Friday 24 March 2017

Why we still love Jackie

Jackie was read by a million girls a week in the 1970s, but the teen magazine folded over 20 years ago. Yet fans refuse to let the brand die. Nick Duerden finds out why

A 'Jackie' edition from 1975.
A 'Jackie' edition from 1975.
Jackie x Asos playsuit
Jackie the musical
Jackie x Asos Love top

A few years ago, the journalist and broadcaster Nina Myskow was at the BBC to promote a coffee-table book celebrating Jackie, the bestselling girls' magazine of the 1970s. Myskow, who had edited the title between 1974 and 1978, had provided its introduction, and required little excuse now to wallow in nostalgia.

So there she was, striding down one of the BBC's many corridors with a copy of the book under her arm when, she says, "I passed a smart, intelligent-looking and no doubt very powerful female executive. As soon as she saw the book, she started shrieking and clutching at me, as if she had become 12-years-old again. I had to wrestle it back from her."

Jackie seems often to have this effect on, as Myskow suggests, women of a certain age.

"Oh, for women in their late 40s, early 50s, it's a time machine. It can take them right back to childhood."

Though the magazine folded in 1993, its publishers never fully let it go. And for good reason: in 2015, Jackie has become a powerful brand, so much so that its publisher, DC Thomson - a famously straight-laced, family run operation - now employs someone with the very 21st-century title of 'head of brands' to oversee its multimedia reach.

The revival began in 2007, when EMI Records wanted to release a series of '70s-themed compilation albums featuring scream-appeal acts such as David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and Marc Bolan.

They needed a hook, and thought immediately of Jackie. The albums shifted more than a million copies. Books followed, Carlton publishing a Jackie annual which sold 100,000 copies.

Thomson's head of brands, Tim Collins, was now the proverbial kid in a candy store. A snowball effect duly ensued. On Monday, the result of a collaboration between the magazine and online fashion retailer ASOS goes live, featuring a range of '70s-influenced clothes, all with, Collins insists, "not only the Jackie label, but a contemporary edge."

And coming soon is Jackie the Musical, which will tour relentlessly for the next 12 months. Against a backdrop of the era's most memorable, and therefore cheesiest, hits, the narrative revolves around a 50-something divorcee who returns to her stash of archived Jackie magazines for much the same reason she first consulted them decades ago: advice on how best to navigate the opposite sex."

The show had its initial run in Dundee in 2013, and was a big success. "The audiences were amazing," says Andy Dear, one of its producers. "The shouts, the screams, the cheers! We were, to be honest, completely blown away by the reaction."

Myskow herself is less surprised."It really does mean an awful lot to a great many women," she says.

"It was a kind of big sister to them at a very important time in their lives, and this was of course way before the internet, before YouTube.

"They were convinced they were the only ones in the world going through that transition of being a child still, but becoming a woman. It offered its readers a kind of security; it was invaluable."

Jackie is perhaps the most unlikely publishing phenomenon.

Launched in Scotland in 1963 by the staunchly Presbyterian Thomsons, it recognised that girls were no longer in the grip of a post-war austerity but had become a definable group in themselves: namely, teenagers, a pocket money-funded demographic that found its voice through music and fashion, and required a bible on both.

It was an instant success. "But our sweet spot came in the 1970s," says Tim Collins. "We were selling 600,000 copies a week, and then, within a year, that figure had risen to a million-plus. ."

In addition to its popstar profiles and photo love stories was the problem page, Cathy and Claire, the agony aunts on hand to deal with the myriad problems puberty throws up.

Many letters were deemed unsuitable for publication - Presbyterians never were the most permissive of folk - but during Myskow's reign, at least they endeavoured to answer each problem personally; no mean feat when they were receiving upwards of 500 letters a week.

"I just felt that if young girls took the time to write a letter, express themselves, then find a stamp and an envelope, they deserved a reply," Myskow says.

In this way, the magazine saw successive generations through into adulthood, all competition firmly in its shadow. But time galloped on and Jackie didn't. By the 1990s, its continued straightlaced approach to teenage life was starting to seem anachronistic, not least compared to the likes of More! magazine, whose demographic might have been early 20s but whose readership was far younger.

More!'s content was racier and provocative; the more infamous its 'Position of the Fortnight' feature became, the more copies they sold. Jackie, of course, had never strayed into the murky world of the Kama Sutra.

"When I was at the magazine, kids weren't pressured in the way they are now," says Myskow. "What we were trying to do was prepare them as much as possible for life by instilling in them a feeling of self-worth and self-esteem, a spirit of independence so that they could have confidence in themselves as individuals."

She recounts a story about Emma Thompson, the actress who wrote in when she was 12-years-old, asking them to print a photograph of her father Eric, the man behind The Magic Roundabout.

"We printed it, of course," says Myskow, whose later career took her to Fleet Street, where she frequently bumped into Thompson, by now a famous star, and with whom, thanks to the magazine, she felt in some way inextricably linked. "The last time I interviewed her, I took along a copy of The Best of Jackie. She literally screamed with delight. Extraordinary, but very typical. It was that kind of magazine."

The Jackie x ASOS Reclaimed collection is available on asos.com from Monday

Irish Independent

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