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As part of our ‘Big Thinkers’ series speaking to disruptors, innovators, influencers & authors, our Managing Director David Brookes wanted to speak to his mother about her new book ‘The Magazine Girls’. Co-written with six of her closest friends, the book captures a flash-bulb moment of counter-culture youth publishing from the 60s to the 90s.

In an attempt to avoid the awkwardness of interviewing his own mother (journalist Linda Newman), David instead spoke to co-author Jan IIes-Kaluza, an incredible journalist who has interviewed some of world’s biggest icons from Bowie to Twiggy.

Some of my most vivid memories as a child was visiting my mum’s office and being almost deafened by the tap-tap sound of typewriters, as journalists frantically rattled off copy to hit a hundred different deadlines. I also remember the smell of smoke (Mum, I know it wasn’t you!) and the general sense of buzz and excitement in the air. Even as a kid I could tell this was a great place to work – the friendships were real, the fun was palpable and everyone had a great story, many of which would never be printed.

I loved hanging out around the picture desk and holding up developed film to the light, trying to work out which celebs were in the pictures and what the stories might be. It looked like everyone was having a brilliant time, so decades later, when Mum said she and her pals (many of whom I’ve known since I was a baby) were writing a book about the good old days of magazine journalism from the 60s – 90s, my first thought – because I’m a really great son – was “Fantastic, we could turn this into content for our blog!”

I did ask Mum if I should interview her, but we both agreed that would be awkward for both of us, so instead I was delighted to speak to the journalist to the stars (and one-time Brooky babysitter) Jan Iles-Kaluza.

Brooky: Hi Jan! Can you tell me what the book is all about?

Jan: ‘The Magazine Girls’ takes a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most famous names in 60s 70s and 80s media and culture.

Set in a time of challenge, transformation and rule-breaking across cultures and lifestyles, our book is co-authored by seven of us who first met when creating the pages of teen magazines. We’ve stayed friends to this day!

Brooky: What made you want to write about your experiences in media?

Jan: ‘The Magazine Girls’ was conceived over quite a few bottles of Prosecco during one of our infamous lunches at a media-favourite hangout – Joe Allen’s in Covent Garden. We felt that the book would resonate not just with people who lived through those exciting times, but for the younger generations who wished they’d been there.

Brooky: What do you miss most about those days?

Jan: The liberty to be yourself, the freedom of expression, the optimism and can-do spirit when anything felt possible… and especially the fun! The newness of music such as by The Beatles, Hendrix, The Doors and Punk. Long hair (on everyone), miniskirts, swanning about with pretty pop stars who we interviewed for the teen magazines. And, most of all, being a lot younger than we are now!

“With the introduction of bloggers, influencers, online magazines, YouTube and IGTV, the way we source information and entertainment changed dramatically. But, magazines are still a force to be reckoned with, and we don’t think print magazines will ever disappear completely.”

Brooky: What kind of stories can people expect to read about in the book? 

Jan: We’ve written about the icons of the day, who we considered the new aristocracy of pop culture – from David Cassidy, Bowie, Marc Bolan, Bob Marley or The Who, to avant-garde punk rockers, designers, Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood, models like the iconic Twiggy and photographers Bailey and Donovan.

We’ve also covered ground-breaking social issues of the time, writing controversial features about the recently legalised abortion act, stories about the vanishing virgins, domestically-abused women, AIDS – these were new territory for magazines at the time.

Brooky: Do you think the magazine industry is fundamentally different today?

Jan: Since that time, the world of magazine publishing has become an unrecognisable universe from the one we worked in. From the hugely popular women’s weekly titles with their mega-sales of millions back in the day, to the proliferation of teen titles bursting forth to satisfy the baby boomers who’d come of age.

Competition from online media has affected all traditional print media. However, being the chameleon-like creatures magazines have always been, new business models have been created, subscription sales pushed and some say combined print and digital circulation figures have been very positive. That’s an indication that some readers like to read their magazines in both print and online versions.

With the introduction of bloggers, influencers, online magazines, YouTube and IGTV, the way we source information and entertainment changed dramatically. But, magazines are still a force to be reckoned with, and we don’t think print magazines will ever disappear completely.

Brooky: If you were going to give someone advice who wants to get into magazine journalism what would it be?

Jan: Start early, as we did – the earlier you start and succeed, the higher you’re likely to climb. Internships are a good way to get your foot in the door, or a role as an editorial assistant. 

Stay focused and inspired, and be open to learn something every day from colleagues and peers. You’ll need bags of talent, patience and grit to ride the highs and the lows. 

The industry is contracting (although more people read the news than ever before), pay is not as good as it was, while competition is fiercer. You have to love it if you want to get ahead in magazine journalism, and grow the skin of a rhino.

Take it from us, it’s worth it. Good Luck!

Brooky: If you could go back to the start of your career – would you change anything?

Jan: Nothing. Nada, zip, zippo, zilch, zero, squat, nix.

So, if want to know what it was like to work in the industry at its most exciting time, this is the one for you. You can find ‘The Magazine Girls’ (£10.99, Troubador), from selected bookshops, or online on Amazon Kindle (£7.99).

For more from Brooky, read about why Captain Sandy is one of his leadership heroes.