For Londoners, there are certain things that you’ve seen all your life. The Mousetrap. The Queen in residence. The traffic on Charing Cross Road. And Time Out.
I bought the very first issue while I was doing a course at Goldsmith’s art college, and stayed with it through every issue. Time Out was the Londoners’ bible; committed, political, radicalised, youthful, energetic, frequently trendsetting, brave and much discussed. You didn’t have to agree with its reviews because they were written by highly experienced professionals like Brian Case, Suzi Feay and Verina Glaessner, and there was much more in it, including the infamous Agitprop section which advocated legitimate protest.
I eventually ended up writing a monthly column for it, back when they covered tons of books and fringe art events. But times changed. After the miners’ strikes and the Poll Tax riots, the Thatcherite era paved the way for self-obsession. The magazine lost its edge and a great many of its readers. Having always been a reflection of the times, it now divorced itself from the increasingly multicultural complexities of the ever-expanding city to concentrate on stars, shopping and sex. It expanded into travel guides and potted versions in most major cities. And the original London version became a thin listings magazine with a couple of very short articles each week and plenty of fashion photos.
New York’s version was worse, its reviewers using their slots for snippier-than-thou displays of parochial, self-indulgent sarcasm. Dubai’s edition seemingly contained nothing but restaurant reviews. It wasn’t Time Out’s fault; the world had changed around it. It had set out to be a youth magazine, but the city’s median age rose and the readership got older, so tourists were targeted. But online listings became portable and faster to react, making printed listings anachronistic.
But now that the young have been betrayed and abandoned to the vicissitudes of market forces, London needs the old tougher Time Out back. There is no longer any equivalent available in the capital. It would have a unique selling point, for a start.
I miss the old magazine. Time Out’s heart is in the right place, but there are more specialised websites that do the same job. I still buy it every week, but I wish it would recover the things it abandoned in the rush to look like every other star-and-shop obsessed magazine fighting for space on the shrinking shelves.