Tantrums at `Tatler' dethrone editor

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The Independent Online
LIVE BY the flounce, die by the flounce. That was the verdict last night after the publisher of Tatler magazine revealed that his editor, Jane Procter, felt she had little option but to resign last week after nine years in charge.

A statement to be issued today by Tatler's publisher, Conde Naste, will confirm that Ms Procter resigned, and thank her for her years with the magazine. It will not mention the sizeable pay-off that Ms Procter, who was unavailable for comment, will receive.

But resignation means different things to different people. From the perspective of Nicholas Coleridge, the suitably urbane managing director of Conde Naste, which publishes Tatler along with Vogue, Vanity Fair and World of Interiors, it was a way of solving a situation he believed could not continue.

Notorious - though her supporters say unfairly - for making enemies during her time at Tatler, Ms Procter was also famous for the magazine's high staff "turnover". Others referred to it less euphemistically as a "non-stop seal cull".

Last week it was Ms Procter's turn to become the seal, when, exasperated by the latest staff departures, Mr Coleridge decided the situation had to be taken in hand.

"I have a reputation for putting up with things for a long time - especially for someone as good as Jane," Mr Coleridge told The Independent. "But over the last couple of weeks there were just too many good people leaving. I did not think that could be allowed to continue. You cannot go on for ever."

It is believed that at a meeting between Ms Procter and Mr Coleridge at the end of the last week, his views were made clear to her. The only question was how the matter should be dealt with. By the end of the meeting Ms Procter's resignation had been offered and - in the delicate words used in such situations - it was reluctantly accepted.

For some, it seems, there has been an almost gleeful relish in reporting Ms Procter's departure. Others say the writing had been on the wall for some time.

It is understood that the final flounce that broke Conde Naste's back involved a photo-shoot organised by the magazine's senior fashion editor, Mary Eustace. Ms Procter had approved the shoot but upon reviewing the pictures, realised that she hated them.

"She had a real queenie fit," said one insider. It was a flounce that became a tantrum that become a rant. And it was not in private. It was nasty even by the standards of Tatler where, by all accounts, the loos are used mostly for crying rather than anything else.

Harriet Mays Powell, the fashion director, and Ms Eustace quit. Rumour has it that at least four others threatened to leave as well. They did not go without a mobile phone call or two to powerful friends, and word of the walk-out soon reached Mr Coleridge.

"There had been undertones of tension between her and Coleridge for some time," said another insider. "A lot of people have gone whingeing to him." Ms Procter had ignored a petition from staff about their treatment.

"Working for Jane is extraordinary," said one former employee, who added that being criticised by the former editor was like "being sprayed directly in the eye with Toilet Duck".

Senior Conde Naste staff had also threatened to resign if Ms Procter did not go. This became The Flounce That Could Not Be Ignored and when the fashion editor walked out, Mr Coleridge apparently said, "Not another one". Enough was enough.

Ms Procter, last seen in tears in the office lift on Thursday night, was due to be on holiday this week. It is widely assumed that she will go on to another well-paid job.

No one doubts that she was a good editor in terms of creating a product or, as she would call it, the Tatler Theme Park World. When she took over the magazine, circulation was 30,000. It rose to 90,000 but is said now to be nearer 75,000.

She was called "The Purley Queen" because of her suburban roots and created an aspirational magazine full of style and society features.

Its success has been widely copied and lately Tatler has been seen as looking a little tired. It seems that Ms Procter didn't like to offend her friends on the party circuit. These are not the most interesting people.

She once brought her little boy into an editorial conference and when the Duchess of York's name was mentioned, he could heard commenting "Mummy's friend! Mummy's friend!"

But an inoffensive magazine is a bland one. "It has gotten so shallow that only surface tension was keeping it afloat," said one former employee.

Wendy Holden was one of Ms Proctor's eight deputies over the years. "She was a talented editor but considerable less blessed in the people management area," she said yesterday. "Though she certainly added to the gaiety of nations. No one else would ever judge a woman's class according to her leg dimensions or select recruits on the basis of whether they knew who Bunter Worcester was or toy with the idea of going to Princess Diana's funeral on a limo-bike."

Will this hurt her? Hardly. Jane Procter used to be a legend in her own lunchtime which, given the Tatler world, is a pretty small affair. But now her fame is spreading. Ms Holden's novel, Simply Divine, is about life at two magazines called Gorgeous and Fabulous, and is to be made into a film. Victoria, the editor of Fabulous, is based on Jane Procter. So you see how this whole thing could turn out to be absolutely fabulous, darling, after all.

Contenders for a Vacant Chair

Justine Picardie

The features editor of Vogue has worked on The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Independent. The Tatler editorship might seem a natural progression within the Conde Nast stable. But the left-leaning Ms Picardie might find its intense interest in the aristocracy too stifling.

Catherine Ostler

Formerly features editor on Tatler, she seems to be one of the few executives there to have got on with Jane Procter, and might be able to raise morale. Now edits The Express's Saturday magazine. She started at Tatler on work experience in 1991. If editor, she would be likely to make it more modern.

Cristina Odone

Former editor of the Catholic Herald and now deputy editor of New Statesman. She sits on the cusp between socialite and political thinker. An avid networker, friends say she would get on - her breathy way of speaking would prove highly seductive to Conde Nast publisher Nicholas Coleridge.

Anthony Gardner

Men should at least get a look-in. Gardner, as both deputy editor of Harpers & Queen and a friend of Nicholas Coleridge, is likely to get one. Another former features editor of Tatler but one who did not get on with Procter. May be seen as old-style Tatler if Coleridge wants it to have a face-lift.