From Jackie to tacky: As a first issue of the original teen magazine reveals its touching innocence, a former editor compares it to today's version
06:58 GMT, 9 July 2012
Consider the most pressing dilemma that faced a young teenage reader of the nascent Jackie magazine in 1964. ‘My boyfriend creates when I tell him I have to be in early on week nights. Dad’s orders! What do you think’ she asks the magazine’s agony aunts.
Their reply carries the incontrovertible stamp of adult authority. ‘Play along with Dad’s wishes. He wants you to have your beauty sleep so you’re lively and bright,’ counsel Cathy and Claire in the magazine’s problem page.
This was the tenor of the advice dispensed to new readers of the first-ever Jackie, a magazine which became compulsory reading for girls aged between 12 and 16, selling almost a million copies a week in its Seventies heyday when I was editor.
At first glance, Nina Myskow could find little difference between teen magazines of the 1960s and the present day, until she delved inside and discovered a world of difference
I was reminded of Jackie’s rather
strait-laced moral probity when I looked at the contents of the first
issue, a copy of which — emblazoned with a cover picture of a boyish
Cliff Richard — was exhumed recently in a charity shop and pictured in
the Mail last week.
a cosy world of moral imperatives we lived in then, when parental
decrees went unquestioned; when teenagers were content to adhere to the
homespun wisdom that all you had to do to be fresh-faced and lovely was
to have a good night’s sleep. And how things have changed today.
innocent issues that preoccupied Jackie readers almost 50 years ago —
the cost of staying in a youth hostel, how to get a passport, which
perfume to wear — bear little relation to the worldly fixations of
The modern equivalent of Jackie is Bliss magazine, which is also aimed at young teenage girls.
first glance, teen magazines appear to have changed little in the
intervening years. Bliss magazine’s candy-coloured pages, fresh-faced
models and chirpy headlines — ‘Wellies saved me! When Morgan, 16, fell
down a mine shaft it was her bright pink boots that came to the rescue’ —
make the publication seem innocent, but turn to the problem pages and
it’s a different story.
Indeed, the gulf between the two publications reveals much about how society has changed in the past few decades.
This month’s issue of Bliss includes a
letter, purporting to be from a young reader called Aimee — whose age
the editor conveniently fails to mention — which details graphically the
problems she faced when she engaged in oral sex with her boyfriend.
in mind that Bliss is aimed, as Jackie was, at an adolescent readership
and you will understand why I was shocked by this cynical ploy to
Readers of Jackie swooned over clean-cut heartthrob Cliff Richard
I wondered if the letter was actually invented, as it does not ring true to me. However, whether it was manufactured or genuine, I found it desperately saddening. Implicit in its text is the depressing assumption that readers of the magazine, the majority of whom are under the age of 16, will inevitably be having sex with their boyfriends.
‘When we are having sex,’ runs the letter, not ‘should we’ or even ‘if we’ do. Underage sex, the magazine seems to be saying, is now an inescapable prerequisite of adolescent relationships.
There are other reasons to deplore the precocious sexualisation of the young which such letters promulgate. One of them is evident on the same problem page of Bliss, where another correspondent — this time a naive and unworldly one identified as Ella — confesses to feeling ‘weird’ because, at the age of 11, she still likes Barbie dolls.
‘You are still in the middle of the transition from childhood to adolescence,’ soothes the magazine’s resident psychologist and counsellor, adding sensibly: ‘You should ignore peer pressure.’
Precisely. And yet on the other side of the page we have Aimee brazenly describing her experience of oral sex. Isn’t that enough to make Ella feel even more marginalised by her innocent love of dolls
A comparison of these magazines highlights, too, the growing commercialisation of the young. Readers of Bliss, the publishers seem to be saying, are never too young to be groomed as potential members of the cast of TV reality show The Only Way Is Essex.
There are adverts for sparkly nail varnish worn studded with stick-on gems; subscribers are tutored in the art of choosing the best self-tan lotion and in dressing appropriately for festivals (wear a teeny pair of denim shorts teamed with a crop top and a diaphanous, unbuttoned shirt, apparently).
The latest edition of the magazine comes with a free sample of mascara and eyeliner, plus a couple of sweets — again note the rather unsettling juxtaposition of the childlike and the sophisticated.
I don’t feel outraged by this preoccupation with bling and glitter so much as disappointed that an opportunity to instill less shallow preoccupations has been missed.
Let’s hark back to Jackie again. Its publishers were DC Thompson & Co of Dundee, a company of dependably upright Presbyterian Scots. I am not trying to claim the moral high ground for them: they wanted to sell magazines, and very successful they were at it, too. However, they also felt a sense of responsibility to their young and impressionable female readers.
While Bliss encourages its readers to ogle semi-naked photographs of womanising teen idol Harry Styles of One Direction
Indeed, Jackie’s first editor was, bizarrely, a big bearded Scot called Gordon Small, who had just left the RAF where he was an engineer.
Gordon had a fatherly concern for the ‘wee lasses’ who read his ‘paper’ as he called it. It is not stretching a point to say he had in mind that they could be his daughters.
This male influence accounts for the fact that some of the features in the first edition I thumbed through are so palpably daft. A rather unalluring bearded ‘fellow’, as we called them in those days, illustrates a sweetly innocent article on the art of kissing, for instance.
Which adolescent would snog a beardy, I have to enquire
But the message is an eminently paternal one. The ‘wee lasses’ are told they don’t have to kiss their boyfriends if they don’t want to — ‘just say no’ — and, if they do, they are somewhat improbably instructed not to wear sharp brooches, as fellows don’t want to run the risk of being stabbed by them.
I think I also detect Gordon’s hand in that advice to the girl with the boyfriend who wanted her to stay out late on week nights. ‘Tell him either to play along [with Dad’s wishes about early nights] or get lost,’ is the unequivocal, paternal tone.
When I became Jackie’s first female editor in 1974, the editorial content of the magazine bore some correlation to the spending power of the average teenage girl.
There were articles on how to be fashionably thrifty — stick a colourful patch on your jeans; tie‑dye your T-shirts; revitalise your tired ‘gear’ by taking up a hem, or stitching on a new collar or a fresh set of buttons. It was all refreshingly wholesome, a relic of the wartime ‘make-do and mend’ ethos.
Bliss, by contrast, is exhorting its young readers to become mini versions of pop singer Alexandra Burke, tottering on sky-high heels and in teeny shorts, or replicas of pop star Pixie Lott, sporting flirty dresses and shimmering lipgloss.
Of course there’s nothing inherently pernicious in this, but it is exerting on pre-teens — and let’s not forget many readers are only 11 — a pressure to go out and buy the latest hot pants or handbags if they want to look like their idols.
Adolescent girls, as we’ve known since the Sixties, are desperately impressionable. They want to conform. So if a magazine exhorts them to buy Pixie’s nail polish (at 8 a pop) or a pair of turquoise loafers like hers (60), they will feel they’ve fallen short of the mark if they don’t.
I must point out that I do believe teenage magazines have cleaned up their act in the past few years — thanks in large part to newspapers such as the Mail highlighting their disturbing content — and that is to be applauded.
'Teenage magazines have cleaned up their act in the past few years —
thanks in large part to newspapers such as the Mail highlighting their
disturbing content — and that is to be applauded'
Back in 2005, readers were assailed by a truly ghastly procession of grim real-life scenarios. There was flippant advice to 13-year-olds who watched porn on the internet — ‘give another hobby a go’ — and guidance for a 16-year-old caught naked in her boyfriend’s house by his mother. (‘Next time you see her, do your best not to appear bothered’). This was all deplorable. There has since been a move towards greater responsibility.
Bliss is vacuous, shallow and scatological at times: there is a cringe-inducing section on embarrassing moments in which a girl catalogues her humiliation when a bag of dog excrement explodes on her head, and an interview with pop duo Rizzle Kicks in which one of them clearly doesn’t know where Manhattan is.
However, there is also a sweet article on Pudsey the dancing dog from Britain’s Got Talent; a responsible piece on the education of women in Malawi and an inoffensive guide to making friends.
On the plus side, feminism has brought a degree of empowerment to the young readers of Bliss. That first issue of Jackie reads, by contrast, like a manifesto on how to get an eligible husband. Become a glamorous air hostess, it seems, and you’ll get five proposals in the course of a morning from a handsome pilot who flatters you with such immortal compliments as:
‘The plane hasn’t been built that has your sweet lines.’
Of course, it’s horribly dated — and none of us would want to revert to an age when young women were wooed with saccharine flattery by square-jawed sexists — but it induces laughter, rather than unease.
So publishers of today’s teenage magazines could learn much from that first Jackie magazine, with its guilelessness and wholesome morality.
‘Don’t be too profligate with your kisses’ is the message of one article which likens them to the stock market. ‘If you issue too many shares you diminish the value of each one of them,’ is the message.
Once again, I’m sure I detect Gordon’s steady hand here.
And at the end, the publisher’s decision to close Jackie in 1993 — after a run of almost 30 years — was a laudable one. Faced with declining sales they had a choice: either run with the new crowd and become more sexualised, fashion-conscious and irresponsible, or uphold the old ethos and capitulate.
It is an indication of the sense of duty the publishers felt to its young readers that DC Thomson chose to close down the magazine. It is also a sad and dispiriting reflection of how times have changed.