John Walsh: It's hard to believe that I'm reading the very last 'Word'


John Walsh@johnhenrywalsh
Wednesday 11 July 2012 19:27

The last-ever edition of The Word is out this week. The last ever! Though news of the magazine's demise broke two weeks ago, there's something poignant about viewing the body. For if ever a magazine seemed yelpingly alive, The Word does. You can examine the final issue with an electron microscope for signs of metal fatigue, and find only energy, vividness, heat and pizzazz, features on The Cure on tour, Lou Reed, Martin Amis, the mysterious death of South African star Sixto Rodriguez.

The writing is still as crisp and flavoursome as a Walker's Smoky Bacon. And as you turn the pages, the editors pull off their nine-year-long trick of giving you stuff to read that they somehow knew you'd love to read without even consulting you.

How? It comes down to the eclectic taste of Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, who parted company with their employers at Emap to launch The Word as an independent organ, publishing only material – on music, books, films, pop culture and TV – they themselves would want to read. So the magazine lived by trusting the taste of its readers rather than chasing a more, shall we say, commercial demographic.

I feel bereft by the closure, as if some cool, witty friends had been suddenly "disappeared" by some malevolent caprice of Fate. It was a monthly treat for almost a decade. Its departure is like discovering, at six, that Peek Frean aren't making your favourite biscuits any longer. Or hearing, at 50-something, that the d'Arenberg vineyard is no longer making your favourite white wine. Only this is worse because you won't just miss consistency and reliable excellence; you'll miss the element of surprise – in an argument, a shocking disclosure, a nimbly witty phrase – every month.

Can something be done to bail it out? If ever a publication deserved a second breath of life, this one does. If enough of us explained to him that The Word is an exemplary package of clever ideas, vivid encounters, good writing and attractive add-ons like free CDs and podcasts, would an enlightened plutocrat hand over enough cash to see it through the recession? Could Bob Diamond be persuaded to do good with his £2m severance money and subsidise issues 115-215? Could the Government intervene with some taxpayers' money, if we explain that the magazine's characteristic writing style should be adopted as a paradigm by smart 15- to 18-year-old state school kids?

Realistically, I can't see it happening, though. Any intervention would try to change it, to give it broader male-reader appeal, to "FHM it up a bit" as one reader suggested. All we can do is say thanks for 114 months of intelligent high jinks, and hope the energetic creators resurface in another part of the media forest, to our (bittersweet) delight. In the beginning was The Word. Shame it's the end.

Now a spokesman for the weather...

Radio 4's Today programme is about the triumph of reason. Every day, they confirm that there's nothing on earth – from healthcare provision to British tennis – which cannot be held to account for its shortcomings. If something goes wrong with the fabric of society, they'll call in whoever's responsible (or their quaking spokesman) and bombard them with logic until they crack. But now they've met their match. They can't find anyone responsible for the weather.

Every morning, you can hear the presenters get more enraged about the precipitation from the sky: "And now the weather… urrrgh. Rain. Blustery. Scattered showers. Good God! I mean…" John Humphrys cannot conceal his disgust at the egregiously sub-standard climate. Jim Naughtie's scorn for drizzle renders him almost speechless. Even the unflappable Justin Webb sounds frustrated beyond endurance, a man trying to punch a raincloud.

The trouble is, there's nobody to blame, not even a spokesman for the miscreant organisation behind the downpour. The closest you can get is the Gulf Stream. I like to picture John and Jim and Justin on the day they heard the news. Did they say, with hope dawning on their faces, "Who's in charge of the Gulf Stream? Can we get him in?"

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