quite FORGOT – believe it or not –
To reserve her copy of WOMAN’S FAIR.
The text goes on:
MORAL: Don’t be like Pore Em’ly. The war has made us short of paper and so your newsagent will be short of your copy of WOMAN’S FAIR unless you tell him to keep you one. NOW! – ED
The attitude to readers at Woman’s Fair seems pretty cynical. And the magazine was undoubtedly put together on the cheap, buying in almost all its copy and illustrations from the US. Among the imported material was:
- cover illustrated by Jon Whitcomb cover (where the woman seems to have a voodoo doll in her hair);
- Lyn Arnold short story ‘Life begins in January';
- Wilton Matthews fiction, ‘She Made His Bed’, illustrated by Jon Whitcomb;
- ‘She’s a Treasure’ by Lester Ashwell;
- ‘This Time it’s True’ by Gladys Taber. Illustrated by Earl Cordrey;
- White Magic serial by Faith Baldwin.
The only prominent British illustrator commissioned was Clixby Watson, who was a regular choice for top magazines such as Lilliput, Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine and The Passing Show as well as Woman, the leading woman’s weekly at Odhams. He also worked for advertisers, including Mars’ Spangles sweets.
Women’s monthly magazines