Feature: This London life is the life for me...
Assembled by a 'dream team' of editorial talent, including David Hillman and Lord Puttnam, London Life magazine had a brief, but stormy, existence in the Swinging 60s
New York’s eponymous magazine epitomises what the city stands for. Stylish, intelligent and exuberant, in its 40-year existence it has been nominated for countless design awards. So why doesn’t London have a similarly evocative magazine? The answer is, it did, and before New York too.
In 1965, Mark Boxer, the founding editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, came up with the idea of a magazine for Swinging London. London Life was to be a “what’s on for the trendies,” says ex-Pentagram partner David Hillman, who, despite being barely 20 at the time, was recruited to be its art director, having previously worked for Boxer at the Sunday Times.
Hillman was one of a ‘dream team’ of top editorial talent that Boxer put together to work on the title, which also included author and critic Francis Wyndham, screenwriter Mark Peploe and model Jean Shrimpton as a guest fashion editor. Duffy, Donovan and Bailey acted as ‘photographic advisers’. David (now Lord) Puttnam, then an account executive at advertising agency cdp, came in as managing editor.
Puttnam recalls that he was actually ‘loaned’ to the Thomson organisation that owned both the Sunday Times and London Life as John Pearce of CDP and Roy Thomson were close friends. “He brought a different language to the magazine because he came out of advertising,” remembers Hillman. “He didn’t understand what the word ‘budget’ meant. We’d be discussing some shoot and he’d say ‘Why don’t we just ring up Bert Stern?’” Puttnam agrees that the publishing culture was totally different to what he’d been used to at CDP. “In advertising you spend what you need to in order to get the best result,” he says.
One of his more extravagant (though certainly forward-thinking) ideas was to ask Burt Bacharach to write a song for the magazine. “He was very big at the time and it struck me that if he could write a song with London Life as the title it could help us,” says Puttnam. The idea was that the song would garner huge, free publicity for the magazine through radio play. So Puttnam headed up to the Edinburgh Festival, where Bacharach was performing, to suggest the idea. Luckily, he took Jean Shrimpton with him. “Bacharach was much more interested in meeting her than me,” says Puttnam, and he agreed to the plan. Lulu was to have recorded it: she was unavailable, so Anita Harris did it instead.
The song can now be found listed among ‘rare and obscure Bacharach’ online. Reading Hal David’s lyrics (a verse of which forms the headline to this piece) it’s no wonder: “On weekend nights we dance until dawning/Then go to hear the speeches at Hyde Park, Sunday mornin’/What if it should start in rainin’/I’ve got a boy, so who’s complainin’/This London life is the life for me.” “To this day no-one knows how much we paid for it,” Hillman recalls. “The song flopped at about the same speed as the magazine did.”
London Life, despite the dream team, was not a success. First published in the autumn of 1965, by 1967 it had closed. And it remained largely forgotten in the design world until David Hillman’s D&AD President’s Lecture in April this year. Although Hillman showed his more famous projects for Nova and The Guardian, it was London Life that was the topic of most conversations afterwards.
The magazine’s cover, in particular, drew much praise. Its distinguishing feature was its prominent use of the date of the issue on the front cover, with the magazine’s name relegated to a position below. “The idea was that you were selling a specific time period – seven days,” says Hillman. “In the 60s, the magazine shelves were full of quite good-looking stuff. We were up against Town and Queen plus all the foreign ones so we had to work harder to make it stand out.”
Though based on typeface Bodoni, the cover date was hand-drawn every week. Such attention to detail went right through the title. Hillman made use of the contacts that he had established from working previously at The Sunday Times Magazine to recruit the likes of Alan Aldridge (then working in the Sunday Times marketing department) to create illustrations and page ornaments. French illustrator and designer Alain Le Foll (who was working for department store Galeries Lafayette at the time) hand-drew titles for the listings pages. And a young Ian Dury contributed occasional illustrations. “He was a friend of Brian Love, who was one of those multitalented people,” says Hillman. “They were at the Royal College together. Brian used to do stuff for me at the Sunday Times and said ‘I know a very nice young guy who could do some things for you’. This hairy monster came in and muttered ‘Alright Dave’. He did a couple of jobs on London Life and a bit on The Sunday Times but he’d already started a band. I thought it was a great shame because he was a very talented illustrator but I’m sure he made a lot more money being a
There were four different paper stocks: the cover, a 28-page wraparound newsprint section for listings at the front and back and both gloss and matt sections for features in the middle (the mixture being influenced by Willy Fleckhaus’s Twen magazine). There was also often a gatefold in the centre. The listings section was printed letterpress, which meant huge amounts of work for Hillman and his team of two artworkers and two designers. “I did more crawling on the floor to printers on that magazine than I’ve ever done,” Hillman says, “the Sunday Times was printed gravure so it was much easier
to drop in cut-outs and stuff. Here I was suddenly faced with these lumps of metal.
I was lucky to have Jeanette Collins as my design assistant. She had more experience with it than me because she’d come from Town magazine which was all letterpress. You couldn’t run text over a picture because the block [to reproduce the image from] went off ten days before the text. It was so time consuming: all those listings were a bloody nightmare.”
In order to help organise things, Boxer suggested bringing in Peter Knapp as a consultant. Knapp was art director of Elle which, at the time, was a weekly, running 300 page issues. “He had three teams of 22 people banging it out,” Hillman says. “He understood how to get things done.”
It’s easy to forget how much of a hands-on, physical effort producing magazines was in the days before the Mac. “You had to have a good repartee with your typesetter and your printer,” Hillman says. Things were complicated yet further when it came to handling images. “All the printing contracts then were based on one image per page, so if you had a number of images that were not in proportion you were charged extra,” Hillman remembers. “It was difficult to keep costs down, especially when Mark kept saying ‘Why can’t the pages be busier?’ I’d say, ‘Sure, but that’s half the budget gone’.”
All this made the magazine expensive at two shillings and sixpence, especially as people had been used to getting listings information for free in their newspapers and were reluctant to pay for it, no matter how attractively presented. Soon after launch, Hillman recalls, there was pressure to make the title more commercial which led to the departure of Boxer, with Hillman following soon afterward. Puttnam went back to cdp (“with a nice raise”) where he was to do his best work, with two young creatives named Charles Saatchi and Alan Parker. The first thing that the new editor did was to remove the distinctive dateline on the cover. The magazine lasted just another six months.
Puttnam believes that the project was somewhat doomed from the start and was, in fact, as much the victim of office politics at Thomson as its own failings. Coming from cdp where the atmosphere was much more collegiate and supportive, he walked into “a political nightmare that I was totally unprepared for” at Thomson. “Everybody had their own agenda.” Puttnam thinks that allowing Boxer to start London Life was actually a ruse on behalf of the management at Thomson in order to get rid of their powerful editor. Shortly before launch the editorial budget was slashed from what was then a very healthy £1,200 per week to £750, “which made it completely impossible to produce the magazine,” Puttnam says. “It was done as a way of getting rid of Mark.” Even Puttnam’s appointment had an ulterior motive. He had been managing a major account which had “grown like Topsy” under him. The cdp management was worried that this may have been putting Puttnam in too indispensable a position and so agreed to loan him out, even, Puttnam suspects, continuing to pay his wages.
In a speech at London Metropolitan University in 2004, Puttnam said that his time at London Life “proved to be both an exhilarating and ghastly experience”. Hillman, for his part, still finds elements in the design to look back on fondly. “I really like the cover,” he says “and the listing bits of it. Things like the Xmas shopping A to Z: I used to love doing spreads like that.”
If the reaction following Hillman’s D&AD lecture is any guide, London Life has found a more appreciative audience now than it ever did during its brief existence. As Hillman recalls, “nobody at the time thought that it was any good at all”.
This month’s Monograph, for subscribers only, features 16 covers and spreads from London Life.
Fab. So where can I buy a vintage copy?
I saw some of the originals when Ian came to teach at Canterbury when I was doing graphics there in 1972. He gave a drawing of a pin-upto Keith Lucas (who with Humphrey Ocean and Chris Lucas, was seconded into the fabled Kilburns) and brought it up to show us. The squaring-up so he could get an accurate rendition of the original photo was unbelievably detailed; he did diagonals too, and I wondered if Peter Blake taught him that.
Paul Tonkin, who played country fiddle in the Kilburns first edition, curated an exhibition near the Barbican just after Ian died. It was called something like, Canterbury: The Kilburn Years. Fantastic drawings by Humphrey, and the beautiful shots of the band by Mick Hill, who, along with Geoffrey Appleton, sat next to me in the graphics hut. Saw again the the intense little drawing that shut us up 30 years before. I forgot it was called Fuck Tits. We had a little reunion recently and raised a glass in his memory. He was lovely and very funny.
I'm sure Geoff won't mind me saying, but he was and still is a phenomenal pencil squeezer; he was advised by a tutor to trot up to Nova where David Hillman was art director. Apparently he'd been listening to a Flying Burrito Brothers live album the night before, and asked to see Chris Hillman. A tetchy interview ensued, apparently. Thanks for the lovely memories...