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

Man About Town magazine - the brainchild of John Taylor, one of the most influential journalists of his generation - can be seen as Britain's first modern consumer style title for men. Yet this was not its only influence on the development of magazine publishing in the UK. 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 initially distributed through men's wear shops, before becoming a news-stand title and being sold as FHM in 1994 to Emap by publishers Tayvale with sales of 60,000 a month.

Man About Town, About Town and Town covers (1955-1968)


Man About Town magazine cover summer 1958 Man About Town - summer 1958. Note the strap line 'The Tailor & Cutter presents', which did not appear on later issues

John Taylor
John Taylor turned Tailor & Cutter into '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 (The New Yorker). His memoir, From Ovaltiney to Angry Old Man, was published in 2007

 

Taylor's brainchild Back to top

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 & 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 & 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.

*The name derives from the second world war, when the pub was a meeting place for the Free French.


Man About Town  magazine cover autumn 1958
Man About Town - autumn 1958. It 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

 

Man About Town: 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.

Page by page listing of Autumn 1958 contents


Michael Heseltine
Cornmarket co-founder Michael Heseltine with a poster on the wall for the 'New! Lively' November 1960 issue of Man About Town (Getty/Hulton)

Man About Town  magazine cover March 1961
About Town - March 1961. Larger format. The cover photograph of prime minister Harold McMillan was by Terence Donovan. The interviews for the cover piece were by Godfrey Smith and Michael Heseltine - perhaps doing the research for a later career in politics

About Town  magazine cover  September 1961
About Town - September 1961

About Town  magazine cover  October 1961
About Town - October 1961Topic news weekly July 1962
Topic - lasted just a few months with Heseltine

 

Cornmarket: the new owners

Man About Town magazine 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, a student guide to cinemas, restaurants and clubs. Heseltine has described doing a property deal to fund the purchase of Man About Town. 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 more than 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 magazine's 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" appears to be an uncredited Sue Lloyd, an actress probably best remembered for her roles in 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 on Man About Town/ About Town/ Town: 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, Julian 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 entered parliament as Conservative MP for Tavistock. This meant he had to cede any control over the magazine, though he could still 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, the magazine was never a money-spinner. Like contemporary Nova, it failed to meet the challenge of the colour supplements that appeared in the Sunday papers 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 transformation was to turn World Press News into the advertising industry bible. WPN had played second-fiddle to Advertiser's Weekly for years. Haymarket bought the title, closed it down and launched Campaign in 1968. This was a tabloid on glossy paper and made a feature of grainy monochrome pictures taken, or cropped, at strange, film-noirish angles. Exactly the sort of look that Bailey and McCullin had brought to Town. The style was much-copied in the trade press 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.




 

Sources

  • 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 www.magforum.com/magazinepublishers1.htm#hay
  • 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, www.savilerow-style.com
  • 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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