~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, June 29th 2012
Plenty of people edit magazines, not so many create them. The No.1 magazine-creators in Britain are Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, who have been at it for nearly 30 years. They created Just Seventeen, Q, More, Empire, Mojo and Heat (a more wholesome thing than it later became). Today, most uncharacteristically, they closed a magazine: The Word.
This is a sad, bad day for journalism. The Word was a music magazine that burst its banks to cover pop culture, and life, in general. It was smart, funny, original and tremendously human. The only thing it did badly was design—some of the pages were like an old jumper, and some of the covers were illustrations that didn't come off. But then, even the New Yorker only makes illustration covers work about one week in six.
Successful magazines surf a wave. The Word—independent, and successful enough to survive for nine years in a mostly cold climate—surfed the wave you can see at many a big rock concert: the fact that people no longer grow out of popular music, but carry on loving it almost as much as they always did, and even go to hear it with their kids.
The pages of The Word flowed like a conversation, with particularly lively gobbets at the front (another weak spot in the New Yorker) and trenchant columns a third of the way through, including one from Hepworth, full of distilled wisdom. Yet they also delivered satisfying long reads (not a weak spot in the New Yorker). As a regular reader, you were never more than six months away from a cracking interview with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, who worked with Hepworth and Ellen on Smash Hits in the early Eighties.
I worked with them too in those days, as a junior freelance. Tennant was a benign reviews editor, dishing out albums (£7.50 for 100 words) and showing the rare ability, if one hit record reminded him too much of another, to sing the second song while the first was playing on the office radio. He soon left to make his own records; we never expected to find the radio playing them.
Ellen had been in a band at Oxford with Tony Blair. He was, and is, tall, smiley and tirelessly enthusiastic, Tigger in a bright-blue shirt. Hepworth was, and is, short, deadpan and astringent, the kind of teacher kids are wary of but want to impress. Both of them, as they rose up the ranks, added business nous to their editing skills. They didn't just dream up good magazines: they could take a hunch and turn it into a new sector of the market.
The monthly music magazine was their invention, less raggedly exciting than the old inky weeklies, but a lot more readable and useable. And The Word was the best example of it, warmer than the rest, less bothered about being cool. As the awards that rained down on Ellen and Hepworth showed, many magazine editors loved it almost as much as their own mags. Can some public-spirited Intelligent Life reader please step in to save it?
Tim de Lisle is editor of Intelligent Life and a rock critic for the Mail on Sunday