Cracks in the harmony thingy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Oh dear. That absolute tranquillity thingy is so hard to find. There have, it seems, been ructions even in the ranks of Perfect Harmony Limited, the publishing arm of the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture.

Why is it that the royals associate themselves with such naff business names? First Prince Edward goes into the Really Useful Company, then he invents the cringemaking 'Ardent Productions', and now Prince Charles links himself to a title more suited to a toilet tissue manufacturer.

But Perfect Harmony Ltd is not engaged in the production of intimate cleansers. It is one of the joint publishers of Perspectives, the Prince's dream child, the architectural magazine he launched in March this year with a mission to explain to his mother's subjects the difference between carbuncles and classicism.

We have not been as grateful for this as we should have been. This month my local newsagent in stuccoed Holland Park, west London, returned all his 20 copies unbought. The spokesperson for the magazine refused to give any perspective on its circulation, but those close to the industry estimate it at 20,000, rather below the target of 35,000 a month, let alone the sale of the first issue, promoted by a princely party in St James's Palace, of 75,000.

The original editor, Dan Cruickshank, has been replaced, after only five issues, by Giles Worsley, 33, previously Country Life's architectural editor, connected to Prince Charles via the Duchess of Kent, who is sister to his father, Sir Marcus, holder of the family seat, Hovingham, and its 3,000 Yorkshire acres.

Colleagues say that Giles comes across as a nice, brogue-wearing, chap, with a doctorate from the Courtauld behind him and an inheritance ahead. 'The problem is,' said an acquaintance, 'I never see him without lines from Hilaire Belloc coming into my mind:

The nicest child I ever knew

Was Charles Augustus Fortescue.

He never lost his cap or tore his stockings or his pinafore.

Will such a gent be able to turn around a magazine that has so far failed to capture the public imagination? The problem is that the royal seal of approval is not enough to recommend a product in these disloyal days.

A few months ago I watched the Royal Train draw into Paddington station. A small group of subjects had gathered. They peered up the platform as a small man in a suit stepped off the train into a black car. He waved and smiled as he passed them.

Ten years ago they would have waved back. Thirty years ago they would have cheered. In 1994 they only stared. Then one of the women turned to her companion. 'I can see why she left 'im,' she said.

To be successful a glossy magazine has to be useful, or aspirational, or catch a fashionable mood. Being worthy or educational is not enough. The trouble is that the Prince-of-Wales-classical-columns- Quinlan-Terry-crumbling-country- hice theme is Eighties. It is New Georgian. It is a fogeyism no longer young. It is, Sir, cold, old potatoes.

'I think there is room for a new general interest magazine - on good contemporary buildings, how they work, the process of building them,' says Marcus Field, buildings editor of the professional Architects' Journal, which sells 20,000 copies a week.

'But I think some architects might not want to be in a magazine with the Prince of Wales's feathers on the front. Some of them think that Charles has damaged the industry by what he's said about modern architecture.'

Charles has no controlling editorial role in Perspectives, though he writes for it. But there is no question that its broad aim is to be a vehicle for his values. When it was launched he set the agenda: 'We are always told that architecture responds to the spirit of the age. I maintain that this age is without spirit. My aim is to recreate that spirit.'

Er, yes. It has a familiar ring. 'I rather feel that deep in the soul of mankind there is a reflection of the beauty and harmony of the universe.' That was the famous Canadian speech that made Prince Potty headlines in the tabloids. But - will it sell?

Some readers are already in tune. The July issue gave the results of a competition for ideas on how to spend the National Lottery's pounds 1.2bn. One of the winners was the Glastonbury Design Group's sketch for a pounds 15m temple incorporating sacred geometry, aimed at fulfilling William Blake's dream of a New Jerusalem.

The new editor is going to do his best with his spiritual brief. 'Yar, umm,' he said, pausing for a moment when I asked him what plans he has for the chlorine-free pages. 'What I really want to do is give it more of a vision. Broaden the architectural debate . . . I'm not against modernist architecture but I don't think it's the only way to build.'

And what about the readership? 'At Country Life one always tried to write at two levels,' said Mr Worsley, who intends to aim for a blend of intellectual rigour and popular appeal. 'I want to get as wide an audience as I can.'

A perspective on perfect harmony for pounds 2.50. It's a nice try, Sir.

Comments