Look and Learn: magazines I remember

This week will be the end of an era in the Brown household. I’m about to stop being a regular reader of the Radio Times.

As a child I would look forward keenly each week to the arrival of the Radio Times and the TV Times, which were delivered with the family newspaper. In particular, I seem to recall, I would look through the radio listings to see what was coming up in the next week.

I should explain for younger readers that, in those days, copyright restrictions meant that the week’s BBC TV and Radio programmes only appeared in the Radio Times, and the week’s ITV programmes only appeared in the TV Times. This was before Channel 4 existed, or any other TV channels beyond BBC One, BBC Two and ITV. But to get your full week’s listings you had to buy both the magazines. Amazing, isn’t it? How quaint we were in those days.

Newspapers at the time were allowed to publish that day’s TV and radio listings but no more. This changed – along with many other aspects of British life, for good and ill – during Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister.

An archive Radio Times cover, showing Jon Pertwee as the Doctor (image: copyright BBC)
An archive Radio Times cover, showing Jon Pertwee as the Doctor (image: copyright BBC)

My interest in broadcasting, radio in particular, obviously started at a young age and continues today – my two internet radios are my favourite gadgets (see my previous blog: Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out).

But back to the Radio Times. The reason I have stuck with it for so long is that, unlike other listings magazines, it has a decent radio guide and, if I’m honest, because of its links with the BBC.

In fact, when I worked for the BBC I would get a free Radio Times as part of the membership fee I paid to belong to the BBC [staff] Club.

But recently I’ve found the magazine’s articles less interesting – they’re often concerned with films, for instance – and the price has crept up to £1-60. The magazine’s links with the BBC are diminished as well as it is no longer owned by BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm.

So I’ve taken the plunge and ordered, from our splendid local shop, Isbister’s in Quoyloo, a magazine called Total TV Guide, price £1-10, which has reasonable radio coverage. I will be collecting my first copy today, we’ll see how we get on together.

But this change of habit put me in mind of other magazines I have enjoyed over the years…

Most men, I think, claim to have read comics such as The Dandy and The Beano as children, filled with the exploits of Desperate Dan, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty and all their pals. I recall reading these comics at school when the weather was too bad for us to play outside at lunchtime.

But as a child, as well as reading the Radio Times and TV Times, I had a magazine called Look and Learn delivered. This was presumably encouraged by my parents. The title tells it all. My memory of this publication is a bit hazy but I recall it was something like a print version of the Blue Peter TV programme, fun but with the emphasis on learning and education. I’m not complaining, I enjoyed it very much.

Later, as a young teenager, or should I say young fogey, I remember sometimes buying The Illustrated London News, a venerable publication then reaching the end of its days. Actually, I should have kept my copies, they would now be worth something significant on eBay, I imagine.

I would also read the weekly music newspapers, which no longer exist in that form. I read, though surely I could not afford the time or money for all of them every week, Sounds, Melody Maker, New Musical Express (NME) and Record Mirror. Of these, I think only NME exists today but in a very different form.

I must have read many other magazines but the next one to stick in my mind is The Face, a music-based style magazine from the 1980s. This was an odd choice for me, as I’ve never been what you would call stylish.

Later I migrated to the music magazine Q, and then its sister publication Mojo, which was more to my taste, but eventually I stopped buying this as well. How many articles can you read about how great the past was?

When I first lived in London, in the late Eighties, and for some time afterwards, I would buy Time Out each week. For those who haven’t lived in the UK capital, it is a listings magazine. I would pore over it each week looking for the best gigs, films and events to attend. I left London early in 2010 but I understand that, now, the magazine is now given away free at Tube stations.

Today I read our local monthly magazine, Living Orkney; The Scots Magazine, excellent value at £2-30; a home-made effort about Radio Caroline called Horizon magazine (published every two months); the quarterly RSPB members’ publication Birds; plus, occasional freebies and odd purchases.

Do you recall any particular magazines that were your favourites as a child, or when you were younger, or perhaps now? I’d love to hear your memories and thoughts.

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Author: Graham Brown

I am Graham Brown, author of this blog, an Englishman living in Orkney since St Magnus Day 2010. I love music + radio. I’m married to musician, singer and songwriter Kathie Touin. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council and Secretary of Quoyloo Old School (community centre). I volunteer with the RSPB. I was on the committee which restored Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial and created the HMS Hampshire wall. I belong to the Radio Caroline Support Group, Orkney Field Club and Orkney Heritage Society. I spent nearly 24 years at the BBC in London. Remember: One planet, don’t trash it.

2 thoughts on “Look and Learn: magazines I remember”

  1. Graham, you’ve got me all nostalgic again!

    I gave up Radio Times when I stopped being a BBC Club member a couple of years before I retired (the ‘free’ RT was all I was getting for my Club subscription). I usually get the Christmas double issue just to see what’s worth recording – I never get to see the programmes I want to see over the festive period because of being with the family! Like you, though, I long ago stopped finding the articles of much interest, plus these days there are far too many listings for channels I don’t get, so most of it is wasted paper as far as I’m concerned.

    As a child, being a girl I read Bunty, which we had delivered every week. Of its regular strips I particularly remember The Four Marys and a cookery strip; also an informative serial on the life story of Marie Curie. I remember Look and Learn too, though I don’t think we got it regularly. My younger brother had a boys’ comic – Eagle I think – which my sister and I would also read.

    Later there was Fabulous 208 (along with listening to crackly, fading Radio Luxembourg in the evening), and then – for more serious reading rather than pictures – NME and occasionally Melody Maker. Sounds didn’t start till the early Seventies as far as can remember, but I read that too.

    When I started doing family history research I subscribed to Family Tree magazine, Nowadays you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s Autosport and F1 Racing, along with DSLR Magazine for photography.

    As for listings, I use the BBC site for the radio schedules and, for the relatively little TV worth watching, the TV EPG, the newspaper or an online site. I used to use the Radio Times site until they redesigned it and clogged it up with stuff I didn’t want…

  2. Wow – I never thought I’d see the day…

    My old magazines begins and ends with kids comics – Beano, Dandy, Eagle, Roy of the Rovers, Scream (a short lived Horror-themed comic) before briefly moving onto Smash Hits then the NME and still When Saturday Comes although in digital format which I suspect is going to be the future of the industry.

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