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Town

Town Magazine





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, 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, 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.”

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..



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.

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Town information courtesy of MAGFORUM

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