The History of British Magazine Design: Author Interview

This week the V&A is publishing a book on the design and history of British magazines. The book covers 170 years of magazine history ranging from the advent of Punch and the Illustrated London News up to the beginnings of digital distribution. The book draws extensively from the V&A's National Art Library which has an unparalleled archive of periodicals. Museum Bookstore met author, Tony Quinn to find out more about this fascinating subject.

Tony has extensive experience as a journalist and editor, most recently for the FT. He was also Head of the Watford School of Publishing at West Herts College and is the founder of - the most comprehensive online resource about all things magazine. 

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Museum Bookstore: What are your favourite moments from the book?

Tony Quinn: My favourite moment is the image of the front cover that John Gilroy designed for the Radio Times Humour number. It makes me smile every time I look at it. More than that, it underlines the real artistry of magazines. Many of our most famous artists and illustrators started their careers in magazines.

Radio Times: October 9, 1936 - The History of British Magazine Design

Ronald Searle did some of his best work on magazines; the pre-Raphaelites produced The Germ to promote their work and ideas and of course there is the Vorticists' magazine, Blast. 

Blast - The History of British Magazine Design

Magazines have also launched the careers of many of our greatest writers. The first edition of Cornhill Magazine featured Anthony Trollope's Framley Parsonage with illustrations by the artist, John Everett Millais. Dicken's periodical Household Words featured his own Hard Times, Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South and Cranford as well as work by Wilkie Collins. In the book, we feature images of the Charles Dickens' original handwritten draft of the beginning of Hard Times; the proof of the typeset page and the actual page of the periodical it appeared in. 

Museum Bookstore: What is your favourite magazine and why? 

Tony Quinn: That's difficult. Household Words is clearly a favourite as is the 1930s magazine London Life. London Life was infamous for its readers' letters about dress fetishes and was actually banned in Ireland. It redesigned its cover typography every week - and this was half a century before digital manipulation techniques.

London Life - The History of British Magazine Design

But pushed, I would choose Nova, which was a really innovative woman's magazine which was around between 1965-1972 before Cosmopolitan saw it off. The magazine covered more than beauty and fashion tackling issues such as sex and the Pill and the influence of television on violence. Art directed by Harri Peccinotti, it featured photographers including Don McCullin, Terence Donovan and Helmut Newton and based its headlines on an old woodcut typeface. It was powerful journalistically and powerful visually.

The first edition of Nova Magazine, 1965

Museum Bookstore: The book is beautifully designed. How did you go about the design of the book?

Tony Quinn: The book was designed by Joe Ewart who is a former Art Editor of NME. The design of the book was a challenge as there are so many different sizes and shapes of magazines. We even feature one round magazine. Joe's solution was to develop a clean and flexible graphic framework. 

Museum Bookstore: Thank you very much Tony and congratulations on the book. It is a fascinating survey of magazines in Britain and has certainly made us look at magazines in a completely different light.

Find out more about the book here

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