Magazines, Notebook

Spoilt for choice – London’s listings mags in the early 1980s

Notebook: 12 May 2016 | MAGAZINES


Just had a sort out in the studio and I’ve come across some old copies of the long defunct London listing’s magazines City Limits and, the much shorter lived, Event. The history behind them goes something like this…

For a few crazy weeks in 1981, Londoners and visitors to the capital, had the pick of three different weekly listings mags that all vied for their attention with striking cover designs. There was Time Out of course, which had been going since 1968 and is still going strong today. The design was by the brilliant Pearce Marchbank who in 1971 established the classic identity – easy-to-read listings using the Franklin Gothic font family, and witty ‘ideas’ covers that ‘became an essential part of London life‘.

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Up until 1981 Time Out had been run as a co-operative by its founder and owner Tony Elliot but his decision to abandon the co-operative principles sparked a strike by journalists and the magazine temporarily ceased publication. The striking journalists went on to set up their own London listings magazine – the much more radical and left-wing City Limits. The bold Russian Constructivist influenced cover designs were by David King (who had been art editor at The Sunday Times magazine from 1965-1975).

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It was during the Time Out strike that Virgin’s Richard Branson who, spotting a business opportunity, decided to launch his own London listings magazine called Event. He approached Time Out‘s Pearce Marchbank to set-up, design and co-edit the new publication which was one of the first magazines to make use of ‘direct input’ – journalists would key in and ‘typeset’ the copy themselves rather than it being copy typed and input by a type compositor. The design of Event was naturally not too dissimilar to Time Out and bore all of Marchbank’s deft touches including making use of his favourite Franklin Gothic font.

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With Time Out‘s striking journalists now working at City Limits, Tony Elliot re-staffed the magazine and Time Out was soon back on the newstands and for whatever reason, Virgin decided to abandon their foray into publishing and canned Event magazine after just a few months of publication. Within a year, Marchbank was back at Time Out. City Limits had a much longer shelf life and it carried on for another 12 years until 1993. Designer David King left in ’83 and was replaced by Neville Brody who I believe designed the two striking City Limits covers that I’ve hung on to for all this time and which are shown below.

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You can read more about Pearce Marchbank and Time Out in this Eye magazine article from 2002 and more about David King in an Eye interview from 2003. Since leaving Time Out Marchbank has been involved in many different projects including, more recently, the design for the Paralympic stamps for the London 2102 games. I still have a copy of the brilliant Pulp! newspaper – a one-off publication celebrating trees – that Pearce Marchbank designed in 1989 for Common Ground, the environmental charity. The cover and some layouts (including a terrific illustration by Adrian George) are shown below.

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