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Monday, 30 August 2010

Yesterday's Papers - David Whitehead interview

Intro issue one
Recently I wrote about an old magazine called, The Western as part of our Yesterday's Papers series. I had only come across the magazine by chance on eBay and had not previously been aware of it. Anyway I discovered that only four issues had been published and by coincidence I found a lot of all four issues on eBay and so I promptly placed a maximum bid of £15 and, such was my desire for these magazines, I would have gone higher but there were no other bidders and I got the lot for 99p - bargain.

Now as I said in the previous post on the subject I wasn't aware of the magazine back in the day, which I can't figure out - since I was sixteen at the time and most certainly would have bought it had I seen it. The only thing I can think is that the distribution was not that good and it didn't find its way out to the backwood where I lived. However I did discover that David Whitehead, fellow Black Horse author and friend of the Archive was involved, as was Mike Stotter which is another name well known to westerns followers, particularly those fans of the British westerns of the 70's and 80's.

"Western Magazine grew out of the original George G Gilman Appreciation Society. I started that and ran it for the first year, producing three issues of the magazine "Steele Edge" and the "Steele Edge Annual 1977". Mike Stotter took over the running of the club after that and I remained involved, albeit to a lesser extent," David Whitehead points out, "During this time, Mike and I got to know the Piccadilly Cowboys pretty well and one of them (I forget which one) suggested we ought to try and take the idea of a western magazine further. We thought that was a pretty good idea so we cobbled together a proposal and sent it to IPC Magazines. We didn't hear anything for quite a while, and then right out of the blue we were summoned to King's Reach Tower, where they had their offices."

King's Reach Towers - now that's a familiar address to anyone who read comic books during the 70's and 80's - of course it was not really a building at all but 2000AD editor Tharg's spaceship using a cloaking device, but that didn't deter David and Mike. A man's got to do what a man's got to do, and all that.

"As I recall, we saw the head honcho in a top-floor office. I remember it was a massive office, men in suits standing around as if the guy behind the desk was a Mafia kingpin, and Mike and I nervously pitched our idea. At the end of it they said they agreed -- it was a great idea and they were going to go with it. It's strange, we were told. We never take ideas from outsiders, and yet yours is the second one we've taken in as many weeks.The other one was from someone who'd suggested a skateboarding magazine" David continues, "Next came the sticky problem of just how much they were going to pay us for the idea. The figure of £50 was mentioned, which was a bit of a disappointment. Mike sought advice from (I think) Laurence James, who confirmed that £50 was an insult. He rang IPC and told them that if they didn't make a realistic offer, he and the other PCs would withdraw their support for the project. IPC came back with a revised offer ... of £600!"


The Piccadilly Cowboys are well represented in each issue - there are short stories from George G. Gilman,  James A. Muir, Neil Hunter ,John B Harvey and J. T. Edson, but it wasn't all the brits and issue 1 even boasted fiction from the legendary Louis L'amour.

The resulting magazine was indeed excellent - a dream for western fans and it is such a pity it didn't survive longer. The four issues I've collected form the entire run and they'll take pride of place in my collection. Each issue contains some brilliant well researched articles. In fact David Whitehead's article looking at the beginnings of western fiction with the dime novels, which appeared in the first issue, is a great read. But then so too are all the other articles - they all share a clear, concise writing style and are deeply researched.
the artwork was exceptional

"The development of the magazine was given to an IPC staffer named Dennis Winston. He and his assistant, Willie Shrimpton, grasped the concept at once. Mike and I were engaged as consultants and basically we came up with ideas for articles and suggestions for the kind of fiction western readers would want to see," David Whitehead recalls. "I remember that at the time I'd just read a stand-out Louis Masterson MORGAN KANE book called KILLER KANE, and learned shortly thereafter that Corgi Books wasn't going to issue any more. Bitterly disappointed, I suggested that Dennis could do worse than run a Morgan Kane short story. To my delight he contacted Masterson's Norwegian  publisher, Bladkompaniet, got a story called "The Gunfighter", and had it translated into English. It appeared in the magazine as 'Wind of Death' I think (Wind of Death did indeed appear in issue 2. Tainted Archive). That was the kind of clout Mike and I wielded at the time!"

So David and Mike now found themselves big players in British western circles.

"The magazine was a long time in development, but when it was finally launched in November 1980 IPC ran a couple  of TV adverts during World of Sport and held a launch party at Frontier City, a fake western town out in Hungerford. They ferried everyone from London to West Berkshire by coach, and as the coach approached its destination it was attacked by Indians on horseback, firing sucker-tipped arrows!" Recalls David Whitehead. "I can't remember why, but my girlfriend (now wife) Janet and I had to make our own way there by train, and when we arrived at the station and checked the map that had come with our invitation, we realised that it was hopelessly inaccurate. It made Frontier City look as if it was right next door. In fact, it was about two or three miles outside of town. We went into the local police station to get directions and then set off on foot. A moment later we heard a car horn. When we turned around, there was a policeman in a police car. 'You're going the wrong way,' he said. And then: 'Come on, get in.' So Janet and I really arrived in style, in the back of a patrol car. Frontier City was fabulous. I remember pushing through the batwing doors of the saloon and weaving between tables and saloon girls to reach the bar. The bartender asked us to name our poison. Clint Eastwood-style I replied: 'Two Pepsis, please.' "

Sounds like a wonderful evening - of course back then The Archive would have been tucked up in bed back in South Wales - I was only just fifteen you know!

"That evening the magazine's financial director sought out Mike and I and gave us each an envelope. When we opened them, we found letters thanking us for our hard work ... and cheques for an additional £400 'because we'd like to make your fee up to £1000.' What a far cry from the original £50!! That night I also met B J Holmes for the one and only time, and yet we really clicked and are still firm friends today."

With such a high profile launch it would suggest that the magazine was expected to do well, so it must have come as a shock when the title was folded after just four monthly issues.

"  I'm still not entirely sure why. It was either some kind of tax write-off or a casualty of a recent NUJ strike. I think it could have run forever. It still looks pretty impressive, even all these years later."

And so to finish I ask David if he can remember anything particularly well from those days?

 "There is one postscript I can add. I went up to Melton Mowbray to have lunch with J T Edson at the infamous White Lion, and J T confided that he was considering financing a similar magazine. His secretary wanted to call it HEAD WEST, the HEAD part being a play on the ED part of Edson, but J T had his doubts. Later, when J T came down to London to appear on an Esther Rantzen chat show, we met again at the offices of IPC to discuss the project further. Sadly it never came to pass."

Check out David's own website HERE



Steve M said...

My copies of these are a little tatty now, having been read many times over since I bought them off the shelves all those years ago.

Really was a damn shame it didn't last longer than four issues.

Malcolm said...

Excellent post, Gary. I’d almost forgotten about the magazine. I have the first three issues in mint condition in storage. Looks like I’ll have to dig them out and read them again. Thanks for the memories.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Pleased you have followed up on this one, Gary. Dave has told the story elsewhere, but it deserves new and wider circulation.