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That's why the Lady needs a revamp

By Georgina Pattinson
Today programme

Front cover 6 June 1889
Britain's longest-established women's weekly is getting a makeover

A facelift at the age of 124 is no small matter, but one grande dame of publishing is getting just that.

The Lady magazine - first published in 1885 - is getting a new lease of life. Its new publisher - the great-grandson of its founder - has decided that The Lady needs to appeal more to the 40-45 year old woman with wider interests and opinions.

But the magazine is redolent of the past. The advertisements from the Lady in 1953 ("Urgently required: good general maid"; "Young governess required mid-June" and "Wanted for boy's house, Eton College, pantry-maid") don't look so different from 2009.

Interspersed with offers of holiday homes and home-made chutney, the current issue carries pleas for domestic help which could have come from the 1950s.

From the prosaic ("Live-in carer wanted") to the grand ("Couple for large estate" "Excellent cook required at manor house in Gloucestershire & W11 London") to the downright intriguing: "Housekeeper needed for job in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Must be able to organise and prepare for large banquets", The Lady is still the place for the moneyed - and titled - to recruit staff.

Christmas front cover of The Lady (vintage)
In a survey, the magazine discovered its readers were aged about 78

Gentility is still its currency. The publicity material refers to the magazine as "she" and letters from correspondents are signed "Miss" and "Mrs".

Now, though, it will straddle the 19th and the 21st Century, publisher Ben Budworth explains.

"We are at pains to keep the magazine open for those who want to advertise for a butler," he says.

"But we now have columns for those made redundant, those over the age of 45, forced out of work. There's a good degree of ageism going on and we're keen to champion those people."

There will also be what he calls a 'yummy mummy' column, for those who are thinking about returning to work in jobs like PR, design or one of the professions. And opportunities for cottage industries, like jewellery makers, to advertise their wares.

In its new incarnation, the magazine will even have a website which will, promises Mr Budworth, be "all-singing, all-dancing".

No vulgarity

Established in 1885, The Lady has been published weekly ever since. Its continuity extends even to its offices in Bedford Street, occupied by the magazine since 1891.

It was set up "to deal with the many subjects in which Ladies are interested, in a manner at once fully and completely, yet not tiresome: to provide information without dullness and entertainment without vulgarity..."

Advertisements from The Lady 1953
Attitudes pertaining to The Lady and its clientele do exist in certain pockets
Marie-Helene Ferguson

Providing entertainment without vulgarity is still the magazine's mission for its 30,000 subscribers. The vicissitudes of hen keeping, rather than rock chicks, worry readers.

And thank goodness for that, says Marie-Helene Ferguson, founder of the London School of Etiquette.

"I think it's quite refreshing and is an oasis - as a woman you can feel pressured with magazines, so I don't read them anymore. It's 'Gucci this week, Prada the next' - you end up feeling inadequate."

The Lady, she says, could challenge its upper-middle class readers a little more. "But there is a place for frippery. To have a place that's not handbags and sex is nice."

The magazine may have come a long way from the days when it was priced sixpence a copy. It epitomised an era when - under editor Nora Heald - regular contributors included Stella Gibbons, author of Cold Comfort Farm, and the waspish chronicler of social mores, Nancy Mitford.

Old-fashioned?

Do the women who used to read The Lady still exist? They do, says Ms Ferguson. Caps are still doffed in Britain, even if they are occasionally doffed metaphorically.

"I am in Norfolk where the example of feudal Britain is alive and well," she says. "There's a distinction between the classes which is much more marked than in London - it is much more meritocratic and democratic in London.

"Attitudes pertaining to The Lady and its clientele do exist in certain pockets."

She is not alone in trusting the magazine to find a nanny. Jean Broke-Smith, former principal of the Lucie Clayton school, remembers it fondly and says it represents a slice of the British character that will never disappear.

"I've just seen one of those old-fashioned prams, like something from Mary Poppins, with an old- fashioned nanny and I thought 'wow - perhaps it's still happening'," she says.

"I still think it's nice we haven't lost that little of British style - some of the past."




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