Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

Esquire (UK) - - Editor's Letter - Alex Bilmes

FADE IN

Int. A ware­house in Mi­lan, some time near the be­gin­ning of this decade — night

A cat­walk show has just fin­ished and a party is be­gin­ning. The room is packed. Dance mu­sic thumps. Wait­ers squirm through the throng bear­ing trays of canapés. At the bar, the wait for drinks is 12 min­utes, min­i­mum. Clus­ters of mid­dle-aged men and women in ex­pen­sive clothes that don’t suit them — the fash­ion press — mill about, list­lessly sip­ping cock­tails and mak­ing catty re­marks. They are won­der­ing what time they can go back to their ho­tel rooms to Skype their ther­a­pists and send poi­sonous emails to their as­sis­tants while eat­ing room ser­vice ham­burg­ers (hold the bread, hold the fries). Around them pirou­ette gor­geous, wil­lowy young peo­ple, look­ing fab­u­lous in var­i­ous states of un­dress — these are the mod­els and their “friends”. They are won­der­ing what time they can go back to each oth­ers’ ho­tel rooms to take co­caine and have gym­nas­tic sex.

CAMERA PANS TO

The Bar

Where an un­re­mark­able look­ing man in a non­de­script suit, the ED­I­TOR OF ESQUIRE, 38 and not get­ting any younger, his ruddy face glazed in sweat, is try­ing des­per­ately to at­tract the at­ten­tions of a mixol­o­gist, so that he can pro­cure a drink for ALEXAN­DRA, 50-ish, the ed­i­tor of Vogue. She does not look like a woman who wants to wait very long for any­thing, least of all a glass of warm Prosecco.

For­mer col­leagues (she used to be his boss), they haven’t seen each other for some time. As they wait they are barged and jos­tled, and when she speaks she must shout over the bit­ter irony of Chic’s “Good Times”, and he must lean his head close to hers to hear her.

alexan­dra: So… how long have you been at Esquire now?

ed­i­tor of esquire: About 18 months?

alexan­dra: How’s it go­ing?

ed­i­tor of esquire: Yeah, OK… I think.

alexan­dra: Have you gone mad yet?

ed­i­tor of esquire (star­tled): I don’t think so. Why do you ask?

alexan­dra: Oh, ev­ery­one does in the end. It’s just a mat­ter of time.

hunky bar­man: Prego?

alexan­dra: I think I might just go back to my ho­tel.

ed­i­tor of esquire: Suits me. I’ve got some emails to send.

alexan­dra: Don’t we all?

CUT TO

Int. The art depart­ment of a magazine of­fice in cen­tral lon­don, last month — day Six years older and look­ing ev­ery minute of it, the ED­I­TOR OF ESQUIRE, now wear­ing an at­ten­tion seek­ing, caramel-coloured cor­duroy suit, an ob­streper­ous tie, and per­son­al­ity spec­ta­cles he doesn’t re­ally need, is hov­er­ing over the shoul­der of his creative di­rec­tor, NICK, a no-non­sense 30-some­thing in a sen­si­ble jumper, who is sit­ting at his Mac try­ing to de­sign this month’s cover. Laid out on his desk and the floor around it are var­i­ous print-outs of po­ten­tial cov­ers, all fea­tur­ing the ac­tor Gary Old­man, in a va­ri­ety of poses and out­fits. The magazine tra­di­tion­ally pub­lishes two cov­ers each month, a news­stand edi­tion and a spe­cial edi­tion for subscribers, with a dif­fer­ent photo and no text.

nick: So what are you think­ing for the subs’ cover? ed­i­tor of esquire: My dog wear­ing a trendy col­lar?

nick: What?

ed­i­tor of esquire: My dog.

You know we’re shoot­ing her for the “how-to be-a-bet­ter-bloke” fea­ture? Wear­ing a trendy col­lar.

nick: Are we?

ed­i­tor of esquire: Yes! It’ll be great. Don’t worry about it. Just stick my dog on the subs’ cover. Job done.

nick (in­cred­u­lous): Are you se­ri­ous?

ed­i­tor of esquire: Yes! It’s funny! Peo­ple love dogs!

nick: But we’ve got these other Gary Old­man pic­tures. What about this one?

NICK holds up a black-and-white shot of Gary Old­man look­ing moody and mag­nif­i­cent un­der­neath the Esquire logo.

ed­i­tor of esquire: No, no, no. Bor­ing! We’re do­ing the dog. It’ll be good. Take my word for it.

nick (un­der his breath): Fuck’s sake.

The ED­I­TOR OF ESQUIRE scut­tles off in the di­rec­tion of his of­fice. NICK turns, ex­as­per­ated, to HENNY, Esquire’s phleg­matic, black-clad photo di­rec­tor, who’s seen it all be­fore.

nick: (cont’d): He’s lost it.

henny: He lost it years ago.

nick: Yeah, but a pic­ture of his fuck­ing dog on the cover? In a “trendy col­lar”. Come on! That’s a joke.

henny: It’s bet­ter than when he made us put a fried egg on the cover, in­stead of Ri­hanna.

nick: Only just.

FADE OUT

all ed­i­tors of glossy magazines lose their minds in the end. It’s a pit­fall of the job — or per­haps a perk, or per­haps both. That’s what Alex Shul­man (who re­ally

was my ed­i­tor at Vogue in the Noughties) meant when she said that “ev­ery­one” goes mad. Not in that you-don’t-have-tobe-mad-to-work-here-but-it-helps kind of a way. That sug­gests love­able za­ni­ness. She meant “mad” as in out of touch with re­al­ity, prone to un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour, im­pos­si­ble to work with.

Magazine ed­i­tors are overindulged. At least they (we) used to be. Of course, they’ll tell you that in to­day’s me­dia cli­mate, in the au­tumn of the ed­i­tors, when the Golden Age of print magazines is memo­ri­alised and oc­ca­sion­ally even mourned — in print, mostly — that the days of the first-class free­bies and the fat ex­pense ac­counts and the cor­ner ta­bles in the hottest restau­rants are all long gone. And they are, mostly. (Sob.) But still, any­one who reaches the sum­mit of the mast­head on a well-known glossy, for how­ever long, gets spoilt rot­ten.

Be­ing treated, even if only oc­ca­sion­ally, like a del­i­cate dauphin (or dauphine) who can do no wrong, might ul­ti­mately be dam­ag­ing — for the dauphin(e) and those around him or her — but it’s also un­ques­tion­ably good fun. Be­hav­ing in a grand and un­govern­able man­ner? All part of the ser­vice.

The ques­tion back in 2011 or when­ever that ex­change be­tween Alex Shul­man and me — or a ver­sion of it — oc­curred was: how far along the line to­wards com­pletely howl­ing bonkers was I?

Not too far, as I re­mem­ber it. Some­where com­fort­ably out­side of bark­ing. If she asked me to­day?

Well, there’s a photo of my dog on the cover. What do you reckon?

And that’s just the vis­i­ble ev­i­dence. There is more, be­low the sur­face and be­hind the scenes. This month, I spent hours try­ing to con­vince Tom, Esquire’s en­ter­tain­ment di­rec­tor, that we ought to do a one-off Gay Is­sue, to reflect our pro­gres­sive at­ti­tudes to mod­ern mas­culin­ity. Or some­thing. Af­ter he’d talked me down — in the end he had to send a long and sternly worded email out­lin­ing the many good rea­sons not to do such a thing — I turned on Mi­randa, our fea­tures ed­i­tor, sug­gest­ing that as a re­sponse to the gen­der wars cur­rently rag­ing, she should edit an is­sue of the magazine pro­duced by women only. The fact this would give me a month off to spend drink­ing in the morn­ings and sleep­ing in the after­noons — rather than my usual MO, which is the re­verse of that — was not part of my cal­cu­la­tion, but nei­ther, when it was pointed out to me, did it much put me off the idea.

Come on, I urged Mi­randa. It’ll be great, it’ll be im­por­tant, it’ll be zeit­geisty and epoch-defin­ing: the first is­sue of a men’s magazine to be edited, writ­ten, pho­tographed, de­signed, styled, sub-edited, fact-checked, only by women. “It’ll be a state­ment,” I said. “Of what?” she said. “I’ll get back to you on that,” I said. “Count me out,” she said.

Hap­pily, then, I have peo­ple who keep me in check. But on other oc­ca­sions I pull rank with the best of them, and do what I damn well please. So I’m not go­ing to jus­tify the dog to you. I don’t have to. I’m the ed­i­tor, un­til I’m told I’m not. (Could be any day now.) I think the dog’s funny, and silly, and ap­peal­ing, and maybe she pisses on a few bon­fires, which is never a bad thing.

She’s a Labrador, by the way. Nearly two years old. An­swers to Popcorn, but only when she feels like it; like all the best crea­tures she’s lovely to look at and mad­den­ing to live with. Bet­ter yet, es­pe­cially for some­one as spoilt as me, she’s ground­ing: you try stand­ing in a busy park re­peat­edly shout­ing “Popcorn!” at a dog who is ig­nor­ing you, at quar­ter past six in the morning, while clutch­ing a bag of her ex­cre­ment, and see how im­por­tant you feel, how po­tent and pow­er­ful.

All that aside, if any subscribers would rather have an is­sue with Gary Old­man on the cover in­stead of a poorly trained Labrador, it is avail­able to buy in all, or rather most, or rather some, good newsagents.

While we’re on the sub­ject, the great­est ever cover of a magazine with a dog on it — sorry, Horse & Hound — was an is­sue of Na­tional Lam­poon, the Amer­i­can hu­mour magazine, from Jan­uary 1973. Not that it’s strictly rel­e­vant but Jan­uary 1973 was the month of my birth, prov­ing if noth­ing else that peo­ple — magazine ed­i­tors — have been get­ting away with this rub­bish for decades.

The cover had a photo of a ter­ri­fied-look­ing black-and-white ca­nine with a gun to its head and a line that might be best de­scribed as punchy: “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

In their de­fence, it was the cover of the “Death Is­sue”. (Memo to Tom and Mi­randa: Esquire Death Is­sue?)

I did mo­men­tar­ily con­sider a di­rect homage: a photo of me threat­en­ing Popcorn with a firearm. But I wor­ried it might up­set the kids, who adore her. Not some­thing that would usu­ally put me off but, af­ter all, it’s Christ­mas.

On which note, I wish you all the best for the fes­tiv­i­ties. See you in 2018.

Woof!

I did con­sider a di­rect homage to Na­tional Lam­poon: a photo of me threat­en­ing Popcorn with a firearm. But I wor­ried it might up­set the kids. And af­ter all, it’s Christ­mas

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