Posts Tagged ‘John Bull’

On this day in magazines: Today and John Bull in 1960 feb 27

February 28, 2017
Today, the first issue of the cover new John Bull magazine, 27 February 1960

Today, the first issue of the cover new John Bull magazine, 27 February 1960

The year 1960 was a watershed in the history of weekly magazines. The sales of women’s weeklies peaked and the general interest weeklies were already well on the slide, with Picture Post, Illustrated and Everybody’s having already folded. They needed to maintain sales of a million copies a week  to be able to offer national coverage to advertisers, but the world was changing, with magazine readers turning into television viewers.

This first issue of Today is part of that change. The 27 February 1960 issue of the ‘new John Bull, incorporating Everybody’s Weekly‘ marked the end of one of the most famous – and at times notorious – magazine titles in publishing history.

The bizarre cover photograph promoted a colour centre-spread on skiing.

Marketing was vital to keeping up magazines sales, so this issue included:

  • A win a car competition – promoted on the cover as the £1,000 competition.
  • Free insurance offer for registered readers – a technique that went right back to the 1880s with railway insurance from Tit-Bits and, in the First World War, insurance against being killed or injured in a bombing raid in Britain.

Note the plug on the cover for that other vital ingredient of magazines, fiction, with the ‘Trustee from the Toolroom’ by Neville Shute being serialised.

Today was printed by Odhams in Watford, Herts, and published by Odhams Press, Long Acre. The editorial office was at 189 High Holborn. It came out every Wednesday.


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

 

 


10 things to thank magazines for

May 1, 2016

Here are 10 things that might not exist without magazines.

1. The word ‘magazine’

The first magazine: the Gentleman's Magazine from Sylvanus Urban (Edward Cave) in1731

The Gentleman’s Magazine  in 1731

In January 1731, the Gentleman’s Magazine was the first publication to use the word ‘magazine’ in its modern sense as a periodical.

Before Edward Cave, its publisher, came up with the title, most periodicals were called journals and a magazine was a storehouse, from an ancient Arabic word. That sense still exists, in the sense of a gunpowder magazine, or a magazine of bullets for a machine gun.

But Cave didn’t just come up with the word, his collections of news, opinion and articles set the approach for the modern magazine, and it was published for almost two centuries.

Samuel Johnson listed the word in his dictionary of 1755: ‘Of late this word has signified a miscellaneous pamphlet, from a periodical miscellany named the Gentleman’s Magazine, by Edward Cave [who used the pen-name Sylvanus Urban].’

2. Charles Dickens

The opening page of Dickens' Household Words magazine from 1859

Dickens’ Household Words

The quintessential Victorian author followed in his father’s footsteps as a journalist and worked on a variety of publications for eight years from 1829. He then became editor of Bentley’s Miscellany,  which published Oliver Twist in twenty-four monthly instalments from February 1837. In 1840, he launched his own magazine, Master Humphrey’s Clock in which was published The Old Curiosity Shop. Most of Dickens’ works were first published in magazines as weekly instalments. The publishers then collated them as monthly parts or whole books. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published in 19 issues over 20 months from 1836.

This publishing approach affected his writing style – it was vital for readers to remember his plots and characters from week to week, so encouraging vivid characterisations and descriptions in his works.

Dickens went on to launch Household Words, which was published by Bradbury & Evans on Fleet Street from 1850. This was followed by All the Year Round in 1859, which carried on after his death in 1870 under the editorship of his son, Charley, for another 18 years. The Dickens Fellowship in tribute to the writer was founded in London in 1902.

3. The curate’s egg

The first issue of Punch magazine dated 17 July 1841. Punch has coined many words and phrases, including 'the curate's egg'

The first issue of Punch magazine dated 17 July 1841

The English expression ‘a curate’s egg’ describes something of mixed character (good and bad).

The phrase was coined in the caption of an 1895 Punch cartoon entitled ‘True humility’ by George du Maurier. This showed a curate who, having been given a stale egg by his host but being too meek to protest, stated that ‘parts of it’ were ‘excellent’ (9 November, p222).

Punch has been credited with coining or popularising many words and expressions. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the magazine almost 4,000 times in its entries, from ‘1984’ to ‘intersexual’ to ‘youthquake’ to ‘zone’.

4. The Pre-Raphaelites

Portrait by Millais of Effie Gray holding a copy of Cornhill magazine

Portrait by Millais of Effie Gray holding a copy of Cornhill magazine (Perth museum)

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 as a secret society, with its founding members, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, all signing their paintings as PRB.

That strategy changed two years later when the Pre-Raphaelites launched a magazine – The Germ – to promote their cause. Rossetti was the editor and the literary monthly was wrapped in a yellow cover.

The January 1850 issue included engravings by William Holman Hunt to illustrate the poems ‘My Beautiful Lady’ and ‘Of My Lady in Death’ by Thomas Woolner. The Pre-Raphaelites’ work was at first regarded as scandalous, but by 1860 they had taken the art world by storm. Their illustrations appeared in many magazines, particularly Cornhill Magazine from its first issue. Millais painted his wife, Effie Gray, holding a copy of the magazine.

5. Mrs Beeton

A spread on puddings from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

A spread on puddings from Mrs Beeton’s book

Isabella Beaton was the wife of Samuel Beeton, who bought the Victorian world magazines such as The Queen and the Boy’s Own Paper. Isabella was a vital part of Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, which was one of the first magazines to address the expanding market of middle-class woman who did much of her own housework. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was spun out of Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. Isabella was just 25 when the book came out, but she died four years later giving birth to their fourth child. Samuel’s life fell apart after that and he lost control of his publishing empire.

6. The Daily Mail

This logo from a recent Daily Mail is based on the original masthead for Answers Magazine

This logo from the Daily Mail echoes the original masthead for Answers Magazine

The editorial strategy developed from 1881 by George Newnes with Tit-Bits – editing down news and facts to their essence and presenting them as entertainment – influenced Alfred Harmsworth as he established both his rival magazine, Answers, and the ‘tabloid’ news style of the Daily Mail (launched in 1896).

Harmsworth’s move from magazines into newspapers (the Daily Mirror followed in 1903) was echoed by Pearson’s Weekly magazine publisher C. Arthur Pearson, who started the Daily Express (1900). These three stalwarts of British newspapers are still published today.

7. Cryptic crosswords

The Dictionary of Bullets published by John Bull in 1935

John Bull’s Dictionary of Bullets

Cryptic word games were popular as puzzles in British magazines from the Victorian era. My pet theory is that the ‘Bullets’ prize puzzles in the weekly John Bull – the best-selling magazine from about 1910 to 1930 – created a nation of cryptic thinkers.

It’s difficult to make sense of many Bullets today because of the way they drew on topical events of the times. However, Bulleteer Bill’s blog is based on cuttings left over from his dad’s obsession with the game (an obsession shared by Alan Bennett’s father).He explains ‘The basic premise was that the competition setters would supply a word or a phrase which the player had then to “complete” or add to in a witty, apposite way’ and quotes the following examples:

A HUNDRED YEARS HENCE: More Radio – Less Activity? (In 1949 when BBC Radio was a fixture in the country’s homes and talk was of expansion and more stations.)

ALL DAD THINKS OF: Retrieving fortunes at Dogs! (Greyhound racing was a popular pastime with dog tracks in most towns, and there’s the extra pun on ‘retriever’.)

Once crosswords were established in Britain in the 1920s – in magazines such as Answers before newspapers such as the Times and Telegraph – it was only natural to combine ‘Bullets thinking’ with crossword clues.

To mark the 1,000th competition, John Bull published a Dictionary of Bullets in 1935.

8. St Trinian’s

Searle's St Trinian's on the cover of Lilliput in December 1949

Searle’s St Trinian’s on a  1949 Lilliput cover

The first of Ronald Searle’s St Trinian’s cartoons about a bunch of anarchic schoolgirls was published in Lilliput and he did several covers for the magazine, the first in December 1949, before he established himself on Punch.

Not only that, Kaye Webb, Searle’s first wife, was the picture editor of Lilliput.

The popularity of the cartoons led to four films between 1954 and 1966. The first was The Belles of St. Trinian’s with Alistair Sim, Joyce Grenfell and George Cole.

Another film followed in 1980, and then two films in 2007 and 2009 with Rupert Everett playing two roles, one of the girls and the school’s spinster headmistress.

 

9. ‘Metal Postcard’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees

A Heartfield montage on the cover of Picture Post dated 9 September 1939

A Heartfield montage on the cover of Picture Post dated 9 September 1939

In the 1930s and early 1940s, Stefan Lorant published the photomontages of German Dadaist John Heartfield. Both had fled to Britain to escape the Nazi regime. Lorant popularised Heartfield’s anti-Hitler photomontages in Britain through both Lilliput and Picture Post – two of the most popular magazines of the era.

Heartfield’s response to the Munich Agreement, ‘The Happy Elephants’ of two elephants flying, was used in the third issue of Picture Post (15 October 1938) and his montage of Hitler as the Kaiser used as a front cover for 9 September 1939, a week after war broke out. The images became familiar to the British population and one of Heartfield’s montages, ‘Hurray, the Butter is All Gone!’ inspired the song ‘Metal Postcard’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

10. £100m for Britain’s poorest people

The Big Issue of 4 March 2016 celebrates selling 200 million copies

The Big Issue of 4 March 2016 celebrates 200 million sales

In 1991, John Bird founded The Big Issue to help homeless people earn some cash and to try to shame the John Major government into doing more to help them. In April 2016, The Big Issue marked the sale of 200 million copies.

Street vendors sell 100,000 copies a week and the proceeds they earn help keep a roof over their heads.

In total, Bird reckons the magazine has helped homeless people earn £100m. Furthermore, The Big Issue has inspired street papers in 120 other countries, leading a global self-help revolution.

 

The slow death of the weekly magazine

December 19, 2015
Declining sales for general weekly magazines

Declining sales for general weekly magazines

The war years were a fantastic time for the photography-based general weekly magazines and their high sales continued into the start of the 1950s, as this chart from the Financial Times in 1959 shows (April 16, page 10). Just these four titles – Picture Post, Illustrated, Everybody’s and John Bull – had a combined sale of about 4.5 million copies a week. That is a staggering figure by today’s standards.

Television was gaining a foothold in Britain’s households and, as the chart shows, first Picture Post and then Illustrated folded. Everybody’s also was not long for the world, merging into John Bull in 1959. A year later, John Bull relaunched itself as Today, but that only delayed fate and it was subsumed by Weekend in 1965.

The BBC took away readers and from 1955 commercial television took away both readers and advertisers. Magazines still had a monopoly on colour advertising over newspapers and television, but then the Sunday Times launched its colour supplement in 1962 and colour TV appeared in 1967, with Britain becoming the first country in Europe to offer regular programming in colour – four hours a week on the BBC. Two years later, both the BBC and ITV were regularly broadcasting in colour and 12 million households owned a colour TV set by the early 1970s.

These TV and newspaper trends saw off other weeklies, such as Tit-Bits and Weekend in the 1980s. It’s been a similar story for women’s weeklies.  In 1959, market leader Woman was selling 3.2 million copies a week, alongside three other titles over the 1 million mark; today it’s less than a tenth of that at about 250,000. Of course, new titles have come along with market leader Take a Break was selling 1.2 million in 1990; today its ABC sale is half that figure.

>>A History of British Magazine Design by Anthony Quinn (May 2016, V&A Publishing)

 

John Bull and its famous Bullets prize competitions

October 24, 2015
'Dictionary of Bullets' published by John Bull to mark the 1000th competition in 1935

‘Dictionary of Bullets’ published by John Bull to mark the 1000th competition in 1935

Ian Cowmeadow has started a blog based on his dad’s entries to the Bullets competition that ran for half a century in John Bull magazine. The magazine itself is now remembered for its colour illustrations and covers after the Second World War – a thousand of which can be seen at the Advertising Archives – but the game was one of the magazine’s most popular features in the days before crosswords when John Bull was published by Odhams with the great swindler and MP Horatio Bottomley as editor.

Ian’s ‘Bill the Bullet’ blog explores the notes and memorabilia kept by his dad, who won many prizes and regarded himself as a ‘Bulleteer’. Ian sums up the competitions by quoting Alan Bennett:

The playwright Alan Bennett, whose father was a Bullets obsessive, described the successful attempts as ‘verbal cartoons’. Even so, he still ‘couldn’t see the point or the humour of the entries that won; they seemed like Tommy Handley’s jokes – everybody said they were funny, but they never made you laugh’.

The John Bull Bullets competitions may be largely forgotten now, but I reckon it’s the reason Britain developed cryptic crosswords – the Bullets are really cryptic crossword clues in reverse and must have been fantastic training for composing crosswords.

Another example of the influence of Bullets can be found in Liverpool, where the Mahatma Magic Circle has had cause to be thankful to John Bull for 80 years:

In 1933, Oscar Paulson won the popular Bullets word competition in the John Bull magazine and, with his prize money, he bought and presented to the society the ‘Oscar Paulson Cup’, to be awarded in annual competition for the most entertaining act. We still hold this competition to this day.

John Bull may have closed in 1960, but even so, Long Live John Bull!

>>A History of British Magazine Design by Anthony Quinn (May 2016)

Self-referential covers 3: the recursive John Bull

April 10, 2015
John Bull 1946 March 2 first edition in colour with a cover by Clixby Watson

John Bull 1946 March 2 – first edition in colour with a cover by Clixby Watson

This John Bull cover marked the 1946 relaunch of what was one of the biggest-selling magazines with a fresh editorial approach led by a full colour cover. Since its launch, John Bull had always been a monochrome weekly magazine, with advertising on the cover since the 1920s and throughout the war. It dated back to 1906 as the brainchild of the swindling MP Horation Bottomley. It may well have been the biggest-selling magazine until the great success of the BBC’s Radio Times in the early 1930s.

The cover was by Clixby Watson, one of the most sought-after illustrators of the era (and the only Clixby I’ve ever come across). Watson had illustrated Woman magazine since the 1930s along with many other magazines. As well as promoting the magazine, the image promotes the idea of actually buying magazines at a news-stand. Such self-promotion seems to be lost of today’s publishers, who spent their value page space encouraging their readers to put the magazine and turn instead to their mobile phones or television sets.

Scenes of buying magazines – on the street or at railway station stalls – was a regular theme on magazine covers in the first half of the 20th century.  Publishers promoted the retail buying and distribution chain – a link that is being lost today as even the biggest news chains focus on other goods and even charge publishers extra for new launches. The publishers have reacted by adopting the historical US model of focusing on subscriptions, or moving online.

In theory, the illustration is repeated ad infinitum in each cover – it is a recursive, self-referential cover. The composition of the John Bull cover above is very good, as is the the sense of light. Watson uses the angles and diagonals in the image – and the pointing pipe – to focus on the stall holder and everyone is engrossed by the sight of the magazine. Note that ink and paper were still rationed at this stage – and would be until 1952 – so the appearance of a new colour magazine will have made a splash.  The publisher was Odhams (later IPC/Time UK).

This 1946 holiday season cover from John Bull forecasts a web fate for the slumbering  gent

This 1946 cover from John Bull forecasts a wet fate for the slumbering gent

The second John Bull cover here is a twist on the self-referential theme. The cover of the issue that has fallen from the hands of the snoozing holidaymaker predicts the fate that lies in store for him – the tide is coming in and he will soon be up to his waist in seawater. Though at least his hat looks safe.

So there are at least three types of self-referential cover:

  1. recursive – featuring the cover itself within itself: John Bull colour relaunch above and Woman’s Own colour relaunch in 1937. It’s interesting that these fiercely rival publishers – Odhams and George Newnes – should both use the same idea to mark relaunches;
  2. self-referential to other issues of the same title: Woman’s Own 1931 and 1935. What would be the criteria for the choice of cover? Obviously, you would want to to be strong visually, both the main image and the masthead in particular, but also a significant issue – perhaps a bestseller;
  3. self-referential with a twist, John Bull at the seaside, above.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

John Bull at the Advertising Archives

March 16, 2015
John Bull in 1917 - the magazine was used as a promotional tool for Horatio Bottomley's financial schemes

John Bull in 1917 – the magazine was used as a promotional tool for Horatio Bottomley’s financial schemes

John Bull is one of the most collectable of magazines with a fascinating history. It started off as the mouthpiece of the corrupt politician and Robert Maxwell of his day, Horatio Bottomley. But it was very influential during the First World War and Bottomley was feted for his ability to sway the feelings of the nation – persuading men to sign up for the war, being asked to debate with the Oxford Union and being despatched as an unofficial emissary by the government to persuade strikers to return to work.

It was one of the bestselling weeklies, which ran a popular cryptic word series called Bullets – my pet theory is that John Bull‘s Bullets is the reason why cryptic crosswords developed in Britain.

Guinness made early use of a photograph for a magazine cover advert on this 1934 issue of John Bull

Guinness made early use of a photograph for a magazine cover advert on this 1934 issue of John Bull

In the 1920s, John Bull ran to whole page advertising covers – Guinness and Bovril exploited the potential here. These were usually illustrated, but in 1934, Guinness ran photographs for its advertising. Strangely, for such a massive bestseller, John Bull was slow moving into colour, unlike its rivals such as Illustrated and Passing Show, though it did run colour summer and Christmas covers. This is especially the case because it was owned by Odhams, a massive printing group, which built colour gravure presses in Watford in 1937 and launched the weekly Woman that year to keep those machines turning.

Like all British magazines, John Bull had to pull in its horns during the war, with drab, semi-display advertising covers, but blossomed soon after with stunning colour illustrated covers by some of the finest artists of the day.

Larry Viner, who runs the Advertising Archives (and has advertised on the Magforum Collecting Magazines page for the past decade) has told me that John Bull had sparked his interest in magazines and illustration, and so is probably responsible for the Advertising Archives. In fact, he now owns the rights to John Bull and so it’s no surprise to me that he’s put up a page of covers from the magazine. And every one tells a story.

John Bull magazine cover in 1955 - the poor dog with lead in mouth is ignored by the TV-goggling family

John Bull magazine cover in 1955 – the poor dog with lead in mouth is ignored by the TV-goggling family

The poor, expectant dog sat in front of the family, lead in mouth, while everyone is enraptured by the new TV (this was 1955); the wife having to wait hand and foot on her ill husband who’s sat up in bed looking as happy as Larry (‘man flu’ was alive and well back then, too); the worried husband sneaking a look at the price tag of the fur his wife’s trying on.

And there’s often a hidden story behind the images, as a recent post I did about a 1952 Robert Thomson cover for John Bull showed, with Chris Lourdan commenting on the history of the painting and naming three of the coppers.

But, in the era of TV, John Bull lost its way, was relaunched as Today and staggered on until the mid-1960s.

John Bull magazine at the Angel in Rotherhithe

December 19, 2014
Detail from John Bull magazine cover of marching policemen with the Angel pub at Rotherhithe in the background

Detail from John Bull magazine cover of marching policemen with the Angel pub at Rotherhithe in the background

It was the detail in the background that caught my eye for this 1952 John Bull cover by Royal Academy artist Alfred Thomson RA. The line of marching policemen points to the lit-up Angel, clearly a pub. And not just any pub I reckoned, but the Angel in Rotherhithe.

John Bull cover by Alfred Thomson from September 1952

John Bull cover from September 1952 showing the full painting by Alfred Thomson

The Angel is right on the Thames river wall, in fact at high tide the terrace is a foot under water and the waves splash up against the windows.

There’s no police station nearby now, but a look at a map and a web search fills in the details. The painting’s view is looking north up Cathay Street to the river. The police station, no longer in use, was on the corner with Paradise Street.

The bobbies are all eyes left towards the waiting woman with her dog, apart from the PC at the end of the line.

I like the caption, which fills in the story behind the scene, inside the weekly magazine:

One of the pleasures for AR Thomson, RA, is a pint and a friendly game of darts at a favourite pub. On his way recently to one of his haunts in London, he passed a local police station and saw the scene he has depicted on the cover painting. ‘The girl was obviously waiting for her PC 49 to come off beat,’ he writes. ‘My guess is he got a ribbing when his relief arrived.’

John Bull was a fiction-based, large format weekly published by Odhams, with offices in High Holborn. It was founded in 1906 by the notorious MP and swindler Horatio Bottomley who was only brought to book in 1922. It relaunched with colour covers in 1946 and became Today in 1960. Odhams was one of the companies that merged to form IPC, now Time UK.

Today, the Angel is run by Samuel Smith, with a restaurant upstairs, and, as with all the Yorkshire brewer’s premises, you’ll find just about the cheapest beer in London.

Horatio Bottomley – the swindling John Bull

May 4, 2014

Horatio Bottomley was the founder and editor of John Bull, one of the most popular magazines of the 20th century. This postcard promoting the magazine portrays Bottomley as an MP putting the prime minister Lloyd George in his place.

winston-churchill-reading-john-bull-magazineOther members of Lloyd George’s cabinet are shown consulting their copies of the magazine, including Winston Churchill. Bottomley was founding chairman of the Financial Times and twice a member of parliament – but also one of Britain’s biggest fraudsters. The magazine was the medium by which he promoted himself and his dodgy schemes, and not until Robert Maxwell did the media, in that case the Daily Mirror, help create such a monster.

Bottomley was founding chairman of the Financial Times but used it to promote his projects. He came to note in the courts in 1893 when he was able to defend his printing and publishing company, the Hansard Union, from bankruptcy and the fact that £100,000 had gone missing. In 1900, he failed to win election as an MP but won £1,000 in a libel case after he was described as a fraudulent company promoter and share pusher during the campaign. The Financial Times included him in a supplement titled ‘Men of Millions’.

Bottomley’s reputation in the courts dissuaded others from taking legal action – a strategy all used by the likes of Maxwell, known as the ‘Bouncing Czech’ in Private Eye. Maxwell even published a one-off magazine backed by himself and other enemies of Private Eye, Not Private Eye, after he won a court case against the magazine’s campaigns. Bottomley survived other cases against him but his taste for champagne and race horses led to him becoming bankrupt in 1912 and so he was forced out of parliament.

In 1906, Bottomley had founded John Bull with the help of Julius Elias (later Lord Southwell), managing director of the printers Odhams.  The magazine, with its belligerent stance, championing of the common man and prize competitions – including Bullets, which was akin to coming up with cryptic crossword clues – became incredibly successful once the war started. He tried to launch a women’s version, Mrs Bull, in 1910, though this was short-lived.

 John Bull cover from 1917 is a good example of Bottomley

This John Bull cover from 1917 is a good example of Bottomley’s self-promotion

Such was Bottomley’s popularity in wartime that he was despatched by David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill as an unofficial emissary, and persuaded shipwrights on the Clyde not to go on strike.  He toured the country to help recruitment and his visit to the western front was widely reported in the press. The Evening News even ran a poster saying ‘Bottomley Wanted’ to promote a story calling for him to join the cabinet and attacking the government after Haig’s offensive on the Somme failed. Such was the power of the press that Lord Northcliffe was appointed director of propaganda, his brother Lord Rothermere became air minister, and Daily Express owner Sir Max Aitken served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and as minister for information (and in 1916 became Lord Beaverbrook). However, Bottomley never made it into government.

He was lauded in the music halls, with a 1915 song ‘Mr Bottomley – John Bull’ by Mark Sheridan.

According to the historian Niall Ferguson, ‘Horatio Bottomley’s John Bull was selling as many as two million copies by the end of the war, a figure beaten only by the new Sunday Pictorial [for which Bottomley also wrote a column for £150 a week, a massive sum that had to be personally approved by Lord Rothermere] and the News of the World.’

John Bull led to a cause célèbre in the film world when it accused the makers of what was intended to be an epic feature, The Life Story of David Lloyd George, of being German sympathisers. The Ideal Film Company sued John Bull and won the case in January 1919. Yet the film was never released, because the prints were bought – for £20,000 – by parties acting for Lloyd George. It  was lost until 1994 when it was found at the home of Lord Tenby (Lloyd George’s grandson).

Victory souvenir from John Bull made of metal from a German U-boat

Victory souvenir from John Bull made of metal from a German U-boat

The magazine also bought the Deutschland, a U-boat handed over by the Germans as part of the Armistice, and sailed it around Britain. It was broken up in Birkenhead in 1921 and the magazine sold badges that were: ‘Guaranteed to be made from metal forming part of the ex-German submarine Deutschland.’

In 1920, Beverley Nichols invited Bottomley to speak at the Oxford Union in support of a motion in favour of independent political parties. (Nichols became a popular writer and would go on to write a weekly column for Woman’s Own from 1946 to 1967). He described Bottomley in his book, 25:

A grotesque figure. Short and uncommonly broad, he looked almost gigantic in his thick fur coat. Lack-lustre eyes, heavily pouched, glared from a square, sallow face … It was not till he began to talk that the colour mottled his cheeks and the heavy hues on his face were lightened …

Bottomley won the motion, and Nichols records another aspect of the arrogance of the man – he was disappointed that he had not broken the record for the numbers in the audience at such debates. For breakfast next morning, he ordered, ‘A couple of kippers and a nice brandy and soda.’

Bottomley's Victory Bond club advertised in John Bull

Bottomley’s Victory Bond Club advertised in John Bull in 1919

With the end of war, Bottomley won a seat in the general election as an independent MP for Hackney South. However, the swindling of his Victory Bond Club, which was heavily promoted  in John Bull, was coming to light. Another magazine, Truth, warned its readers off the scheme and Bottomley issued several writs against it, which the magazine ignored. Bottomley also threatened wholesale newspaper distributors – a tactic John Major, the Conservative prime minister, used in 1993 to prevent distribution of the New Statesman when it carried an article about a supposed affair (in 2002, Major admitted having had a four-year affair with the former Conservative minister Edwina Currie from 1984). Reuben Bigland, a printer who had been slighted by Bottomley, had tracked his activities for years and his pamphlet ‘The downfall of Horatio Bottomley: His latest and greatest swindle’ prompted the MP to sue him for criminal libel and blackmail in October 1921. He lost and, along with Odhams, was fined £1000. Bottomley tried again on the blackmail charge, and lost again.

The country turned against him, with the Times thundering out, and Bottomley was committed for trial at the Old Bailey.  The Illustrated London News reported his trial, with the verdict being its front-page illustration (3 June 1922). Bottomley was sentenced to 7 years. Mr Justice Salter said:

You have been rightly been convicted by the jury of this long series of heartless frauds. These poor people trusted you and you have robbed them of £150,000 in ten months. The crime is aggravated by your high position.

Illustrated Evening News reports Bottomley's guilty verdict

Illustrated Evening News reports Bottomley’s guilty verdict in 1922

The report made reference to the Sword of Justice seen hanging on the courtroom wall. Bottomley had earlier told the jury that it would drop from its scabbard if he was found guilty: it did not fall.

Travers Humphreys, the prosecuting barrister, had lost a John Bull lottery prosecution to Bottomley in 1914 but succeeded this time. He wrote in his memoirs:

[In 1914] he was a brilliant advocate and a clever lawyer, though completely unscrupulous in his methods … In truth, it was not I who floored Bottomley, it was Drink. The man I met in 1922 was a drink-sodden creature whose brain could only be got to work by repeated doses of champagne.

In prison, he was recognised and seems to have been popular with many inmates because of John Bull‘s tradition of backing the working man and sending parcels to prisoners of war. A story is told that a padre came to visit and found the prisoner stitching mail bags:

Ah, Bottomley, sewing?
No, padre, reaping!

After prison, Bottomley portrayed his experiences in the manner of Oscar Wilde, with a poem ‘A Ballad of Maidstone Gaol’ by ‘Convict 13’ (his prison number). He also published a book, Songs of the Cell (1928), and toured the music halls. However, he was a sad sight in his later days and died on stage at the Windmill theatre in 1932. His ashes were scattered near his house, The Dicker, in Upper Dicker, near Eastbourne.

As for John Bull, sales plummeted from something like 1m-2m to 300,000 in 1922, but Odhams was able to pull it round as a serious and responsible paper. Within a year it was back selling a million copies a week. After world war two, John Bull relaunched itself with colour, illustrated covers and a focus on fiction from writers such as Agatha Christie and Neville Shute. However, with the advent of commercial television, its sales fell, like all the general interest weeklies, and it was relaunched in 1960 as Today. In this format, it survived until 1964, but it was a slow death for all the popular weeklies and it was taken over by Weekend.

Sources

The Rise and Fall of Horatio Bottomley: The biography of a swindler by Alan Hyman, Cassell, 1972 (well indexed)

Horatio Bottomley by Julian Symons, House of Stratus, 2001 (no index)

‘How the papers went to war’, by Niall Ferguson, 27 October 1998, Independent, p15

‘General weekly magazines’, Magforum.com. John Bull


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