Media: A magazine for boys who don't know they want it

Newcomer front is Loaded for teenagers. Aren't boys laddish enough?
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The Independent Culture
LEGAL NOTE: Dave Courtney, an associate of the Krays, is not Britain's most wanted criminal. Please seek legal advice before writing about him.

Darius Sanai Piers Hernu, editor of `front' magazine: `I'm not leading anyone astray. I'm giving people what they want, and what they didn't realise they wanted' John Voos

Appearing on 15 October on the shelves of a newsagent near you is a publication that may well have the curious distinction of uniting the Daily Mail and The Guardian women's section in joint apoplexy. The lads' magazine front is, effectively, a junior Loaded, aimed at teaching teenagers to aspire to the life of booze, sleeping around, kebabs and general horseplay upon which the FHM/Loaded brands have so successfully built their readership.

Targeting the 18-24 age bracket, and inevitably appealing to those much younger, front, the flagship of the newly-founded Cabal Communications, "will concentrate on all areas of the younger male lifestyle".

As if the idea of a nation of impressionable teenage boys being taught, for pounds 2 a month, how to be (more) laddish isn't frightening enough, front also appears to have a fixation on crime: in the first issue there's a column by the Kray brothers' erstwhile right-hand man, and an interview wit Dave Courtney, one of Britain's most wanted criminals. His devil- may-care attitude towards being spotted is cited by the publishers as an admirable example of the "front" of the title.

Piers Hernu, the editor, is gazing at the proofs of the first issue. There is plenty of bare female flesh, belonging to a star of Britain's favourite soap opera. "Coronation Street are not going to be happy about those pics," says a minion, grinning.

The first issue offers, apart from the crime features, the highly revealing photo-shoot with Tracy Shaw (Maxine in Coronation Street), sex advice from Lauren Booth (entitled "Luscious Lozza's Lounge of Love"), and a feature on the making of a hard-core porn film.

"There's very little less attractive to a woman," says Mr Hernu, "than an emasculated new man. There's a charming, roguish element they love; a bloke with character, charisma, sexuality: not a shrinking violet; not some asexual void."

Being a charming rogue is one thing, but isn't being a boorish yob rather different? "I can't dictate who my readers will be," says the editor, who has a natty line in politician-style non-answers.

I try another approach. Given the youth of his likely readers, shouldn't Mr Hernu be wondering whether what is a harmless laugh to him, might in fact be damaging to young, less cosmopolitan boys?

"I'm not leading anyone astray," he says. "I'm giving people what they want and what they didn't realise they wanted." Which could be a definition of leading people astray. "Yes," he smiles. "I'm giving them a magazine which is interesting and looks good. I'm not telling anyone to be a criminal or beat anyone up."

The interview with one of Britain's most wanted violent criminals also features a picture taken by the magazine of the man posing, in a plastic policeman's helmet, with two real, unsuspecting coppers on Leicester Square. Having "front" in this case may be cheeky, but it also seems immoral, and quite possibly illegal. Mr Hernu doesn't really have an answer to this; first he protests that the man in question is innocent, and then cops out by making it a joke.

"There's no doubt that crime is talked about very frequently; only by bringing it into the open can we understand where its coming from. And if you make people understand, you're half-way to making the world fluffy and lovely." He smiles. "I know that sounds crap." He may have a better answer to hand if Special Branch come knocking.

Mr Hernu goes on to define the idea of having "front" as "being ballsy and cocky, because you need to have these qualities to get girls, get jobs, and succeed in your life". He won't take any responsibility for those of his readers who might believe that having front is picking pointless fights after closing-time.

Asked whether the magazine perpetuates a harmful myth, Mr Hernu replies: "So do all men's magazines, all women's magazines, all films, television. The whole bloody media caboodle's like that. I can't be King Canute as editor. I have to take on the influences of society."

The half-French Mr Hernu, who consumes cigarettes in a truly Gallic fashion, would be delighted to take away sales from the younger readers of Loaded, the magazine at which he worked for two-and-a-half years before being sacked earlier this year; he also has a link with the world of crime himself, having once been arrested and jailed for smuggling gold into Nepal. A former stock-broker, he is a self-confessed addict of wine, women and partying.

The new magazine looks good and there's little doubt that it is a great business idea. At pounds 2 a copy (against pounds 2.70 for the thicker Loaded and FHM), front may well be a resounding success in a country where being a "lad with front" is, increasingly, an acceptable way of behaving like a sexist yob. The print run of 420,000 doesn't seem unduly optimistic, and front looks like being a successful first launch for Cabal.

But it's also a wasted opportunity. Nothing in front suggests it will be truly ironic or subversive. "There's a free 3-D poster of Tracy Shaw, with 3-D goggles," enthuses Mr Hernu. The delights of laddism are about to open up to a whole new generation.