9th day: romance at Christmas

January 2, 2021

This 1945 issue of Woman promised Christmas Specials! But this was just six months after the defeat of Hitler, so it was a thin issue – paper rationing was still in place until 1952. Among the special features were a romantic fortune-telling game and the ‘loveliest jumper in colour contrast’. Top of the bill though – as was typical in women’s weeklies for a century – was fiction, in this case by Mary Howard and Dorothy Black, who between them wrote more than 150 romantic novels spanning most of the twentieth century. Alongside writers such as Ida Cook (Mary Burchell), they were stalwarts of the Mills & Boon style of fiction.

Howard, born Mary Edgar in 1907, started writing romantic novels in 1930 and was a past chairwoman of Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

Black, writing under what was her maiden name, worked as a journalist before becoming a novelist in 1916. She was a vice-president of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The association gave its annual award to Howard three times between 1960, its founding year, and 1980.

This is the ninth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

8th day: The Strand at Christmas

January 1, 2021
A coloured cover for the 1903 Christmas double issue of The Strand

Most British magazines were slow to introduce colour covers, but many made an exception at Christmas. The Strand followed the trend – set by the Illustrated London News in 1855 – with a 1903 double issue and a coloured version of George Charles Haité’s iconic rendering looking eastwards along the famous street from the bottom of Southampton Street. (The first version was from the bottom of Burleigh Street, but this was updated by just changing the street sign when the George Newnes office moved a couple of streets farther west.)

The ‘grand Christmas double number’ also doubled the price to a shilling (12 pennies).

A&F Pears, the soap maker, tended to take the back covers for these issues. For the Christmas 1904 issue of the Strand, it used the famous ‘Bubbles’ painting, which had first been published as an advert almost 20 years before.

‘Bubbles’ on the back cover of The Strand in 1904

This is the eighth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

Some comedy for Christmas

December 31, 2020
Pictorial Comedy for a new century

Pictorial Comedy was a monthly magazine of ‘stories, humorous pictures, varied reading’. Each issue typically ran to 32 pages plus the covers. At a shilling a copy, it was expensive. The Strand, for example, was sixpence – half the price – as was the society weekly the Queen.

Pictorial Comedy aimed to depict ‘the humorous phases of life’ through the eyes of eminent artists. Prominent among its roster was Charles Dana Gibson, an American artist renowned for portraying beautiful women. Its pages were slightly larger than A4, and many images were printed full-page, or across a spread, so many will have been mounted and framed.

The printer and publisher was James Henderson at Red Lion House in Red Lion Court, just off London’s Fleet Street.

The striped effect visible on the cover is caused by the impression of the letterpress type on the reverse of the page coming through.

This is the seventh of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

There was also a selection of covers for Christmas 2019.

Our Bubble for Christmas

December 30, 2020
Our Bubble, a children’s magazine edited by Dr Barnardo

The title of this children’s weekly – Our Bubble – has a certain resonance these days. Back in 1894, though, soap bubbles were reminiscent of childhood, as exemplified by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Millais’s ‘A Child’s World’. Pears had added a bar of soap to that 1886 painting to turn it into one of the world’s most recognisable advertising images, ‘Bubbles’.

Our Bubble was edited by Dr Barnardo and was one of several publications he published between 1874 and 1900 to raise funds for his children’s homes and other charitable activities. These included the Children’s Treasury, Our Darlings, and then Our Bubble: Coloured Pictures for Boys and Girls.

Four weekly issues, costing a penny each, were collated with a supplement each month and sold for sixpence. A chromolithograph was added to the Christmas part. The monthly parts were then gathered as an annual volume entitled Our Bubbles.

Thomas Barnardo opened his first home in 1870 and by the time he died in 1905 had helped almost 100,000 children.

In the late Victorian era, children’s magazine’s were far more likely to use colour than their adult counterparts. It was seen as a big factor in appealing to youngsters. Even the biggest-selling mainstream titles such as the Illustrated London News reserved colour for Christmas and other special occasions. This stayed the case in Britain pretty much until the 1930s, when a combination of colour covers and some pages inside using photogravure printing became common.

This is the sixth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Nova’s edge on the 5th day of Christmas

December 30, 2020
Nova magazine from 1966

Nova set out to break the mould of monthly women’s magazines and many of its covers were built on hard-hitting ideas with words and images to match. Even at Christmas, the lines on this 1966 cover – ‘Still no room at the inn?’ – remind the reader that all is not right with the world. Edgy cover lines on other issues included: ‘They consent in private’; ‘Fifty years after the vote, only the chains have changed’; ‘Why can’t they stay at home?’; and ‘We know she fell – but did TV give her a push’. That fourth cover line was above a Peter Blake painting of the 11-year-old Mary Bell, who had killed two babies; I leave you to figure out the topics behind the other three.

This is the fifth of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

>>See all of Nova‘s covers, from 1965 to 1975

Ideas for the 4th day of Christmas

December 29, 2020

Ideas magazine in 1923

A blue paisley pattern jacket and yellow trousers provide a colourful outfit for this skater as she inscribes the magazine’s name on the ice. The artist isn’t credited but Ideas, a general weekly magazine, was printed and published by E Hulton & Co in Withy Grove, Manchester. Sir Edward Hulton had built up the company, which was based on newspapers and magazines founded by his father, also Edward Hulton. These included the Daily Sketch. However, he had sold the company earlier in the year.

His son, the third Edward Hulton, bought Farmer’s Weekly in 1937 and used it as the foundation for Hulton Press, buying up Stefan Lorant’s Lilliput and launching Picture Post. After the Second World War, Hulton’s Eagle revolutionised the comics sector. With the demise of Picture Post in 1957 and contraction in the magazine industry, Hulton sold off his titles and was himself knighted.

The 3rd day – in the 1930s

December 27, 2020

This 1932 Home Making magazine focused on ideas for Christmas and making presents, as did many women’s magazines of the period. The attractive cover by Fred Purvis, one of the best artists of the era, disguises a harsh period for working families. This was the depressed 1930s after the great stock market crashes sent the western world into a depression lasting much of the decade. So skills and ideas for making gifts were prized (I’m sure one magazine did a features on making presents from jam jars!).

The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement organised hunger marches from 1932 to 1936 to protest against mass unemployment. Then, in 1936, Jarrow borough council sent a petition to parliament carried by men who marched the 300 miles to London – the Jarrow Crusade.

This is the third of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Flying high on the 2nd day of Christmas

December 26, 2020

Even trade magazines get into the Christmas spirit, so here’s the 1961 festive cover from The Aeroplane. The cover image is an advert for Smiths, a company that made instruments for aircraft and cars. The tree is formed of the silhouettes of mainly military jets and turboprops. At the tip of the tree is the English Electric Lightning, the UK’s main fighter jet of the 1960s. Halfway down on the right is an Avro Vulcan nuclear bomber (the silhouettes are not to a constant scale). At the very bottom right looks like a Folland Gnat trainer, as flown by the Red Arrows.

This is the second of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas…

December 25, 2020

Here’s the first of 12 Christmas covers in a magazine version of ye olde English counting song The Twelve Days of Christmas. This image shows the 1917 Christmas issue of Blighty. It was sold at home to raise money to fund the free copies sent to the troops each week during the First World War (the idea was revived for the Second World War too). The illustration is by Sproat, and shows the old pipe-smoking soldier wearing one of the goatskin jackets sent to keep the troops warm. The Christmas covers usually showed a soldier dreaming of being back at home with his wife or sweetheart.

I’ve been working for a while on a Magforum page about magazines at war – one of many projects I aim to finish in 2021.

‘I just shot John Lennon’

December 11, 2020
‘John Lennon shot dead’ 9 December 1980

December 8 marked 40 years since John Lennon’s murder in 1980. Lennon would have turned 80 in October. Here are three newspaper covers from Lennon’s shooting: the London New Standard splash is from the day after his murder; the Mirror and Express two days later.

Lennon died at 11pm in New York, so, with London being five hours ahead, the national dailies missed the story. The Standard, being a London evening paper, was able to splash on the murder on December 9. The Standard story quotes the words of the killer when asked if he knew what he’d done: ‘I just shot John Lennon.’

The Standard‘s front was all about getting the news out as fast as possible for the London commute home. The Express focused on the killer, which would have been the most recent aspect of the story to come out.

The Mirror took a totally different tack. The editor at the time was Mike Molloy, who had originally trained as a designer. He obviously stood back from the story, realised that the paper would be coming out two days after radio and television had carried the news, and looked at it in a historical context. The result was a great design that marked the moment, with its ‘Death of a hero’ headline, all the vital details, and an iconic image.

This was in the days of hot metal, so they were constrained in the use of type sizes. These days, the type would have been, squeezed, stretched and sized to fill the space. But that would be just too clean and sanitised.

I particularly like the schoolboy-tie look to the Mirror‘s picture. It’s captioned as one of the last photographs of the former Beatle, taken in New York three weeks before. There’s no photographer credit, so it probably came from a photo agency the paper subscribed to.

‘John Lennon: Death of a hero’ – a classic Mirror cover
‘The man who shot John Lennon’ – the Express chose to focus on the killer

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