Archive for the ‘women’s magazines’ Category

The Lady – out of racy Vie Parisienne

May 7, 2015
Retro artwork for The Lady magazine from 27 March 2015

Retro artwork for The Lady magazine from 27 March 2015

The Lady promotes itself as ‘England’s longest running weekly magazine for women’, having been in continuous publication since 1885 (DC Thomson’s People’s Friend out of Dundee holds the British record, dating from 1869 – in fact, it lays claim to being oldest women’s weekly magazine in the world). Furthermore, The Lady tells me, the magazine is ‘celebrated both for the quality of its editorial pages and its classified advertisements’ (it has long had the reputation as being the place to go to find a nanny). The Lady is ‘for elegant women with elegant minds’.

I was reading the issue above as I sat in the dentist this morning (no more Punch or Reader’s Digest). I was struck by the cover. Clearly, an illustration that has been lifted from a magazine dating from a century ago, when women had the time to line the walls of their houses with bowers of flowers, or at least inspired by one.

Then, blow me down, this afternoon I come across the original manifestation, for the racy French weekly Vie Parisienne. It’s been flipped, put through Photoshop with the colours hardened up and the artist’s monogram (GL – Georges Léonnec) removed, but it’s the same cover nevertheless. The cover line has also gone, Renouveau – renewal, in keeping with the Spring theme.

Racy French weekly Vie Parisienne from 1926

Racy French weekly Vie Parisienne from April 1926

The issue dates from 1926, the days of Art Deco and Jazz. This was very much the heyday of Vie Parisienne, which was famed for its artistic pin-ups. It was founded in 1863, before even People’s Friend, but closed in about 1970. Although there is still a French title of that name, it’s now pornographic and bears no relation to the original. And, just as Le Charivari had inspired Punch, so Vie Parisienne inspired London Life.

There’s a long history of magazines using each others’ cover ideas, though what the stately readers of The Lady in 1926 would have thought of these men’s magazines does not bear thinking about.

 

 

 

 

A typeface for the Magna Carta

May 7, 2015
Detail from the Magna Carta embroidery at the British Library by Cornelia Parker

Detail from the Magna Carta embroidery at the British Library by Cornelia Parker

The British Library is running events to celebrate 800 years of is one of the most famous documents in the world, the Magna Carta. These include commissioned articles by experts, videos and animations, teaching resources for schools – and this embroidery by Cornelia Parker at the library’s main site between London’s Euston and King’s Cross stations.

Front page from Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, in 1911

Front page from Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, in 1911

One of the exhibits is this front page from Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, which wasted by Emmeline Pankhurst, in 1911. The WSPU was one of the main campaign groups for women’s suffrage. The BL website explains:

By claiming Magna Carta to be the product of aggression, both the artist Alfred Pearse (1855-1933; under the pseudonym ‘A Patriot’) and essayist Joseph Clayton legitimised the suffragettes’ use of direct action. The front page image of King John was pasted into this scrapbook owned by the suffragette, Maud Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936). 11 months later, Sennett herself was prosecuted for breaking the windows of the offices of the Daily Mail, because the newspaper had failed to report the holding of a WSPU rally.

The suffrage movement pulled in its horns for the most part four years later and women played a vital role in the Great War, both on the Western Front – in some cases deceiving the authorities so they could tend the wounded close to the font lines – and at home, whether in munitions factories, on the land or as bus conductors. Pankhurst’s determination was noted in a 1915 postcard. It showed an officer telling Lord Kitchener, the secretary for war:

‘My Lord, it is reported that the Germans are going to disembark at Dover!’
Kitchener replies:
‘Very Well! Phone Mrs Pankhurst to go there with some suffragettes, and that will do!’

Afterwards, some women were granted the vote. It took another 10 years for all women to get the vote, however.

Women at War – as portrayed in magazines of the day

Self-referential magazine covers 2: Woman’s Own

April 5, 2015
This is the cover for the relaunch of Woman's Own in 1937 as a colour weekly. Note this is a true self referential cover because the woman is holding a copy of the magazine she appears on!

This is the cover for the relaunch of Woman’s Own in 1937 as a colour weekly

Woman’s Own seems to have particularly fond of self-referential covers. It was published by George Newnes, yet its great rival Odhams never seems to have use the technique for Woman.

Although the cover describes it as ‘No 1′, this issue actually marked a relaunch of the five-year old woman’s weekly in the face of rival publishing group Odhams opening a new colour gravure printing plant in Watford in 1937. It was from this plant that Odhams launched Woman magazine. The two women’s weeklies are still published today, though both are now controlled by the same company: first IPC when Odhams and Newness merged in the 1960s, and now the UK arm of US group Time Inc.

This is a fully self-referential cover because the woman is holding a copy of the magazine she appears on!

Here are three more self-referential covers, all second world war issues, from 1941, 1943 and 1945. The second is like the one above in that the woman is again holding the cover on which she appears. Wartime covers on women’s magazines were unusual in that many of them depicted men, usually in uniform.

This photographic cover from 1941 shows the model reading another issue of Woman's Own

This photographic cover from March 1941 shows the model reading another issue of Woman’s Own – from December 1940

 

 

Another fully self-referential cover from Woman's Own in 1943

Another fully self-referential cover from Woman’s Own in 1943

 

 

Womans Own cover from 1945

Woman’s Own cover from March 1945. The issue she is holding looks like one from the start of February

 

 

Britain’s most prolific fiction writers

April 5, 2015
Edgar Wallace listed as one of the main fiction writers on the cover of The Strand magazine in 1930 (June)

Edgar Wallace listed as one of the main fiction writers on the cover of The Strand magazine in 1930 (June)

Edgar Wallace was the ‘King of Thrillers’ with a plaque in Fleet Street to this day and the BBC radio series The Man Who Wrote Too Much credits him with writing a quarter of all new books read in Britain by the late 1920s. This ‘fiction factory’ of a man was not only a best-selling author, journalist and playwright but also film director and creator of King Kong.

It was a similar story with Ursula Bloom – who will no doubt one day also be the subject of a BBC radio series. She was once in the Guinness Book of Records as the most prolific woman writer in the world, and has been credited with 560 novels to her name from, appropriately, The Great Beginning in 1924 to No Lady Meets No Gentlemen and As Bends the Bough published after her death in 2000.

Woman's Own liked clean cover designs in the 1930s with few cover lines - but notice Ursula Bloom promoted her for a special article (30 July 1938)

Woman’s Own liked clean cover designs with few cover lines – but notice Ursula Bloom promoted her for a special article (30 July 1938)

And in the 1930s Bloom was a big name for her journalistic writing too, as shown by Woman’s Own promoting her ‘special article’ on this cover.

The British Library lists 336 titles as Bloom, but she also wrote under the pen names Sheila Burns (102 titles), Mary Essex (87), Rachel Harvey (25), Deborah Mann (7 with a Biblical theme such as Judas Iscariot – Traitor?) and Lozania Prole (who thinks up these names? – 69). It seems that the pen names were used to establish ‘sub-brands’, so the Harvey name was carried on hospital romances with titles such as Nurse Judy’s Secret Passion, and Prole for historical romances such as The Enchanting Princess. She died in 1984 at the age of 91. Barbara Cartland, then aged 83 with 395 books under her belt, was quoted as saying in tribute: ‘I may catch up, though, if I live long enough.’

The self-referential magazine cover

April 1, 2015
The Penny Magazine shows itself being sold from what looks like a railway station stall in 1904

The Penny Magazine shows itself being sold from what looks like a railway station stall in 1904

Self-referential magazine cover covers are a not-so-subtle form of marketing and are pretty rare, but they do crop up, seemingly more often on weekly magazines than monthlies. It’s a brand marketing strategy, though that is not likely to have been a term on anyone’s lips at the time.

This is the earliest one I’ve noticed, from 1904. It plugs not only itself but its sister magazine from publishers Cassell, the monthly Cassell Magazine, which cost 6d. This strategy of having a cheap weekly and upmarket monthly was common for publishers in the Victorian and Edwardian era. The Penny Magazine had been founded in 1898 as the New Penny Magazine, shortening the name in 1903 and continuing until 1925. The story-based sister monthly was published under various titles from 1853 to 1932. Other magazines shown or partly visible are three titles for children,  Chums (1892-1934), Quiver (1861-1926) and Little Folks, and Cassell’s Saturday Journal (1883-1924) again all from Cassell.

The black-and-white cover illustration with its red spot colour is not a particularly good example, but then most of these penny weeklies were pretty cheap. It is signed by E Lander. The quality of some of them improved as sales grew for those titles from the likes of Newnes and Harmsworth that were able to achieve very high sales.

The drawing portrays a railway bookstall of the kind run by WH Smith and Wyman & Sons. No actual cover is shown on the stall, just the magazines’ titles. The uniformed lad with his sales tray looks like he may be selling maps and guides. Note that the Penny Magazine describes itself as being for travellers and commuters – ‘for rail, road, river or sea’.

Cassell is a name that dates back to 1848, when the company was founded by John Cassell. The magazines were an offshoot of the book publishing and were probably regarded as a way of developing writers and promoting established names. Cassell ceased being an independent publisher in 1999 – a decade of concentration in book publishing – when it was bought up by Orion Publishing Group, itself owned by the French group Lagardère. Today, Cassell is an illustrated imprint of Octopus Publishing.

The Victorian book that inspired the WorldWide Web

March 31, 2015
Title page from the 1896 edition of Enquire Within Upon Everything by Houlston & Sons

Title page from the 1896 edition of Enquire Within Upon Everything by Houlston & Sons

Just watched Martha Lane-Fox on the BBC arguing for Dot Everyone, an institution that would promote all things digital, in her Dimbleby lecture. (Nice to see that her dad, Robin, an Oxford history don, FT gardening writer and historical adviser on Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great, still corrects the split infinitives in her lectures!) Inspiring stuff.

In his book on how the WordWide Web came about, its inventor Tim Berners-Lee describes how the ideas behind the web – and an early version of it, a program called Enquire – were inspired by a Victorian book. In the Q&A section on the W3 website Berners-Lee writes:

Q: How did you come to arrive at the idea of WWW?

A: I arrived at the web because the Enquire (E not I) program — short for Enquire Within Upon Everything, named after a Victorian book of that name full of all sorts of useful advice about anything — was something I found really useful for keeping track of all the random associations one comes across in Real Life and brains are supposed to be so good at remembering but sometimes mine wouldn’t. It was very simple but could track those associations which would sometimes develop into structure as ideas became connected, and different projects become involved with each other.

Enquire Within was published from 1856 by Houlston and Sons of Paternoster Square, just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. Such was its success that 40 years later it was in its 89th edition, having sold more than a million copies. It sparked a publishing craze both at the time and for decades later: in 1937, for example, Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press published Everybody’s Enquire Within in weekly parts over a year under editor Charles Ray. (Perhaps Martha should have chosen the name Dot Everybody.) Today, the free edition above is available from Project Gutenberg and many other versions have been reprinted and are sold online.

Enquire Within: Ladies Home Journal from 1894

Enquire Within: Ladies Home Journal from 1894

The Victorians were voracious in their quest for knowledge. Enquire Within fed this demand and no doubt influenced the founding of the two great magazine publishing sensations of the 1880s – Tit-Bits (From all the most interesting books, periodicals and contributors in the world) from George Newnes and Alfred Harmsworth’s Answers to Correspondents on Every Subject under the Sun. The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack was first published in 1864; Whitaker & Sons launched its Almanac in 1868; and Pears Soap launched its Cyclopaedia in 1897. The magazine cover here, Enquire Within: Ladies Home Journal, is from 1893. Just as other publishers of books and reference works copied Houlston’s idea more directly, so did magazine publishers. In this case, it was the Popular Publishing Co. of 83 Farringdon Street, at the east end of  Fleet Street and a stone’s throw west from Paternoster Square. A later magazine inspired by the idea was The Handyman’s Enquire Within, a partwork published by Cassell in 24 issues from 1907.

The title was taken up again by TV presenter Moyra Bremner as Enquire Within Upon Everything: The complete home reference book in 1988 and Enquire Within Upon Modern Etiquette: And successful behaviour for today a year later (both Century Publishing).

You would have thought such an inspiring idea would merit a plaque in Paternoster Square, but the area was flattened by bombing in the London Blitz. It’s been rebuilt as a shopping/office complex, but is now a private estate and many maps do not even name the square or Paternoster Row. On Streetmap, for example, it’s just a blank area to the north of St Paul’s Cathedral.

In search of the romantic kiss

March 29, 2015
Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood brought to visual life on the cover of Pearson's Magazine (1930) by Joseph Greenup

Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood brought to visual life on the cover of Pearson’s Magazine (1930) by Joseph Greenup

Fiction, in the form of short stories, serials or character-driven series, seems to have been a staple of magazines for as long as they have existed. Dickens, HG Wells, Conan Doyle and Rafael Sabatini are among those who made their name providing the weekly or monthly adventures, Christie and Edgar Wallace the crime, and Ursula Bloom and Ruby M. Ayres the romantic fiction. The Georgian and early Victorian works by the likes of Dickens were not illustrated, but the images of Sidney Paget for The Strand set the tone for the way Holmes has been portrayed, in print or on the screen, since they were first published.

To my eyes, depicting adventure is relatively easy – whether it be the Martian invaders for War of the Worlds or the piratical looks of Sabatini’s Captain Blood by Joseph Greenup – but romantic fiction is harder. Particularly in more prurient times, getting the balance right between love and lust is tricky. Artists, and later photographers, have striven to portray romance – and in particular the kiss. Here are two examples. The first is an illustration from ‘Honesty is the best policy’, a short story by Jane England in Woman’s Friend (22 May 1937). England started writing in the 1920s until about 1970, producing about 60 novels. Philsp.com lists England as the pseudonym of Vera Murdoch Stuart Jervis (1896-1967) and credits her with one serial and five short stories in five magazine titles:

  • ‘End of desire’, The Novel Magazine (May 1937);
  • ‘Knight-errant’, Lovat Dickson’s Magazine (Jun 1934);
  • ‘The last drift’, The Royal Magazine (Nov 1925);
  • ‘Old lamps’, The New Magazine (Oct 1926);
  • ‘Thin ice’, 20-Story Magazine (Feb 1933).

The drawing is signed, but this is not legible.

The youngsters steal a kiss in a short story from Woman's Friend (22 May 1937)

The youngsters steal a kiss in a short story from Woman’s Friend (22 May 1937)

Here is a detail of the painting, with the signature (which someone may be able to identify). Note the corner of the picture frame by the man’s shoulder, which seems to point to the courting couple like an arrow, and the file storage boxes on the shelf leaning into each other.

Detail of Woman's Friend romantic kiss illustration

Detail of Woman’s Friend romantic kiss illustration

Illustration signature

Illustration signature

The drawing was published by Woman’s Friend in 1937, while the photographic spread below dates from three years earlier. It was during the 1930s that the battle for dominance between artist and photographer in magazines reached its peak, and, after the war, it was the latter that came out on top. At least for the next 50 years.

How film stars kiss from London Life 30 June 1934

How film stars kiss from London Life 30 June 1934

The spread is from London Life, which specialised in reproducing risqué film stills. It is a montage of five film stills as the woman swoons in anticipation in the man’s arms. At the top left are Ronald Coleman, with, below him and the unidentified actress, Mexican actress Lupe Vélez in the grip of John Boles in Resurrection (1931); Jean Harlow is in a ‘caveman embrace’ in the centre; and while the oldest still of a couple in a similar embrace is not identified, the bottom right is a more light-hearted Maurice Chevalier and Anne Dvorak in Way to Love (1933). Note, though, that the actual kiss is not shown, possibly because it was very difficult to portray a kiss while still being able to see the faces of both parties in a recognisable way. But then, after all, this was film publicity – and anticipation was everything.

A different type of magazine marketing

January 26, 2015

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

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 at the start of WW2 in 1940

‘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 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:

Pore Em’ly
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

What about the undies?

January 19, 2015
A Woman's Own centre spread from 1939 - 'She likes undies'

A Woman’s Own centre spread from 1939 – ‘She likes undies’

Undies. When did you last see that word? It used to be used on women’s magazine covers and in headlines quite a lot. But where do you see it now? Fashion journalists in magazines were certainly not afraid to use it in 1939 – as this centre spread from Woman’s Own shows – ‘She likes undies.’

And in Woman’s Fair in its January 1940 ‘Wishful thinking’ editorial for the new year: ‘We are going to stop hoarding old evening dresses and decrepit undies and make instead the beauteous evening gala outfit on page 24.’ At the end of the 1940s, here are undies as the topic for the main cover line above the title on Woman’s Pictorial:

Woman's Pictorial magazine from 1949 with the cover line: 'Beutiful undies to make and embrioder'

Woman’s Pictorial magazine from 1949 with the cover line: ‘Beautiful undies to make and embroider’

But note that these were the days when fashionable women made their own. I can’t see such an article causing Woman’s Own to go flying off the shelves today. Fashions change and it seems that reliable, cheap undies from Marks and Spencer tempted women away from their sowing machines. By 1991, the Times could inform us: ‘And we know that Margaret Thatcher gets her undies at M&S. “Doesn’t everybody?” she asked a television reporter.’

The full Oxford English Dictionary defines undies as meaning ‘Articles of girls’ or women’s underclothing’. In support, it quotes:

  • 1906. Punch 30 May: ‘She’d blouses for Sundays, And marvellous “undies” concocted of ribbons and lace.’
  • 1920. Arnold Bennett, the Woman editor and novelist, in his book Our Women: Chapters on the Sex-discord: ‘You have only to reflect … upon the astonishing public importance given to what are delicately known as “undies”.’
  • 1939. Arthur Ransome in Secret Water: ‘Go on, Bridgie. Off with your things. Undies too.’ (Doesn’t sound like it’s from one of his Swallows and Amazons children’s books!)
  • 1967. Crime writer Nicolas Freeling in one of his Van der Valk books, Strike Out Where Not Applicable: Arlette … knows I’m not just belting off for the afternoon because of the black undies.

But that OED definition needs rewriting because undies are for men these days, as the Christmas clash of the male models shows:

David Gandy has claimed victory over David Beckham in the battle of the undies – and even made the astonishing claim that his underwear range has single-handedly saved Marks & Spencer (Mail on Sunday, 18 January 2015)

Undies meaning men’s underwear is a trend that goes back to at least 1993, when the Evening Standard talked about a company ‘that makes men’s undies’ and there was an ‘offer’ in another newspaper that year, the a Daily Star: ‘Buy a pair of Gazza’s undies.’

However, a quick flick through the newspaper cuttings suggests the word is these days much more likely to appear in the Sun than a broadsheet. While the ever-so-posh Lucia van der Post was quite happy to talk about undies for How to Spend It, the Financial Times glossy magazine, the FT put the word in quotes last year in a column by David Tang; almost as if it’s not quite a safe word to touch for its tycoon columnist (a sense suggested in that ‘delicately known as’ phrase from Arnold Bennett in 1920):

A stay at a flash hotel in Miami last year had us in a suite of rooms with a huge art-deco style bathroom, beautifully decorated in black and white, but with nowhere to sit or put one’s ‘undies’

‘One’s undies.’ Now that’s a really rare phrase.

The future of women’s magazines

January 11, 2015

BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour ran an interview last week on the ‘Future of Women’s Magazines‘, which is available on iPlayer. The programme summary is:

Readerships of print magazines are falling in favour of digital and mobile editions. Is online a poor substitute for the real thing or is that view outdated? We get some magazine editors [including the editors of Elle and Libertine] together to ask what is the future of women’s magazines and what are they doing to survive?

This programme also featured part of an interview with the magazine journalist Alice Head, part of the Woman’s Hour Collection, who from 1924 was the second editor of Good Housekeeping magazine and worked with Lord Alfred Douglas and William Randolph Hearst. She also set up the Good Housekeeping Institute.


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