Real Life: When Jackie was a man called Gordon: Linda Grant on the life - and death - of the greatest teen magazine of them all

Linda Grant
Saturday 05 June 1993 23:02

IT DROPPED through the letter box of your Mum and Dad's house on a Thursday, along with their Daily Express. The girls, with their blonde hair and white lips, all looked like Julie Christie. The boys resembled Montgomery Clift - years after everyone you went out with was trying to be a dead ringer for Marc Bolan.

Their skins were flawless and lovely, the colour of the paper they were printed on (it's hard to do complexions on a pen-and-ink drawing). Later they graduated to photographs and even colour. But for two generations of girls the stories remained the same: I like this boy but he's going out with my best friend. This boy likes me but he has BO.

Before child sex abuse, before Aids, before comprehensive school crack dealers, it was all so simple. Now it's over. After nearly 30 years, the publisher D C Thomson has announced the shock magazine closure of the decade. Jackie will be no more.

Somewhere, in some long-forgotten school staff room cupboard there must lie a mouldering pile of confiscated Jackies. They are a collector's item now. From its launch in 1964, through its heyday in the Seventies, Jackie was the teenybopper's defiance of school culture. It affirmed what every pubescent girl knew: the most important things in the world are boys, make-up and Donny Osmond.

'It's a dreich day up here,' said Harrison Watson, a Thomson executive and former Jackie editor, who announced the magazine's closure this week. Sales have slipped to 60,000, and the company believes Jackie is too much of an old lady, too unsophisticated, for the Nineties teenager. The dreich weather lay like a pall over Dundee. Gordon Small, 60 next week, and the man who launched Jackie in 1964, was philosophical. 'Life was simpler then but time marches on,' he said, unhappily.

Small, Thomson's managing editor of women's magazines, was chief sub-editor in those days of a picture romance magazine called Romeo. 'The magazine to beat then was called Boyfriend, and Fabulous 208 was launched at the same time. Almost immediately before Jackie, kids had to share their Mum and Dad's music. We took them into a world to which adults had no access. But you couldn't write about sex. There was no Sun. The naughty newspaper was the News of the World and even that didn't say a great deal. You didn't even have colour television when it started.'

Stuck up in Scotland, far from Swinging London, the magazine still managed to give the impression of being in touch. 'It was easier to do then than it is now,' Small remembers. 'We had a 16-week lead time but at least the pop groups like Gerry and Pacemakers and the Monkees stayed around for a while.

'I can remember pursuing the Beatles across Scotland and the Rolling Stones coming to Dundee. They were all half cut. Peter and Gordon had suddenly made Number One but they had arranged to play in all these tiny Scottish villages and they couldn't get out of it.'

The picture stories, Small says, were the magazine's strength. They were written by an army of middle-aged women from places like Halifax. The early covers illustrated dreamy shots of girls walking through fields of daffs: 'We used to plan a year ahead. We had a cupboard full of those pictures. Nowadays it's not thought to be the thing to publish love poems. It was a paper for its time and it lasted the longest and sold the most.'

Two years after Small launched Jackie, its most famous editor joined. 'I started in 1966 and left in 1978,' says Nina Myskow, now a columnist with the Sun. 'I was editor for my last four years. It's a huge chunk of my life. I'm horrified that it's been closed. I'm staggered. I've got four Jackie annuals that I've been reading since I heard the news and I had to be dragged away from them.'

Jackie's greatest success was in the Seventies when it was selling a million copies a week. 'It was the time of the pop explosion, the teenybopper era,' says Myskow. 'It always used to irritate me that teenage magazines were such a target. I used to bump into teachers at parties who would tell me how many copies of Jackie they'd confiscated that week. I was still getting letters from readers saying 'last night a boy walked me to the bus stop and kissed me. Will I get pregnant?'

'One of the great stumbling blocks is that D C Thomson is very reactionary, Presbyterian, straight-laced. It was a battle to circumvent what they perceived as correct information for their 'wee gurrls'. At the same time there would be girls sitting in the labour ward reading their copies of Jackie.' During Myskow's time as editor she received a letter from a girl who wrote: 'I really like your pin-ups of pop stars but my dad is better looking than all of them. He does the voice on The Magic Roundabout.' It was signed Emma Thompson, aged 12.

ZOE Hood and Laura Bellingham-Sergeant, both 12-year-olds at a north London comprehensive, cast a visually literate eye over a few Jackies of Small's heyday: 'There's not a lot of pictures or colour and there's lots of small print,' Laura complained with the air of Janet Street-Porter reprimanding the editor of the Spectator. 'The picture stories are quite funny but there aren't any black people in them,' Zoe pointed out. 'In fact there aren't any black people anywhere.' This, one should remember, is the generation which listens to rap and ragga.

'It's all quite gentle and nave,' Zoe continued. 'I don't think the girls who read this would know the first thing about sex because nobody would tell them. You could tell they weren't the type to go around sleeping with their boyfriends. They'd know very little, they wouldn't know any dangers - maybe about getting pregnant. We know the basic facts and the magazines we read tell you about enjoying it. I don't think these would be of any interest to us now. It would be fine for them. They wouldn't know what they were missing.'

They looked at the expanse of sunburnt chest that is Neighbours star Scott Michaelson (sorry girls, he's no longer into one-night stands) in this week's Shout, the magazine D C Thomson is pinning its hopes on to replace Jackie. 'I think he should keep his clothes on,' said Zoe disapprovingly. 'It's not as if he's got a particularly good body.'

After an hour with them, this former Jackie reader was humbled by their sophistication and self-confidence. Their favourite magazine article was about date rape in Mizz. 'It's important because you need to be prepared,' they argued. Romance is a closed book to them. They live in the post-Aids world. At school they have a work-book naming the different parts of the body - vagina, clitoris, vulva, the lot. An older family member looked at the diagrams. So that's what it's called, she thought.

D C Thomson admits that it is aiming Shout at a younger age group than Jackie. Zoe's 10-year-old sister Laura has started taking it. Six pages in, there is a pin-up of Jean Claude Van Damme on a motorbike and later, the Take That (note for elderly readers: they're a pop group) Challenge asks such romantic questions as 'Which guy has a dolphin tattoo on his pelvic area?' and 'Who was the first guy in the band to get his nipple pierced?'

On the problem page a 13-year-old worries that her boyfriend of three weeks still has not kissed her properly. Is he frigid, she wonders?

You can bet your life he wishes it was only BO.

Reading with Zoe and Laura


70p fortnightly, circ. 391,000

Pop and film gossip and interviews, publishes words of current hit songs

Zoe: Although it's all about pop stars and film stars it's got really good interviews that are more in- depth than the others.

Laura: I don't think it has that much in it. It's not as good as some of the others.

Verdict: 6 out of 10


70p fortnightly, circ. 140,000

Fashion, issues (date rape, fur farms), pop

Zoe: There's quite a lot about you. It gives you confidence: it sounds like it understands. There's a really good piece on joyriders.

Laura: It's quite grown-up but it understands our age-group as well. It makes you more aware of what might happen to you when you grow up.

Verdict: 10 out of 10


50p weekly, circ. 114,000

Mainly pop and TV stars, published by the BBC

Zoe: The problem page doesn't talk about sex, they never even use the word. I don't know if I should stop getting this, it's a little babyish.

Laura: There's nothing on the dangers of smoking. There's no fashion but I think the cartoons are fun and they've got pretty good gossip.

Verdict: 7 out of 10


75p fortnightly, circ. 200,000

More pop and gossip, fashion, beauty

Zoe: I like the interviews and the fashion pictures, and there are good beauty tips. The gossip tells you things you actually want to know. The name is really catchy.

Laura: It's got a lot of stuff you want to read. Having song words on the back is a really good idea. The layout looks attractive but you don't know what to read first.

Verdict: 10 out of 10


50p weekly, circulation 60,000

Photo-love stories, advice, pop

Zoe: It's good to have fashion, competitions and freebies, but the picture stories are a bit soppy. They're always about boyfriends, not issues. They're overdoing it with the hunks and the name isn't very appealing. It doesn't go in for the wilder pop groups.

Laura: As it's quite old, you think it's going to be boring. The photo- stories are all the same.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

(Photograph omitted)

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