Man About Town magazine:
1950s pioneer of men's sector

Man About Townnmagazine – the brainchild of John Taylor, one of the most influential journalists of his generation – can be seen as Britain's first modern style title for men. Yet this was not its only influence on the development of magazine publishing. After being sold on, it provided the basis of success for Michael Heseltine's Haymarket. Furthermore, a similar business model was later used by For Him, which was sold as FHM in 1994 to Emap by publishers Tayvale.
Man About Town, About Town and Town covers (1955-1968)
Man About Town magazine first issue cover from 1953
Man About Town – first issue in 1953. The cover design was by Frank Bellamy
John Taylor
John Taylor made Tailor and Cutter 'the most quoted trade paper in the world' (The Times); 'the bible of the British needle trades' (Time); and 'the leading men's fashion industry journal' (New Yorker). His memoir, From Ovaltiney to Angry Old Man (2007)

Taylor's brainchild

Man About Town was launched as a quarterly in 1952 by John Taylor. He was then editor of the long-established tailoring trade weekly Tailor and Cutter. Taylor was born in Glasgow in 1921 and raised in London. He served as a Fleet Air Arm pilot during the second world war (there was a photograph of him from this period on the walls of the French House pub in Soho for many years). He had no journalistic training, but became editor of the weekly Tailor and Cutter on being demobbed in 1945. He spent 24 years in charge and made it "the most quoted trade paper in the world", according to The Times. The Daily Mail held that "no man nowadays may be regarded as having achieved celebrity until his clothes have been criticised by The Tailor & Cutter." While the Guardian said: "The considerable increase in the public interest in men's wear fashion in recent years must be largely attributed to the writings of the editor of The Tailor & Cutter." For US magazine Time, Tailor & Cutter was "the bible of the British needle trades and "dictatorial but often waggish"; and The New Yorker labelled it "the leading men's fashion industry journal".

Man About Town was seen as funny, off-beat and original in format, with cartoons by Heath, Calman and Scarfe. It became a cult success. For Taylor, Man About Town was a platform to indulge his interests in fine wines, especially champagne, good food, women and entertaining company.

And the magazine never seemed to take itself seriously. For example: "Man About Town is edited by John Taylor, but never mind"; Taylor described himself as "the bottle neck with the bottle knack"; and the magazine had a subscription price of "sixteen shillings, which shows that a fool and his money are soon parted".

The format was perfect bound with a size of 218mm by 280mm.

Man About Town magazine cover autumn 1958
Man About Town – autumn 1958

Man About Town magazine: Autumn 1958 contents

The front cover of Autumn 1958 had no individual cover lines for features but listed the topics covered: clothes, sport, travel, drink; and a competition to win a Savile Row suit. Earlier covers had added: "women and various other bad habits". The magazine was personified by a moustachioed man in a dinner suit, who on this cover can be seen leaning against the masthead in the top left corner. He also appeared on the contents page.

The issue cost 3/6 (17.5p). The 'squiggle' cover design was by Maurice Rickards and the model was Pat Gardener. Rickards pioneered the study of ephemera and his collection formed the core of the Centre for Ephemera Studies at Reading university.

Page by page listing of Autumn 1958 contents

Michael Heseltine
Heseltine beside a poster for the 'New! Lively' Nov 1960 issue (Getty/Hulton)

Man About Town magazine cover March 1961
About Town – March 1961. The cover of prime minister Harold McMillan was by Terry Donovan. Michael Heseltine did the interview – perhaps doing research for a career in politics

About Town magazine cover September 1961 About Town – September 1961

Topic news weekly July 1962
Topic – lasted just a few months

Cornmarket: the new owners

Man About Town was bought by Cornmarket in 1960. The company was run by Clive Labovitch and Michael Heseltine, who had met at Oxford university. Labovitch had bought What's What, an entertainment guide for students. Heseltine has described doing a property deal to fund the purchase. Although the magazine was not a financial success, Cornmarket took it away from its Savile Row origins and it provided the launch pad for the Haymarket group.

Tony Rushton, a director of the satirical magazine Private Eye, described in a letter to the Times (29 April 2000) how Heseltine and Labovitch had invited the Eye's staff to the offices of Man About Town and suggested that they should take charge of the opening section of editorial. The offer came at a time when the Eye faced (not for the last time) financial crisis. “Fortunately,” wrote Rushton, “The offer was turned down. Man About Town no longer exists and the Eye has just celebrated 1,000 issues.”

In interviews 30 years later, Heseltine was derogatory about the magazine he bought. He told Campaign: “We bought a spin-off consumer magazine from the trade title, Tailor & Cutter. It was called Man About Town and had little to commend itself. A supplement to its parent, it was about the trade and for the trade. Clive [Labovitch] recruited a team that was to turn this tatty quarterly into a glossy monthly for men. In one sense we were ahead of the time. Men's fashion was at the margin of acceptability and men's magazines relied almost entirely upon their willingness to peddle soft porn. We were not in that business. The magazine relied for revenue on the advertising industry, and on the wish of art directors and copywriters to see their work displayed in this pace-setting publication.”

However, the company was brought to its knees in 1962 when it bought the weekly news magazine Topic. The title was relaunched but folded a couple of months later when it was incorporated into Town.

Heseltine shortened the title to About Town and, in 1962, just Town. He described the advertising sales techniques it used as revolutionary. Rather than sending out salesmen on foot to make four to five visits a day, they made many more sales by phone.

Town magazine cover June 1964
Town – June, 1964. On the cover is photographer Bob Brooks, "wearing moustache and girl". The "girl" is an uncredited Sue Lloyd, an actress in the film of Len Deighton's The Ipcress File and TV series The Baron

About Town magazine cover December 1967
About Town – nearing the end, December 1967

Haymarket switches tack
(as does Heseltine)

At Cornmarket, Lindsay Masters was publisher; Tom Wolsey art director and Dennis Curtis production editor. Simon Tindall sold advertising space. There were several editors, including Labovitch, David Hughes and Nicholas Tomalin. Labovitch left the magazine in 1965, when Julian Critchley, who had been an MP since 1959, became editor until its closure in 1968. (He later wrote an unauthorised biography of Heseltine.) According to Heseltine, Critchley was photographed by David Bailey and Don McCullin was sent off to war in Vietnam for the first time by the magazine. (Though McCullin lists his first visit to Vietnam as being for the Illustrated London News.)

In 1966, Heseltine became a Conservative MP. Later, as a minister, he had to cede control over the magazine, though he could maintain ownership. Heseltine has been described as the money man while Labovitch was “a dreamer, fascinated by the printed word and particularly by the prospect of exciting visual presentation.”

However, Town was never a money-spinner. Like Nova, it failed to meet the challenge of the Sunday supplements that appeared from 1962 and closed in 1967. “In its best year, Town magazine covered its direct costs and, if I remember, contributed £5,000 to overheads. But it was too expensive to survive,” is how Heseltine summed it up.

Cornmarket had earlier run into debt by trying to launch Topic, a British Newsweek. It collapsed in Christmas 1962. (The same idea was tried by Sir James Goldsmith with Now! in 1979; that failed too.)

Although Town made little money, it was a high profile title in swinging-sixties Britain and attracted the attention of Geoffrey Crowther, then chairman of printers Hazell Watson & Viney. He proposed a joint company, and bought a 40% stake in Cornmarket, which was renamed Haymarket. The company went on to make its fortune by applying an obsession with quality and visual presentation developed on Town to trade publishing. The British Institute of Management's publication, The Manager, became Management Today, with Bob Heller, the former City editor of the Observer, as editor. It can be regarded as an early example of contract publishing.

An even more spectacular feat was to turn World Press News into an advertising trade bible. WPN had played second-fiddle to Advertiser's Weekly for years. Haymarket bought WPN and relaunched it as Campaign in 1968. This was a glossy tabloid and made a feature of grainy monochrome pictures cropped at film-noirish angles. The style was much-copied and Campaign was so successful that Advertiser's Weekly closed in 1974.

Haymarket's profitable rut

Heseltine's biographer Julian Critchley has said of the early Haymarket days: "However well-produced they may have been, Michael had no wish to be known as the publisher of Camera World or Cage Birds." But the demise of Town has been described as forcing Haymarket back into a less glamorous, yet more profitable, rut.


  • Anon (2004) 'John Taylor: editor of The Tailor & Cutter, columnist and publisher,' Press Gazette, 16 January
  • Anon, 'Undressing for Dinner,' Time, 11 August 1958
  • Atkinson , D. (1990) “Haymarket Publishing Group Plc – Making a lot of hay again after the lean years.” The Guardian. 24 November.
  • Critchley, J. (1994) Heseltine. Andre Deutsch
  • Haymarket profile
  • Heseltine, M. (1988) “My 30 Years In Advertising 1968-1998.” Campaign Supplement, Campaign. 18 September
  • McCullin, D. (2003) Don McCullin. Jonathan Cape
  • Obituary (2004) “John Taylor, fashion journalist.” Drapers Record. 10 January
  • Obituary (2004) “John Taylor.” The Times, 6 January
  • Savile Row Style,
  • Taylor, J. (2007) From Ovaltiney to Angry Old Man, Discovered Authors (2nd ed)
  • Thackray, R. (1999) “Me And My Partner.” The Independent. 26 May
  • Rushton, A.P. (2000) “One in the Eye.” Letters, The Times. 29 April, p23

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