There was a golden era of Radio Times magazine; it was intelligent,creative, informative and entertaining. From its inception in 1923, the Radio Times had always been synonymous with an imaginative use of illustration. From those early days it embraced the talents of some of the finest from McKnight Kauffer to Edward Ardizzone and Abram Games to Robin Jacques. But that was back in the more innocent days of black and white when letterpress printing and a mean-spirited maximum dot screen of only 65 dpi was the order of the day, so line drawing was the key vehicle for illustration. Illustrators at that time positively excelled in the limitation and squeezed the maximum out of it. Here are a few examples from a diverse range of illustrators that graced the pages of Radio Times from the 1940s to the 1960s…
James Boswell 1967
Radio Times paid a lot of attention to the quality of its editors and art directors, in order to uphold the high BBC Rithian ethos. By the late sixties, Radio Times had become a little stale and dated. With the competition of TV Times it was ready for a major change, but without losing its unique integrity and 3 million weekly readers. Radio Times turned to an external duo of Editorial Designer David Driver and Editor Geoffrey Cannon. They were given the secret task of transforming the Radio Times from cover to cover. And they did just that.
Prior to Radio Times, Driver art directed a number of magazines, including the now forgotten in-flight publication Welcome Aboard. Much of Welcome Aboard’s visual innovation that Driver was experimenting with was developed and surpassed on Radio Times. Originally Cannon’s intention was to change the name to the acronym, RT (which alluded to Radio and Television rather than the emphasis on radio). This idea went a long way down the line with Driver creating and elegant masthead using stylish swash caps. But it was a step too far for the BBC and the long established name was retained. Driver hired designers Robert Priest and Derek Ungless, both highly talented individuals in their own right (they later went on to work independently in New York to great success). This tight-knit team creatively pushed the magazine. Their choice of photography, illustration and copywriting was exceptional and it became the showcase for many of Britain’s most talented creatives.
In 1976, Radio Times received the ultimate design accolade, a D&AD Gold Award for ‘consistently raising the standard of editorial design.’ Here are some examples of that award-winning work.
Peter Brookes was also responsible for many mono pieces and diagrams (along with Nigel Holmes) that appeared in the magazine...
It is both sad and depressing that following the departure of Driver in 1981, Radio Times disintegrated in design and editorial quality. Now 30 years on it would be an understatement to call the current Radio Times a design embarrassment. It looks and reports like so many other listings magazines spewed out onto the newsstands. 21st Century’s Radio Times has no distinguishing features and is packed to the gunnels with so much graphic furniture that it plays havoc with the eyeballs.
It is clear that today’s Radio Times has no room for design innovation. No uncluttered surprising covers. No inventive use of informative diagrams. No groundbreaking illustration. No typographical integrity. It simply mirrors our over hyped culture with its obsession with celebrity and trivia. It is dumber than dumb. The hard work of all those earlier Radio Times stalwarts to bring its readers creative originality has been completely swept away.
The heydey of British editorial design when Pearce Marchbank was at Time Out, Michael Rand and David King at The Sunday Times Colour Magazine, David Hillman at Nova and Jeanette Collins at The Times, all producing remarkable work has long gone. Commercial magazines these days have to fill their covers with a myriad of eye-catching headlines, obliterating the photographs, which in themselves are just a procession of personality portraits, retouched to cosmetic perfection. All vacuous and instantly forgettable. We get what we deserve I guess.
Ironically Esquire - the very magazine that trail blazed strong, ideas based covers like this…
which in turn influenced many British art directors, recently celebrated their original creator, George Lois… with an exhibition of his groundbreaking work.
But today Esquire covers look like this…
But if you happen to be a subscriber, they are presented type free… How much better they look.
Well, may be not.
So what of the key players in those golden days of Radio Times? Art Director David Driver went on the become Design Director of The Times where he has remained, along with one-time regular illustrator for Radio Times, Peter Brookes, who became, and still is, The Times main political cartoonist of great merit.
Sadly the tabloid incarnation of The Times is, in my view, disappointing and pales when compared to Driver’s earlier years at the design helm of the paper when it was still an unruly broadsheet. Generally, the change in size has compromised the design standard. And the switch over to a newly designed typeface in 2006 made things worse, losing its one unique typographic identifier, Stanley Morrison’s Times New Roman. The only British newspaper left that towers head and shoulders above the rest in design quality is The Guardian - a paper whose original design I lamented passing, but I have to say, in its new guise has gone from strength to strength.
Robert Priest took up residence in New York where he art directed a number of key magazines including Esquire. These days he heads up Priest + Grace, a specialists editorial design consultancy. Derek Ungless also departed to New York where he art directed Rolling Stone, New York and Vogue among others. Today he is still a major figure on the NY creative scene as Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of DSW, Inc. where he is reported to receive an eye-watering $6 million pay packet (who needs bankers). And the old RT Editor, Geoffrey Cannon is now a writer, speaker, editor, executive and campaigner in the field of food, nutrition and world health. He is the co-author of Dieting Makes You Fat and The Food Scandal. Sadly they have terrible covers. Why didn’t he call in Driver?