Do you remember The Illustrated London News? I pose the question thus because most people — myself included until last week — seem to be under the impression that the grand old tit le had ceased to be long since, driven into oblivion by the rush of style and lad magazines that dominated the end of the last century. In fact ILN has been in continuous publication since 1842, initially weekly, reaching an astonishing sales figure of 300,000 by 1863, sometimes monthly, and latterly coming out just twice a year. But now I have before me the "relaunch" issue, designed to capture the intelligent London market anew, and publish monthly once again by the middle of next year.
My initial reaction was "Good luck!" It's very glossy, and well supplied with the upmarket advertising essential to such ventures, and with a pictorial content true to its original ethic; ie equal to that of other magazines that have embraced art over text as a commercial compromise. But, ironically, the text is also first class, and thoughtfully selected by the editor, Mark Palmer.
I particularly admired the retention of the old Victorian masthead on a front cover, otherwise dominated by an irresistible shot of Heike Makatsch, German star of Love Actually. But, unlike the Evening Standard's weekly giveaway mag ES. this ILN is full of stuff I actually wanted to read. Did you know that there are turf wars among the Pearly Kings? Or that the Bishop of London thinks that the City's office workers aren't spending enough time on lunch? Fascinating.
This, mark you, from someone who doesn't actually live in London, and spends as little time there as possible, but loves the place when he's there and always walks from A to B if time permits, because its streets are so full of surprises, architectural, cultural and historical.
So I called Mark Palmer in search of further background, and was delighted by what he told me. Years ago my friend George and I were moaning about the state of the capital, and agreed that when we come to power we will turn the city into one in 'which we want to live. And this afternoon Mark told me his mission is to make ILN a magazine he wants to read. He's one of us. Unlike so many politicians, so many editors, so many programme controllers, he does not seek to second-guess and patronise his public, putting out a product he wouldn't touch with a barge-pole on the assumption that this is what the lumpen pigs will buy.
He trusts his own taste, and knows that although a minority of Londoners might share his education and accent, a majority of those who like to read will share his interest in informative features and opinion pieces about the cosmopolis they all call home.
I think he's right, and I think the relaunched ILN is going to fly. Keeping up the quality of the copy will be essential, and personally I found the feature on various Londoners' bathrooms a bit on the trivial side. But that's just me. There's a good arts section that points readers at books, plays, exhibitions they might enjoy, rather than attempting to compete with the comprehensive listings service provided by Time Out. There is also a front section devoted to essays on ... whatever happens to come in, quirky, arresting, good fun. Maybe a little tweaking here and there would he a good idea before the thing goes monthly (though I hope the cover price can be kept down to £2.50). But to that end ILN invites any reader of this fanfare redesign to pitch in with suggestions, with a nice little lottery prize as an inducement. If you can find a copy, have a go, by cmailing email@example.com.
This is a good product with a natural market, and it deserves our support.