1980s >> 1987 >> no-1000-december-1987

Gels in pearls and all that

What have Jenny Greene, Marcus Binney, Michael Clayton, Deirdre McSharn and Sally O’Sullivan in common? You probably have never heard of any of them. They are rivals of the ten million pound advertising revenue on offer for the increasing number of “Country” magazines on sale. Interest in the countryside is booming and 500,000 copies are sold each month.

Of course, the type of country life featured is selective. Small farmers, working hard to feed their families as well as paying off their mortgages and various hire purchase commitments don’t feature much on their pages. Although occasional genuflections are made in the direction of conservation, the main preoccupation of the well established Country Homes, Horse and Hound and Country Life, as well as the newcomers Country Living and Landscape is the homes and lifestyles of the affluent owners of country mansions.

“You have to be be of a certain class to get in [the magazine]” says Jenny Greene of Country Life. “There’s always been a joke that no-one who lives at a numbered house is ever featured.” Of course, mistakes do happen. Once the magazine printed an engagement portrait of “the lovely Honora Lineham of Mendip House, Woodberry Down”. It just so happened that the lady’s name was Noreen, her mother did household cleaning and Mendip House is a council block of flats in North London. Still, Noreen was wearing pearls.

Who are the 500,000 purchasers of these magazines? They certainly are not members of the executive country set—there aren’t half a million of them around! Then who are they, apart from patients reading back numbers in doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms? Again, Greene ” . . . would think the magazine is a great badge for people in the suburbs. It’s got the tremendous glamour of top people about it”. Your “point to point” may be negotiating a trolley round the local supermarket but for £1.20 an issue you can impress your friends and let your imagination go into overdrive.

Of course, this type of vicarious living is not confined to visions of how others live “graciously” in the country. Women buy glossy magazines which may carry less romantic fiction than some years ago but instead talk of dresses costing hundreds of pounds, “beauty” improvements costing thousands and recipes calling for the use of game, fresh river trout and smoked salmon. Magazines for men peddle a dream world which is different in substance but not degree. The owner of a second-hand Vespa reads about motorbikes of thousands cc, costing the related thousands of pounds, while the often unhealthy under-exercised office worker reads about body-building contests. The sex situation is so frequently covered elsewhere that it does not need more than a mention.

Why are those purveyors of fantasies so successful? Soap operas like EastEnders and Coronation Street present a world in which “ordinary” people are supposed to be able to see a reflection of their own lives. These glossies want the same people to imagine they could inhabit the world of the wealthy minority.

Eva Goodman