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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 12:54 GMT
How to keep it up, even into your 30s
Cosmopolitan - the magazine that helped to liberate a generation of women - is celebrating, writes BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas.

Cosmopolitan's British edition is 30 and its founder - the legendary American writer Helen Gurley Brown, in London for the birthday party - is 80.

Neither is showing her age. Both have used every available technique to fend off the signs of the passing years.

Cast of Sex and the City
Sex and the City: Early inspiration?
Cosmo was launched in America to capitalise on the phenomenal success of Gurley Brown's 60s bestseller Sex and the Single Girl - the Sex and the City of its day - and the phenomenon hit Britain in February 1972.

The first issue cost 20p and included an interview with Michael Parkinson about his vasectomy, a picture of Burt Reynolds naked, a revolutionary diet, and Jilly Cooper rating famous men in bed including David Niven, Dudley Moore and Robert Maxwell.

The first male centrefold appeared in April 1972, featuring Paul de Feu, the then husband of Germaine Greer. Later, there were pioneering features on abortion, oral sex and AIDS.

Big hit

It was a hit from the start thanks partly to a brilliant marketing campaign - the first issue sold out its 350,000 copies by lunchtime, and despite an increased print run of 450,000 the second issue sold in two days.

Huge hype in the press and a stunning blonde on a scarlet cover were backed by a daring TV commercial created by an up and coming advertising agency called Saatchi & Saatchi.

Richard Burton, having received OBE at Buckingham Palace
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1970
Cosmo has never been just about sex - though you could have been forgiven for not knowing it - and the ad showed a suitably attractive man asking an equally attractive girl: "Where did you learn to cook like that?"

Her answer: "Cosmopolitan, page 82".

Other questions followed, producing similar answers, until finally you saw them in bed. The obvious inquiry was unspoken, signalled merely by a look, to be met with the inevitable answer: "Cosmopolitan, page 112."


Cosmo's success over the years - beating off all-comers as Britain's biggest-selling young women's monthly - has stemmed as much from its marketing as from its content, and in particular its witty and irresistible cover lines.

"23 Ways To Kiss A Man So That He's Yours for Life (or Long Enough)" was one.

One former editor, Deirdre McSharry, told the Evening Standard there must be four million PhD theses based on Cosmo cover lines.

Read all about it - the 60lb penis!

Early cover line
"There was a bit of a formula - we tried to get the word 'sex' on every cover," she said.

Critics would claim that Cosmo always promised a bit more than it delivered, a belief exemplified by a 1991 cover line "Read all about it - the 60lb penis".

The then editor Marcelle d'Argy Smith confessed "In fact, it was something I'd got from some nature magazine about a sperm whale. I had readers ringing in furiously to complain."


Gradually the cover lines have got more explicit, sometimes provoking problems with newsagents, supermarkets and poster companies, who had to display the magazine.

Years ago London Transport insisted the word "frigid" be blacked out. Cosmo legend has it that the strip they used to cover it was too short, leaving some posters proclaiming "I was f----d!"

Michael Parkinson: Launch revelations
But there really was - and is - much more to Cosmo than sex. The writer Joan Smith, an unashamed Cosmo girl in the 70s, recalls fiction by HE Bates, poetry by Cesare Pavese, advice on how to buy a house, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor discussing their stormy marriage and Derek Malcolm reviewing a new film called A Clockwork Orange.

The point of Cosmo was that women could and should have it all - great sex, great job, great body, great life - and, 30 years on, that aspiration remains as relevant as ever.

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