Jackie was the teen read of its day. Regularly selling almost a million copies at its peak in the Seventies, it was the weekly bible for any girl who was passionate about fashion, make-up, music, boys and having fun with her chums.
It launched in 1964, a boyish Cliff Richard twinkling from the cover, and its trademark dreamy love stories, pop-star pictures and, of course, advice were there from the outset. For those struggling to find a boyfriend, that first issue recommended: ‘Get with a swish hairdo and a snazzy dress, slosh on lots of perfume and go where the boys are.’ Sorted!
Donny, David Cassidy and Marc Bolan
As a schoolgirl in the Seventies, I can remember being so desperate to read my copy after picking it up on Thursday from the newsagent’s that I didn’t get out of my mum’s car until I’d finished it from cover to cover. For a country girl like me, from the tiny village of Dairsie in Fife, it seemed like the ultimate in grown-up sophistication.
My bedroom wall, like that of every teenage girl at the time, was covered with centrefolds of Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson and David Cassidy, moving on to Marc Bolan and David Bowie (the latter to my mother’s horror).
The free gifts were memorable too – most fabulously a red ‘love heart’ brooch. You wore the brooch open if you were single, and closed if you had a boyfriend. Every girl at school had one.
The fashion was what I turned to first – illustrated with pictures of girls with giant eyes, big hair and impossibly long legs ending in voluminous flares and platforms.
I was reprimanded by the dour, kilt-wearing, bearded art teacher at school for doodlings inspired by those fashion pages, when I should have been concentrating on the traditional still life of loaf of bread, Mateus Rosé bottle and fruit.
The idea of actually being the fashion editor of the magazine was frankly unimaginable. It would be the dream job to end all dreams.
Reader, it was me.
Victorian petticoats and dungarees
The journey there was unexpected, to say the least. Careers advice at school had come up with nothing for me. It was my dad who saw an advert in The Courier for a trainee journalist. My mum drove me to the publisher DC Thomson in Dundee for an interview and, after completing an English test, I got the job – on the fiction desk. I was just 16. It was marvellous in one way, but the work was very boring for someone of my age.
Tantalisingly, along the corridor were Jackie’s offices. Back then I was given to wearing ‘way-out’ clothes – usually made, knitted or customised by me. Victorian petticoats, dungarees, brightly coloured Peruvian knitwear, stripy socks with toes, ponchos made from rugs, elbow-length fingerless gloves that I knitted. Topping it all was a mass of dark, curly hair that I’d teased into almost Afro status.
Not quite The Courier: curtains twitched in sleepy Dairsie when I caught the bus to Dundee.
It was only a matter of time before I inveigled my way down the corridor and was offered an assistant’s job on Jackie.
‘Thrilled’ doesn’t come close. I was so excited and slightly terrified at being offered the job. I felt very young and naive; those who worked there seemed so sophisticated and worldly.
I met David Essex
Most of the staff were barely above the age of the readers. Many started as I did, straight from school, often having left home for the first time. It was a great place to work – all the staff were characters. We had a reunion recently and I was struck at how Jackie girls seem to stay young for ever.
I was pulled into everything, even modelling for the cover, either in my own clothes or knits made to patterns by a talented designer called Alan Dart (still creating fantastic pieces to this day). I showed these covers to my five-year-old granddaughter, Layla, recently. She asked, ‘Was that a magazine about you?’ ‘No.’ I replied, ‘it was about every girl in the land.’
There were just two phones in the office – one on the editor’s desk, and one in a cubicle. You were allowed to make calls only after 2pm as it was cheaper, and that via a switchboard. If the operator thought you were on a personal call, she’d cut you off.
There were so many high points. Along with my flatmate – the features editor – I even got to meet David Essex, with whom I was madly in love. Sadly I was too shy to do anything but smile.
Cathy and Claire
Thousands of readers wrote to the magazine each week, most of all to its legendary problem page, Cathy and Claire. I’m sorry to disillusion you, but neither Cathy nor Claire existed: replies were written by members of staff. However, every single letter was answered. Former editor Nina Myskow (now a regular contributor to Saga Magazine) described Jackie as a ‘big sister’ helping girls on that often-rough journey to womanhood. And help it did, with problems ranging from ‘my best friend is prettier than me’ to sex advice to girls being offered, for the first time, in 1974, the pill free on the NHS regardless of age or marital status.
Girls were growing up in a time of huge change and liberation, but with mothers steeped in Fifties mores. Someone needed to give us a few facts about life before it hit us for real. And our brothers and boyfriends too, who were secret readers – Vic Reeves won a Jackie competition after entering a drawing of Marc Bolan under his sister’s name.
He wasn’t the only future celebrity the magazine touched: Fiona Bruce, Hugh Grant, Nick Clegg and George Michael all appeared in the ‘photo love stories’ as teens.
Fans of Jackie magazine on Facebook
As editorial assistant I helped the fashion and beauty editors, and when the fashion editor left, about a year after I arrived, my clothes and my enthusiasm did the trick and I was promoted to her job. This meant that, once a month, I went to London on the sleeper train to meet press officers, choose clothes and brief the fashion illustrators, including the fantastic Jil Shipley.
There was a roster of illustrators, but Jil’s were the most loved and the most iconic. Former readers talk about them with affection on the ‘Fans of Jackie magazine’ page on Facebook, and they influenced how we looked and what we wore for the best part of a decade.
Jil was petite with long blonde hair, and terrifyingly cool to this country bumpkin. But between us we dreamt up ideas and she always understood what I was talking about – the drawings always came back better than I ever imagined.
Fashion icon Kate Moss
I tracked her down recently. Now in her seventies and living near Cambridge, Jil is super-stylish with a penchant for rock chic. Kate Moss is her fashion icon, All Saints her best-loved shopping destination. We chatted about her time at the Royal College of Art. She had studied alongside such Sixties luminaries as Ossie Clarke. Mick Jagger would drop in for lunch with the students. Other friends included Jimi Hendrix and Marc Bolan. I had known none of this when we first met, and would have been speechless if I had.
‘At the time,’ Jil recalled, ‘I found it funny to see girls in the street who looked like my drawings for Jackie, and to realise that they’d copied them. My work was anonymous in the magazine, so no one knew who I was.
I didn’t think the illustrations were very good. I always seemed to be doing them in a rush and thought they could have been better.’
We agreed that the magazine – which closed in 1993 after intense competition from more modern titles such as Just Seventeen – was a precious thing.
‘Jackie seemed very moral and straightforward,’ Jil said. ‘It stopped girls growing up too fast. It’s a shame that things have changed so much. It was a lovely naive time. Today I think the emphasis is too much on being thin.’
She is right. Nowadays, despite protest from many quarters, pictures of celebrities or models are airbrushed to perfection. Celebrities have the money to spend on the top surgeons, dieticians and personal trainers to achieve their flawless, ageless faces and figures. Teenage girls and, more frighteningly, pre-teenagers want to emulate them and are under huge pressure because of this.
In Jackie we were looking at drawings. They might have been impossibly tall and slim with ridiculously long legs and huge eyes, but we knew they were a fantasy; no one was under any illusion we could look like that.
Eventually, Jackie had to switch from fashion illustrations, which had begun to appear dated, to shoots on models. The first of these was in 1977, and they became a regular feature in the Eighties.
And what of the original artwork? Is it all sitting in a vault at the offices of DC Thomson? Might there be a chance of an exhibition of Jil’s work at some point? Regrettably, the illustrations have vanished. I shall be keeping an eye out at car boot sales, just in case any of the original artwork surfaces somewhere. But, alas, I fear that, like the magazine, and those sweet, uncomplicated times, it has gone for ever.