One for Madonna fans

February 13, 2018
Madonna strip cartoon of her life 1986

Madonna strip cartoon of her life: The Story So Far

Hotspot-5 has 156 Madonna issues up on ebay at prices ranging from £4.95 to £24.95.

One of the earliest issues dates back to January 1986. It’s issue 2 of Look-In, the weekly TV magazine for teenagers, which carried a cartoon strip of Madonna’s life called ‘The Story So Far’.

In response to queries, I’ve done several Madonna posts, including identifying the first Madonna magazine cover (and it’s not Smash Hits or i-D).

Madonna front cover Esquire magazine 1994

Madonna on the cover of Esquire magazine in September 1994, dressed up to meet Norman Mailer!

Hotspot-5’s Madonna issues.

 


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

 

 

 


 

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Guardian drops Berliner failure for tabloid in redesign

January 15, 2018
Guardian redesign 2018

Today’s relaunched Guardian comes in 3 sections. Sport returns to the back page – led by Liverpool’s thrilling victory over Manchester City. The 2012 redesign had  Man City beating Wigan above its masthead. The paper was the Manchester Guardian until 1959 and moved to London in 1964

The Guardian downsizes today, switching from the Berliner format to tabloid. It’s the end of an experiment that began 12 years ago with a massive £80m investment, and has been forced on the paper to save money. Being the only British paper to use the Berliner format,  it had to build new print halls in London and Manchester with specially commissioned presses.

The weekday paper now has three sections:

  • main section: news, politics, international affairs and financial news with sport starting on the back page;
  • a new, pullout opinion section called the Journal. This will carry the columnists, long reads, obituaries, letters and the cryptic crossword;
  • G2, the features-based section.
Promotional video for the new look by the Guardian 

The Guardian claims a great design history, based on its breaking new ground in 1988 with an approach developed by David Hillman, a Pentagram founder who made his name on Nova in the 1960s. It had already dropped the ‘hang and drop’ approach favoured by the other Fleet Street broadsheets in favour of modular layouts. The other broadsheets’  focus was on getting as many stories and words on a page as possible. The Guardian wanted to differentiate itself for readers.

The 1960s newspaper design guru Allen Hutt gave way to Harry Evans and then Hillman introduced a grid system with lots of white space around the headlines at the Guardian. Alongside the white space, most striking element on the front page was the dual font title, with the ‘The’ in ITC Garamond Italic and the butted-up ‘Guardian’ in Helvetica Black. Nothing new for a magazine, but a first for a British newspaper.

The design industry liked it; the reaction in much of Fleet Street was: ‘art holes’! There was also a lot of negative reaction internally at the Guardian as fewer stories were carried and copy length was cut.

These internal complaints from editors were exacerbated when the paper’s second section dropped from a broadsheet to a tabloid in 1992 – at a stroke, story lengths had to be cut by a third. That is not an obvious effect, but is the result of a number of factors: headline sizes stayed the same; pictures stayed the same size or even got bigger; each tabloid page needed as much margin space around the edges as each broadsheet page; more ‘signposting’ to features in the rest of the paper.

It has been a similar tale with every redesign since for all the papers since: more white space; bigger pictures; fewer stories, fewer words.

September 2005 saw the move under editor Alan Rusbridger and designer Mark Porter to the Berliner mid-size format – along with the need to buy a new set of expensive printing presses that were unique in Britain. The switch took three years and the paper described itself as a ‘factory’. In January 2012 the paper design and format was changed again ‘to reflect changes in news consumption’.

Today marks the Guardian giving up on its expensive Berliner experiment and following the Independent and Times down the tabloid route they took in 2003. Of course, the quality papers don’t like the ‘tabloid’ label, because it is associated with the more downmarket Sun, Mirror, Mail and Express, which adopted the format decades ago.

The other change alongside design is that the print agenda is now dictated by online data and readerships. What the likes of the Guardian don’t appear to appreciate as they quote digital readerships is that the online audience is heavily influenced by non-paying US readers. The news agenda becomes more US-influenced, moving the paper away from the home audience all the time.

Robert Harling, the long-serving editor of House & Garden and typographical adviser to the Sunday Times railed against the Continental modular magazine design approaches in the Times Literary Supplement with an article entitled ‘Poor old words’ (1972). His redesign of the cover for Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack in 1938, with its Ravilious engraving of Victorian cricketers, is a typographic classic. For Harling, the likes of Hillman’s Nova was dominated by ‘pictures and type-patterns subduing the words on every page’. The approach was ‘a menace to the freedom of the printed word’.

A features spread in the Berliner format Observer. It could have come from a magazine 30 years ago. The picture is the size of a tabloid page

A features spread in the Berliner format Observer. It could have come from a magazine 30 years ago. The picture is the size of a tabloid page and the text only occupies a quarter of the page area

Yet that approach became mainstream in magazines and Hillman brought it to the Guardian in a process of magazinisation. Photo-reduce many newspaper spreads today and they appear strikingly similar to the sort of designs in the 1960s in Town and Nova (which had been heavily influenced by Continental design, particularly Germany’s Twen). ‘Poor old words’ said Harling. Poor old readers too.

The Guardian‘s sister paper, the Observer, will go tabloid on Sunday. The switch was seen as step too far for the two papers in 2005, with staff fearing that changing to tabloid would damage the paper’s character. Those fears have been swept aside now as the need to save several million pounds a year bites.

The redesign features a new font, Guardian Headline by Commercial Type, the foundry that created Guardian Egyptian for the Berliner redesign. The main text font stays the same, no surprise given how much the 2005 relaunch cost.

And cutting costs is what has driven the changes. Expect to see lots of mentions of ‘150 million’ readers each month, but at the end of the day, most of these are browsers and bear no comparison in revenue or commitment to the value of a print reader. Money – getting enough of it is the big problem for the press.

British newspaper profiles


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


 

 

Beano: a cheery cover for grey days

January 12, 2018
Beano magazine was launched in 1934 by Nalgo, the trade union, to raise funds for members widows and orphans. Did it inspire the comic title?

Beano magazine was launched in 1934 by Nalgo, the trade union, to raise funds for members widows and orphans. Did it inspire the comic title?

Here’s a cheery cover for a rainy day (and I’m off to a funeral today for Tom Pride, a Times journalist I first worked with in 1980).

Beano comes from B ‘n’ O, the abbreviation for  Nalgo’s benevolent and orphan fund (B&O).  Nalgo – the National Association of Local Government Officers trade union – was founded in 1905 and is today part of Unison. It appears to have been produced in Scarborough, described as the ‘conference town’ because of the number of big meetings held there, such as political party annual conferences.

The NCTJ used to hold training courses there – on one of them, I met Tom Baker, the would-be monk and former Doctor Who star; the Yorkshire boxer Richard Dunn, who took on Muhammad Ali in 1976; and Brian Glover, the wrestler, teacher and actor best known for his role in Kes. All in the same hotel bar. What a night that was!

Winter's Pie, an edition of Printers' Pie, magazine cover from 1913. The cover is by John Hassall

Winter’s Pie, an edition of Printers’ Pie, magazine cover from 1913. The cover is by John Hassall

Producing special magazines to raise funds for charitable purposes was a popular strategy right into the Eighties. These included Printers’ Pie, where the funds went to printing charities, Christmas Pie, ‘All profits to King George’s Jubilee Trust’ in 1939, and Blighty, which raised money for the troops in both world wars. The most famous writers and illustrators would provide work for these and volunteer printers would produce them on Fleet Street presses.

The Nalgo Beano cover appeared in 1934, four years before DC Thomson launched the famous  Beano comic on 30 July 1938 in Dundee. And, of course, its most famous strip – The Bash Street Kids – was about the perils of a group of public service workers – teachers and janitors – in a state school.

The Oxford Dictionary relates the word ‘beano’ – a rowdy celebration – to the printing industry, going back to 1888:

CT Jacobi, Printers’ Vocab. 7 Beano, a slang abbreviation for ‘beanfeast’, which is, however, usually termed ‘goose’ or wayzgoose by compositors.

So, a trade union – Nalgo – was the inspiration for the Beano comic. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

 


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

 

 

 


 

Ian Hislop’s philosophy at Private Eye

January 11, 2018
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop is interviewed by Al Murray on Chain Reaction

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop is interviewed by Al Murray on Chain Reaction

Comedian Al Murray – the ‘Pub Landlord’ – interviewed Private Eye editor Ian Hislop in the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Chain Reaction yesterday. It’s worth catching up online to hear the team captain on Have I Got News for You discuss the cut and thrust of British politics, making social history documentaries and his editorial philosophy on the satirical magazine. He sees his job as to:

Make jokes about what people know and then tell them things they don’t know.

He knows the cartoons are as important as the words and has a strong feel for history and the influence of Punch (and where that satire giant went wrong). As well as his long-running career in print satire – he has been Private Eye editor since 1986 – Hislop wrote with Nick Newman for Harry ‘Loadsamoney’ Enfield, basing the ‘Terribly Nice But Dim’ Tim character on a public school friend, as well as Spitting Image (‘It took us 11 years but we got Thatcher out!’) in the 1980s.

One of the many covers in Private Eye's battle to expose Robert Maxwell

One of the many covers in Private Eye’s battle to expose Robert Maxwell

What’s it like being sued? Private Eye‘s tribulations on this front are legendary, one resulting in Robert Maxwell launching Not Private Eye as a form of revenge, both for the corrupt media tycoon and many other ‘victims’ of the satirical fortnightly.

Hislop says he has faced 40 libel cases and won just one.

He is particularly vociferous about the Sonia Sutcliffe case, in which a jury initially awarded damages of £600,000, which would have added up to £1.5m  with costs.

That resulted in the reaction: ‘It that’s justice, I’m a banana.’  The damages were lowered on appeal. The case then sparked a change in British law so that damages are no longer set by juries.

Flann O’Brien, Goldfrapp and the BBC

December 6, 2017
Flann O'Brien

Flann O’Brien shown on the TLS website in a 2011 article

Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory chose Flann O’Brien as the subject of Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 yesterday (you can still hear it on the BBC’s iPlayer). Astoundingly,  Matthew Parris said he did not know the Irish writer and his masterpieces, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman.

Carol Taaffe, who has written about O’Brien, explained that the books were only hailed as literary masterpieces after the author’s death. O’Brien worked as a civil servant and wrote under three pseudonyms – Brian O’Nolan, Flann O’Brien, and Myles na gCopaleen, the last of these for his satirical columns in the Irish Times newspaper, which he wrote in Gaelic.

Town, the mainstream men’s magazine, ran a profile of O’Brien in its September 1965 issue, a year before O’Brien’s death. The Times Literary Supplement celebrated O’Brien on his centenary in 2011 and the Irish Times ran an O’Brien homage in 2015.

London Life prices go through the roof

November 1, 2017
London Life magazine front cover from 1966 with Laurence Olivier, blacked up for Othello

London Life magazine front cover from 1966 with Laurence Olivier, blacked up for Othello

The weekly listings magazine London Life, which was developed to replace Tatler in the 1960s, has long been a good seller on eBay, but a 1966 copy with a Laurence Olivier cover – with the actor blacked up for Othello on the cover – has just gone for £91. A Julie Christie issue from the same year fetched £71 and another issue £57.

London Life was ‘a comprehensive guide to the entertainment scene: films, theatre, restaurants, night life, music, sport’; a Time Out for the Swinging Sixties. It’s usually the earlier issues of London Life under editor Mark Boxer that fetch such high prices.

London Life profile at Magforum

London Life magazine cover checklist


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


 

What does a Bolshevik look like?

October 30, 2017
Portrait of a rabid Bolshevik by Charles Sargeant Jagger on the cover of War Illustrated in January 1919

Portrait of a ‘frenzied fanatic’ Bolshevik by Charles Sargeant Jagger on the cover of War Illustrated in January 1919

War Illustrated magazine left its readers in no doubt where its stood on the prospects of Russia in the control of the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. This ranting maniac was portrayed on the weekly magazine’s front cover for 11 January, 1919, by CS Jagger. Inside, Sir Sidney Low wrote about the revolutionaries as ‘frenzied fanatics’.

I take this illustration to be by Charles Sargeant Jagger, one of the pre-eminent sculptors of the early 20th century. He served with the Artists’ Rifles in the First World War and created several war memorials – most notably the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner (1925). There is a British Pathe film of Jagger at work.

Sir Sidney Low was a journalist during the war and edited the wireless service of the Ministry of Information. He had been knighted the year before.

War Illustrated‘s editor at Amalgamated Press was John Hammerton, one of Alfred Harmsworth’s most successful editors. War Illustrated was relaunched as New Illustrated after the war.

 


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

 

 

 


 

Britain’s princes – cross-dressing in Marie Claire magazine

October 26, 2017
The royal twee: Prince Charles as urban ethnic nomad by Joe Casely-Hayford. In the bottom right the heir to the throne is out to lunch in Franco Moschino

The royal twee: Prince Charles as urban ethnic nomad by Joe Casely-Hayford. In the bottom right the heir to the throne is out to lunch in Franco Moschino

September 1988 saw the arrival of a new magazine, IPC’s interpretation of a French title that dated back to the 1930s, Marie Claire (I know Wikipedia says it came to the UK 1941, but that just shows how unreliable it is!) It was a breath of fresh air under the editorship of Glenda Bailey. She was seen as an unlikely choice, but talked her way into the job and made a great fist of it, bringing in investigative pieces alongside the fashion. Bailey has since joined the long list of British editors to cross the Atlantic, heading up Harper’s Bazaar since 2001.

 

Hallo tailor: Prince Andrew as ship's matey in Byblos. Right, Charles at home in Moschino

Hallo tailor: Prince Andrew as ship’s matey in Byblos. Right, Charles at home in Moschino

It’s worth getting out these old copies of Marie Claire for articles such as ‘Royal makeover: The princes’ new clothes’. It wasn’t an original idea, Nova ran a piece in 1968 that had French fashion designer André Courrèges giving the Queen a makeover (it caused a storm at the time!). Marie Claire went a step further in tackling Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward – and … well just look at the cross-dressing pictures!

Boys will be boys. Prince Andrew in English Eccentrics. Edward in Rifat Ozbek and John Flett

Boys will be boys. Prince Andrew in English Eccentrics. Left, Edward in Rifat Ozbek and John Flett

Here’s what Marie Claire said at the time:

If the Royal family has become nothing more than a collection of clothes-horses, we know who to blame, don’t we? The Princess of Wales (5ft 10in, pencil slim) transformed herself from little-girl-lost into Miss United Kingdom as if she’d been anticipating the event since birth. The Duchess of York (5ft 8in, rolling gait) exacerbated the situation by contrast: she caught the public imagination as the All England land girl. Even the Princess Royal (5ft 7in, very ordinary) has suddenly acquired an incongruous interest in fashion.

The Princes, however, have been cruelly denied the opportunity to follow in the wake of their womenfolk. Protocol decrees that these unfortunate patricians should appear publicly in sub-Next and privately in the limited shades of country compost. Sympathetic to their predicament, Marie Claire asked designers Joe Casely-Hayford, Franco Moschino, Rifat Ozbek, John Flett, English Eccentrics and Byblos to give Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward the same equality of opportunity as their female counterparts.

Knowing that this would be a difficult creative task, we did not ask them to design for the actual Royal physique, nor did we specify whether the ensembles were for state occasions or intimate At Homes, but our philanthropy may result in a new age of elegance for the Royal male. Windsor change?


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

 

 


 

Google’s plan for a future city is terrifying

October 20, 2017
Schmidt, Trudeau and pals set out their plans for a 12-acre site on Toronto's waterfront

Schmidt, Trudeau and pals set out their plans for a 12-acre future city on Toronto’s waterfront

We started thinking about all the things we could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge

That has to be one of the scariest sentences I have ever heard. Why? Because it was said by Eric Schmidt, the billionaire chairman of Alphabet, the company set up to own Google.

This is the mega-tech company that sent its camera cars around around our roads – without anyone’s permission – and just happened to identify everyone’s open wifi while it was at it.

Google then ignored its own promise not to track people using the private windows in their browsers, and it has been found guilty of using its massive online power to force out smaller rivals by putting its own products first in search results. In simple words, that’s lying and cheating. No wonder the EU slapped Google with a €2.4bn fine.

Yet no-one except China, the US and the EU is big enough to stand up to the likes of Google/Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Ebay and their pals. The Schmidt quote comes from a report in the FT on Thursday (‘Toronto offers Alphabet waterfront land to practise designs for cities of future’ by Leslie Hook). He was talking at a publicity event with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister.

The FT piece points out that there is a ‘political backlash against big tech in the US, where politicians are grappling with the growing influence of Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon’. However, these mega-techs just play the global field and look to wield their influence with individual countries such as Canada or the UK for their schemes.

My reaction to the FT story is no doubt influenced by my efforts to do something very simple with Apple this morning. This mega-tech set its stall out with the launch of the first Mac way back in 1984. It forced all software makers to adopt its interface or it would not give them access to developers’ kits – even those that already sold software for Apple’s micros. The result was that many of the thriving small software companies in Britain turned to PC technology, or give up.

The level of control is incredible. I booked an appointment at an Apple dealer in the Strand, London, to see if I could get my Macbook power supply cable repaired (and I note as I type this that WordPress tries to cap up the ‘b’ in Macbook, another example of Apple’s Ratking-like power). I walked in and handed over the broken power supply. (How can they get away with such shoddy products – in almost 40 years of owning computers, I have never had a power cable break.)

‘What’s the serial number of the Mac?’ they asked. I didn’t know, which meant that they couldn’t do anything! They then sent me over to the Apple shop in Covent Garden. It was like walking into a youth club full of ping-pong tables. I eventually found a rack of products and a new power lead was £79! I asked about getting it repaired and was sent to join a dozen-strong queue for the one person in the room who could (perhaps) answer the question.

I gave up. I decided to pay up. And, of course, I had to find someone who has the portable device to pay. And then wait again while they printed the receipt out. I left with a massively overpackaged product, having been frustrated in my attempt to repair ought in an inefficient shop staffed by 90% men. Clearly, Apple is a company at the forefront of the world’s waste problems and at the back of the field in attempts to encourage women into the workforce.

They and their mega-tech ilk want a world in which they can track you and everything you own. Their futuristic city (for a waterfront-living elite) will be very efficient with huge political clout. Alongside it will be a licence to take a cut of – in essence, tax – the world’s media use, of books, film, TV, software. And 3D printing technology will enable them to do the same for many other products too.

If George Orwell hadn’t had Stalin’s Russia to inspire him to come up with 1984 and Big Brother, then Google and Apple wold have done it for someone else today – or perhaps it is the mega-techs that are modelling themselves on that dystopian, fascist world.

Maurice Rickards: ephemera and magazines

October 14, 2017
Maurice Rickards merged two images in the dark room for this image manipulation cover on Man About Town in 1959

Maurice Rickards merged two photographs in the dark room for this image manipulation cover on Man About Town in 1959

Maurice Rickards is one of the unsung heroes of graphic design. Although he wrote several books – and Michael Twyman completed his Encyclopedia of Ephemera – the godfather of modern-day ephemera is rarely written about. Even Wikipedia, that great hoover-upper of everybody else’s research and websites, has yet to acknowledge his existence. Only the Independent gave him an obituary (by Patrick ‘Book of Firsts‘ Robertson, a former chairman of the Ephemera Society who claims to own the largest private collection of vintage magazines in Britain).

Rickards trained as a photographer but collecting the fleeting printed objects of everyday life – particularly posters – was his joy and he appears to have made a living from his Fitzrovia basement studio as an illustrator, photographer and magazine designer. It was his enthusiasm that led to the creation of the Ephemera Society, its offshoot in the US and the Centre for Ephemera Studies at Reading University under the direction of Professor Twyman.

Maurice Rickards poster-style cover design for Man About Town (spring 1956)

Maurice Rickards poster-style cover design for Man About Town (spring 1956)

I never met the man, but came to some idea of his approach to design through the pages of Man About Town under the editorship of John Taylor in the 1950s (before it was bought up by Michael Heseltine’s Cornmarket). Later, when researching books about British magazine design and Alfred Leete’s Kitchener poster, I discovered his books on posters.

The spring 1956 poster-like cover of Man About Town is credited to Rickards, as is autumn 1958, so he was probably working as a freelance designer on the magazine in those years. I particularly like the latter example, which is described as being inspired by the squiggle shape that he came across.

Maurice Rickards ephemera-inspired cover design for Man About Town (autumn 1958)

Maurice Rickards ephemera-inspired cover design for Man About Town (autumn 1958)

The autumn/winter i959 issue at the top of this post was the last Man About Town under Taylor and perhaps that is why it gives a big showing to Rickards’ work. He had done several earlier covers designs but this one gives an opportunity for his ‘crackpotography’ ideas, along with a five-page article.  The text reproduces some of his ‘eccentricities’ in ‘Rickards’s howdoneit’, an article based on his book, Off-Beat Photography (The Studio, 1959), about image manipulation. In Man About Town‘s inimitable style, the magazine  describes that the woman sitting on Rickards’s head cover is easily explained:

It is not that we used a particularly small girl; it is merely that Rickards himself has such a big head.

Offbeat Photography by Maurice Richards

Offbeat Photography by Maurice Richards shows Rickards with an axe in his head on the dust jacket

In the article, the captions explain how each photograph was composed and how shadows were added using an airbrush or avoided. A man shown balancing on a glass using just one finger needed 50 or 60 exposures before Rickards got it right. A skull and Luger photo was for a book, named as Skeleton Island. In fact, this looks to have become A Twist of Sand (1960) by Geoffrey Jenkins and was made into a film eight years later starring Richard Johnson and Honor Blackman. The cover used a variant of the photo, without the gun.

Another photograph of what looks like the aftermath of a massive road accident  harks back to a poster campaign he did right at the start of his career in 1953 – Lives Matter. Three posters were commissioned by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, showing a woman collapsed over a telephone, a one-legged boy on crutches, and a little girl in the arms of a policeman. According to Patrick Robertson’s obituary, such was the horror they generated that they were banned by various local authorities, were defaced on hoardings and prompted ‘harsh letters’ to editors and MPs.