Candis: The best-kept secret in women's monthlies

You may not have heard of 'Candis'. But it sells 300,000, boasts writers of the calibre of Virginia Ironside and Polly Toynbee, and is making the world a better place. By Chris Arnot

Strange to find a national women's magazine situated towards the far end of an underground line. Even stranger when it's a Merseyrail line from Liverpool to the outer reaches of the Wirral.

Turn right out of the station, stroll over the level crossing, round the corner and there it is, opposite a farm with a whiff of slurry. Surely this can't be the place to which The Independent's Virginia Ironside and The Guardian's Polly Toynbee e-mail their columns?

Oh, yes it is. The very same place, indeed, to which the London Evening Standard's David Cohen dispatches his hard-hitting features from the capital's mean streets. Author Laurie Graham keeps readers abreast of her domestic life in Venice via this remote corner of North-west England. And profilers such as Mark Anstead, Daphne Lockyer and William Hall chat to celebrities in exclusive West End hotels before filing their copy up here to Hoylake, the headquarters of Candis. Among those featured in recent years are Jamie and Nigella Lawson, Sting, Halle Berry, Martine McCutcheon, Kim Wilde and Joely Richardson.

In the women's monthly market - or any other market, come to that - Candis is a phenomenon. Not only for its location but also for its donations to charity. And you won't find it on the newsstands. Subscribers pay £3 a month or £30 a year to belong to the Candis Club. At the last count, there were 301,114 of them, putting the mag at No8 in a field that includes Prima (321,617), Woman and Home (325,223) and Good Housekeeping (441,151).

"Over the past three months we reckon our figure has gone up by another 4,000, ," says Candis marketing director Bryan Douglas-Dala, who is a grandson of the founder, Joseph Douglas. Another grandson, Bryan's cousin Andrew Douglas, is the managing director.

Candis evolved from a newsletter distributed door-to-door with football pools coupons. In 1960, when Andrew Douglas was a few months old, his father died from cancer and his grandfather made the decision to support medically related charities through the family business.

Forty-six years on and 10 per cent of income goes to Marie Curie Cancer Care, the British Heart Foundation and many smaller organisations. Last month marked the 50 millionth pound raised for charitable causes by a magazine that has grown to around 150 glossy pages. Admittedly, those pages measure only 19.6cm by 14.6, enabling them to slip into an A5 envelope. "We're bigger than Readers' Digest but smaller than Glamour," Douglas-Dala muses.

Candis readers, 75 per cent of them female, are as likely to be interested in glamour as anyone else and there's usually a handsome celeb on the cover. But Mrs Candis herself is unlikely to be in the first flush of youth. The middle-aged middle market of Middle England make up the core market. "Our readers tend to be between 35 and 55, and upwards," says the editor, Jenny Campbell, who at 67 is no spring chicken herself.

Campbell has a journalistic pedigree dating back to the early Sixties and, over lunch in Hoylake's poshest restaurant, she's soon reminiscing about writing fashion for Vogue in the "[Jean] Shrimpton days" and being "Man Friday" on the pre-Murdoch Sun, advising male readers on what to wear and fixing picture shoots on zebra crossings, "using resting actors". She worked on Woman's Mirror, where the editor would shrug out of her fur coat every morning in the knowledge that a secretary would catch it before it hit the carpet, and on the women's section of the Mail when Jean Rook was the queen bee with the killer sting.

But there is another side to Jenny Campbell. As a freelance, she enjoyed turning in lengthy articles for the old Radio Times and upmarket magazines. She appreciates good writing in others and, politically, leans more to The Guardian and The Independent than the Mail. Hence the columns for Ironside and Toynbee. "I'm on Polly's side on most issues," she confides. And Virginia? "Well, we don't write much about sex on Candis because, by now, we reckon, our readers know how to do it. But they are interested in relationships and emotional dilemmas. I think women over a certain age have a shared constituency of interests. 'Health, Happiness and Family Life' it says on the masthead, and that sums it up. With four children and a grandchild on the way, I have the same concerns as the readers have.'

Still, she likes to give the middle-aged of Middle England a regular jolt - something gritty from the inner-city. Hence David Cohen's features. His exposure of the British National Party's play for respectability brought in the most hostile postbag so far. But she remains undeterred. The October edition will include a piece by Cohen on a Muslim family from east London who lost 150 relatives in the recent earthquake in Pakistan.

It's part of a mix that includes features on home and garden, breast cancer awareness, getting to know your dog's personality, as well as competitions and offers for members of the Candis Club. "With a small staff [7.5 in all, including secretarial, distribution and picture research] I like to buy in pieces from journalists who don't need rewriting."

There are things she misses about working in London, but "I have a very good life. I've worked at IPC where there was a huge hierarchy of managers. Here I have a free hand."

And that evidently counts for a lot when you're editing a publishing phenomenon.

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