Best Friends for­ever as edi­tor ex­plains the en­dur­ing ap­peal of his­toric mag­a­zine

150 years and still go­ing strong as The Peo­ple’s Friend cel­e­brates

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - OPINION - By Bill Gibb [email protected]

The award-win­ning blend of warm-hearted jour­nal­ism and short sto­ries has en­ter­tained and in­formed for ex­actly 150 years.

How­ever, the edi­tor of The Peo­ple’s Friend says the se­cret of the mag­a­zine’s en­dur­ing ap­peal is no se­cret at all and has re­mained un­changed since 1869.

Edi­tor-in-chief Angela Gilchrist said: “The fa­mous found­ing state­ment, which was in the first issue, talks about, ‘Noth­ing in the col­umns in­tended to cor­rupt the morals of young or old’ and that is very much the prin­ci­ple of the mag­a­zine.

“There will be noth­ing to upset or of­fend. The Friend is all about entertainment so peo­ple feel bet­ter for read­ing it, not sad­dened, upset or fright­ened in any way.”

The cover might have changed from words-only to the now-iconic scenic Scot­tish wa­ter colours but the Friend’s abil­ity to win over gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion has re­mained con­stant. First pub­lished on Jan­uary 13, 1869 from an of­fice in Bank Street Dundee, it has be­come a pub­lish­ing phe­nom­e­non. It is the long­est-run­ning weekly women’s mag­a­zine, find­ing a place in the Guin­ness Book of Records when it cel­e­brated its 140th an­niver­sary.

Today, 400,000 read­ers en­joy it each week at home and abroad, with 20,000 copies go­ing to re­cip­i­ents from South Africa to Aus­tralia, New Zealand to Canada.

The ini­tial brief to “in­struct and en­ter­tain” its read­ers has proved en­dur­ingly pop­u­lar. There are still around 600 short sto­ries a year and the page turn­ers have proven not just en­ter­tain­ing but in­flu­en­tial.

One of the mag­a­zine’s ac­com­plished 19th-cen­tury writ­ers was Wil­liam Craw­ford Honey­man. The de­tec­tive sto­ries he pulled to­gether were some of the ear­li­est in the crime-writ­ing fic­tion genre and were be­lieved to have in­spired Arthur Co­nan Doyle and the creation of Sher­lock Holmes.

In those for­ma­tive years, Thomas Edi­son hadn’t even pa­tented the elec­tric light­bulb and the Friend was de­signed to be fam­ily entertainment that was read out around the fire­place.

The em­pha­sis shifted as World War One broke out, now help­ing and en­ter­tain­ing women left at home as their men went to fight. The look of The Peo­ple’s Friend has been al­most as iconic as the warm words in the sto­ries within.

Il­lus­trated cov­ers were in­tro­duced in 1946, with Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle tak­ing pride of place on the very first.

Each of the near-4,000 since has been lov­ingly hand-drawn and signed J Camp­bell Kerr. That’s an alias for the many tal­ented artists whose work has fea­tured over the decades.

Through the years, gifts have been a big part of the ap­peal.

Aprons and tea tow­els, whisks, per­son­alised bis­cuits and even barom­e­ters have all been ap­pre­ci­ated. But none, surely, was as warmly wel­comed and deeply trea­sured as one of the pop­u­lar give­away tea cad­dies. The Friend re­ported the story in 1929 that a cam­era­man in the Congo tripped over the tea caddy as he was be­ing chased by a ram­pag­ing rhino. Luck­ily for him the fall meant avoided be­ing tram­pled to death.

For many read­ers, Angela says get­ting their Friend de­liv­ered “is like wel­com­ing a friend into their home”.

She added: “I think that re­gard­less of how up to date you are with what’s hap­pen­ing in the world around, there are mo­ments when you just want to step back and have a bit of es­capism and that’s re­ally what we of­fer.”

Read­ers and staff gather at the Friends HQ in Dundee last week to cel­e­brate

Peo­ple’s Friend edi­tor Angela

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