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