Gentlemen's relish: glossies for the guys

Magazine publisher James Brown casts a critical eye at titles for boys who want to be bad, look good - or just have fun. How do they measure up?
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Publisher: Nat Mags

Circulation: 64,136

Although often overshadowed by GQ and FHM, reading this Esquire is like discovering your first Paul Smith shop. This music issue has innovative content - Boris Johnson on his favourite albums, Ian Rankin on his favourite music books - easy-to-dip-into features like their Rise of the New Nerd, and strong stories on Clear Channel, Crewe Alexandra and Simon Cowell. Cover-star Juliette Lewis typifies Esquire's ability to get the best of Hollywood where other mags get TV actresses, pop stars and models as their cover candy.


Publisher: Conde nast

Circulation: 124,685

Very thick, shiny and self-satisfied. Despite the size, I found it hard to latch on to anything. It's slickly designed, and has a fantastic spread of celebrities at its awards ceremony. Overall, it lacks character, apart from columns by Tony Parsons, Martin Deeson - and Rod Liddle. From an advertising point of view it's a serious hitter: it leads the way in blurring the distinction between ads and editorial, often you're not sure which is which. A must-buy if you're a dentist in London with a coffee-table to fill.


Publisher: IPC

Circulation: 235,140

Reads like one massive letters page. Endless requests to readers for surreal (animal shapes in the tide-mark of your beer glass) or obvious stories (pics of your girlfriend in a photobooth). It has a lot of energy but can come across as bizarre. If it's losing readers it's because the editorial focus is too narrow. The same beery joke - blokes acting the arse - runs throughout and there's none of the great writing on clubs, cult TV or sport that stood out in its heyday. The free booklet of hot women can't be argued with though.


Publisher: IPC

Circulation: 290,337

Half looks like Razzle and the rest looks like Heat. There's masses of unsexy breast pics, some really square stuff like cars, and then some genuinely readable bits like the Pub Ammo back page, the football section, and the Top 10 Conmen feature. Bits like the Top 10 Countries With Most Camels, I like; if they did more of this and less "let's whack more knockers in", it might get some of the critical acclaim of the early loaded. Doing it weekly has allowed them to build confidence and sharpen the relationship with the readers.


Publisher: IPC

Circulation: 112,816

Doesn't feature cars, girls or fashion but it's definitely a men's mag. Majoring in music, film, TV and books, it knows its stuff and bounces from beatnik to mainstream to cutting edge. So many men register themselves by what they read, watch or listen to than what they wear, drive or eat. That's why it's included here. This issue, film director Tony Scott discusses his hits, Office creator Stephen Merchant hails Chevy Chase, and they revisit Johnny Cash in San Quentin. Confident and different, this is one of my first choices.


Publisher: Emap

Circulation: 42,136

With the demise of The Pink Paper, it's important that the gay community still has a stylemag. Arena comes across as GQ-lite with endless matt black gadgets, watches and reviews of organic sweetbreads. Easy to glide through but comes across as pretty loveless. It reads like the guy who buys all the right stuff and then doesn't understand why he still isn't popular. It just doesn't feel natural. The interviewers tend to be too much in awe of the subject and the process. Disappointingly humourless.


Publisher: Emap

Circulation: 573,713

Sticks to its motto of being "useful, funny and sexy". It combines loads of pics and pieces on girls with some quite surprising content, like a lengthy travel story about Chernobyl. It lacks personality, but you can see they're more intent on blandly covering all bases than being the life and soul of the party. Critics always said FHM was just for teenage kids, but in reality it was read by guys of all ages. Now it looks like it's designed for kids, with Abi Titmuss providing tips on oral sex and a vox pop telling you how to pick up women.


Publisher: Highbury House

Circulation: 100,259

The Daily Star of the lads mags, Front is as rough as a curry house floor come 3am on a Saturday morning, but then they like it that way. All terrace talk, crime, booze and birds that got away, it reads like Garry Bushell-era SOUNDS. Must be the only mag to be edited by a former van driver with a Millwall tattoo in his mouth. As such it carries fashion shoots styled after the Kray twins' film, asks "Why do fat women wear small watches?", and champions lost heroes of the Second World War. As sophisticated as horseshit.


Publisher: Emap

Circulation: 200,125

With Alan Green, Jodie Marsh, Jimmy Carr and Tim Lovejoy, Zoo has an array of popular columnists, but it all seems a bit obvious. When they started I thought Zoo had the edge over Nuts, but now it appears to have swung the other way. The best thing in Zoo is Mo Mowlam's relationship advice opposite Jodie Marsh's, everything else is like an A-Z of what you might expect. Less to read than Nuts and overall has the feel of the News of the World's colour supplement, the football mag Match or Now magazine.


Publisher: Dennis

Circulation: 87,331

This is Britain's most disgusting magazine, packed with corpses, murderers, soft porn and perversions. And it sells. There are some amazing photographs from around the world, some fascinating features and probably the best American under-the-counter-culture columnist, Chris Nieratko of Jackass fame. This issue features a lighter look at Fred West (indeed!) and the world's most dangerous twins, and there's the excellent Day Trippers cartoon strip. If you have a sick sense of humour, this is your mag - if not, steer clear.


Publisher: Dennis

Circulation: 227,017

Maxim looks as bland as ever, but start reading it and you find yourself glued to every page. New editor Greg Gutfeld has turned the title around by showering it with weird humour and contempt for celebrities. The man has endless brilliant ideas including a drawn Viz-character fashion shoot, dogs re-enacting Kurt Cobain's death and a slug's-eye view garden sex pictorial. Greg's battle is to make sure the typically MOR readership doesn't run for the hills whilst old hands like myself sit around laughing ourselves stupid.


Publisher: Nat Mags

Circulation: 221,049

An absolute catalogue of how to live longer and healthier. It has really broadened out from its title, offering serious direction on sex, relationships, business management, cooking and fashion. It has the trappings of adulthood that FHM wants but fails to achieve, and is at ease with itself. It is an extensive read, and there's so much helpful and inspiring stuff in it. It does what all good magazines should do - cater for the expert and the casual reader.