Something for the weekend

Leading magazine publishing consultant Peter Jackson casts his eye over the best and worst of the national newspapers' Saturday and Sunday supplements
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The Independent Online



The wider, deeper page size gives a slabby look to opening features on the likes of Julian Clary ("Dad worried when I preferred to dress my Action Man in Cindy Toy clothes") and Robert Kilroy-Silk ("Cold blue eyes set in the midst of fading looks"). But the big, big format comes into its own with the Seven Days broadcasting guide which makes most paid-for listing titles look as drab as Yellow Pages. They merely make the information available. Using every square inch of the extra acreage to display attractive panels and background featurettes, Weekend "sells" all the glamour and drama of the coming week's TV (even if it's pretty much the same as last week).


Saturday magazine demonstrates how weekend supplements have become the chat shows of publishing - nobody shows up unless they have something to plug. So we have stand-up comic Jenny Eclair plugging her new stage show, illusionist Alistair Cook and Channel 4 presenter June Sarpong plugging their new TV series plus Julian Clary (again) plugging his new book. "The publisher wanted more sex." Jennifer Garner gains the cover as Ben Affleck's new girlfriend but makes clear in the third paragraph of the interview that the last thing she wants to talk about is loverboy Ben. She prefers to discuss her latest TV series on a minor digital channel.


With minimum colour to brighten the greyness of black ink on less than dazzling newsprint, the Review suggests a sober gent with his head set firmly on his shoulders - but facing the wrong way. From the cover story on an Edwardian poem influencing our national identity to The Strange Death of Tory England (by way of reviews of a Truffaut retrospective and a half-century-old play by Arnold Wesker) looking back on what's gone long before is preferred to the current scene.. Discussion of The Sensual History of English football disdains David Beckham's sex appeal, favouring the theory that the beautiful game was a Victorian invention to alleviate masturbation.


There's an off-the-shelf feeling about The Times Magazine - the image of so many pre-packed items thrown into the trolley there's little room for anything fresh and surprising. There are no fewer than 20 regular features and resident columns. So after being lectured by Dr Feelgood on the Science of Happiness, assured by Coolhunter that thigh-length socks are in and instructed by Food Detective on how to track down organic eggs, we're fortunate that space has been found for interviews with Sean Penn (plugging his new film) and the inevitable Kilroy-Silk. "I'm still culturally, if not economically, working class." Oh, and he's got a new TV programme coming up.


After paying due Telegraph homage to the Camilla nuptials with a Hello!-style picture spread of commoner gels who have landed royal hubbies, we get some serious words. Plenty of them - 4,500 of them on "super-diva" Mariah Carey (plugging her new album), 3,000 on training a new species of detective, 4,500 on the shameful childhood of a New York gossip columnist and 3,000 on the last days of jazzman Miles Davis. All presented with cool elegance, if little impact. For that you turn to the Food and Home section where there are five pages of exuberant photography illustrating, of all things, a collection of Brazilian recipes. Deep-fried black-eyed beans, anyone?


It's called How to Spend It and they're not kidding. Amid luscious ads offering an array of international luxury brands that would make Rodeo Drive look like a suburban high street, the beautifully crafted editorial is full of ideas for recycling platinum plastic. Here's a vintage Bugatti pedal car for £35,000 (electric assisted) for junior. For madam, a printed silk dress and chiffon cape at £1,825. For the health-conscious tycoon, a £1,395 DIY Automated External Defibrillator for on-the-spot revival from a heart attack. And for the ageless playboy, a club in Shoreditch where a boys' night out costs £315 per head, including personal lap dancer.


With its obvious hunger for exclusive starry snapshots, Celebs on Sunday should be a market for the top paparazzi. Instead, its apprentices seem to be filling in with such sensational exposés as seven celebrities (ranging from Rachel Hunter to Chris Evans) photographed carrying pillows in the street. No, they're not sleeping together. They're just carrying pillows. Then there's the dramatic scoop of Sandra Bullock shopping for a wicker basket, clearly terrified it won't fit in the boot of her Bentley. Not to mention the controversial shot of Aled Jones singing a duet with Cliff Richard. To be fair, the magazine is well designed and makes the most of its C-list material.


From Julia Roberts' widescreen smile on the cover to Mystic Meg's closing promise to bring passion back into your life, Sunday is the most upbeat of the weekend mags. Everything is possible. Troubled celebrities tell how they are finding happiness; girls trapped in arranged marriages can be set free; internet romances do work out; you can look a million dollars in clothes by George at Asda; Jamie Oliver shows how to cook curried cod without the curry - and burying pickled onions will keep your garden free of moles. All this and Di's message from beyond the grave saying Charles and Camilla should have been together all along: "Charles is very much a breast man."


In range of topics and for classic design, the Sunday Review gives its glossier rivals a run for their money. Literally, this week - with 43 trainers on the cover, a fascinating piece on the influence of rap musicians on the sale of sports footwear, an upcoming pop star (while plugging his first CD) revealing it was frustration at being overtaken in a 200m schoolboy race that drove him to a history of self-abuse, and we gain the riveting information that London Marathon competitors burn up 2,800 calories while their feet hit the pavement 50,000 times. Ben Schott eat your heart out! And did you know that 50% of gin drinkers prefer to drive people carriers?


While the monthly extras (notably on sport) are constant treats, The Observer's weekly magazine continues to lack the big idea. What are we to think of an issue that puts a man in a middle-aged suit on the cover and promises us the style secrets of male fashion editors? What percentage of men readers faintly care about such strange creatures on barely recognised magazines? Why in the continuing trauma of the Iraq war devote the longest read to an American taking his veteran father back to the Vietnamese battlegrounds of 30 years ago? Still, there's always Julian Clary plugging his book yet again: "Overall my sex life is up and down ... pardon the expression."


Hailed as the US cavalry charging to rescue the newspaper from its near-disastrous launch, You magazine now moves at a gentle hack. The only colour supplement to be targeted at women, it was Nova-like in its feisty approach to the staple elements of women's magazines and its readiness to discuss the unmentionable. Little of the present content would be out of place in Woman's Weekly - fashion unexciting, cookery unadventurous, features unsurprising, columnists totally predictable. Design is cosily familiar instead of challenging. Whoever thought You would close an issue with a poem on office friendships that rhymes "tits" with "thrilled to bits"?


Now well into its 40s, The Sunday Times Magazine suggests a mid-life preoccupation with affairs of the flesh. We find a photo essay on nudity in small-town America; we study the life of a politician who was known for "being hornier than a bagful of rhinos"; Fidel Castro's illegitimate daughter tells of his secret love affair; and a history of lingerie provides an excuse for a close-up of Brigitte Bardot's bottom. But eight pages of pictures on the plight of Sudanese refugees show it remains pre-eminent in photo-journalism while layouts and writing reek of self-confidence. Still the sugar daddy of them all.