A long-time friend

As it ap­proaches its 150th an­niver­sary, the world’s longestrun­ning women’s weekly mag­a­zine is look­ing for sto­ries from its “friends”. Michael Alexan­der re­ports

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS - Malexan­der@the­courier.co.uk

It is very much by or­di­nary peo­ple for or­di­nary peo­ple

In ex­actly a year The Peo­ple’s Friend will cel­e­brate its 150th birth­day. The first-ever is­sue was pub­lished on Jan­uary 13 1869 and it’s been in con­tin­u­ous pub­li­ca­tion ever since, mak­ing it the longestrun­ning women’s weekly mag­a­zine in the world – and there­fore the first to reach the mile­stone of 150 years of age.

But with 365 days to go, the mag­a­zine’s ed­i­to­rial team is al­ready plan­ning a whole year of cel­e­bra­tions to mark this amaz­ing achieve­ment – and it wants read­ers of ‘The Friend’ to be part of them.

“The se­cret of the mag­a­zine’s suc­cess is due in no small part to its con­nec­tion with its read­ers and we want to cel­e­brate that bond by do­ing what we’re fa­mous for – shar­ing sto­ries,” ex­plains edi­tor-in-chief An­gela Gilchrist in an in­ter­view at the of­fices of DC Thom­son & Co Ltd in Dundee.

“So with one year to go we are ask­ing peo­ple to get in touch and share their sto­ries about what ‘The Friend’ means to them. We want to know more about why they read The Peo­ple’s Friend, how long they’ve been read­ing it.

“Peo­ple read it in Aus­tralia be­cause it re­minds them of the UK, where they might have em­i­grated from or where mum or grandma might have em­i­grated from. How­ever peo­ple came to find The Friend, and what­ever part it’s played in your life, we’d love to hear about it.”

When The Peo­ple’s Friend was launched in Dundee in Jan­uary 1869, it be­gan as an off­shoot of an­other pop­u­lar pub­li­ca­tion, the Peo­ple’s Jour­nal, which ceased pro­duc­tion in 1986. It was orig­i­nally a “monthly mis­cel­lany” that was “in­tended for fire­side read­ing” and de­signed to be “es­pe­cially a friend of the mothers, wives, daugh­ters and bairns of Scot­land”. Half the mag­a­zine would be de­voted to fic­tion, its mis­sion state­ment said, “with pref­er­ence given to Scotch sto­ries”. The rest would deal with prac­ti­cal mat­ters such as do­mes­tic house­hold ad­vice.

Within a year, it was so pop­u­lar that it went weekly, and to­day it sells 200,000 copies per week.

Al­most 150 years later, the mag­a­zine has changed in many ways. A re­launched web­site will go live to­wards the end of the month and it has a “thriv­ing” Face­book page. But with to­day’s av­er­age reader pro­file be­ing fe­male and aged 70, the edi­tor be­lieves it would still be recog­nis­able to those orig­i­nal, 19th Cen­tury read­ers.

“I think it’s al­ways stayed true to what it was meant to be – it’s stayed half fic­tion but was al­ways meant to be by or­di­nary peo­ple for or­di­nary peo­ple.,” says Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity English lit­er­a­ture grad­u­ate An­gela, 49, who has worked with DC Thom­son & Co Ltd since 1990 and has been edi­tor of The Peo­ple’s Friend for 10 years.

“That’s why we don’t have celebri­ties and glitz and glam­our and big names in it. It is very much by or­di­nary peo­ple for or­di­nary peo­ple.

“But I think one of the things that made us sur­vive is that it’s never lost sight of who our read­ers are and we are re­ally lucky as they get in touch with us un­prompted and tell us what they like.”

An­gela says an­other strength of the pub­li­ca­tion is that it’s had great con­ti­nu­ity of edi­tors. “In those 149 years I’m only the ninth edi­tor, which is fan­tas­tic,”she adds.

“There was a pe­riod of great sta­bil­ity from 1900 for the next 30 or 40 years when there was one edi­tor at the helm. His name was David Pae. I think an aw­ful lot of what is ‘The Friend’ can be traced back to him and the way he steered it through the First World War and all sorts of dif­fi­cult times.”

A “big thing” in re­cent times has been find­ing “hid­den women’s sto­ries”. An­gela adds: “We’ve done a lot re­cently about women whose role in his­tory has been over­looked or for­got­ten. Things like the women who flew Spit­fires dur­ing the war; health pioneers as well, the women who have made tech­no­log­i­cal or sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies they maybe don’t get the credit for.

“There will be so much more to come as we warm up for our big cel­e­bra­tion in 2019.”

• The Jan­uary 13 edi­tion of The Peo­ple’s Friend is on sale now.

Pic­ture: Mhairi Edwards.

Edi­tor-in-chief An­gela Gilchrist, cen­tre, wear­ing black, and some of the mag­a­zine’s staff.

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