• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

The return of Jackie magazine...as a musical

at its height in the 1970s, Jackie, a magazine put together by a small team in Dundee and pitched at the relatively small target market of teenage girls, was selling a million copies a week.

If you were a girl any time between the 1960s and 1980s, you will no doubt remember its Thursday morning arrival, bumping through the letter box onto the mat, on newsagent shelves, or pored over in playgrounds.

Nina Myskow who edited the magazine in the 1970s, notes that back then "it was important to have your own Jackie", not just borrow a friend's. "It was yours," she says. "That was what made it special to you."

Jackie, it seems, captured the teenage hearts of millions of women now in their middle age. The children's author Jacqueline Wilson wrote for it and notes that, whenever she is doing a talk and mentions Jackie, she sees all the mums in the audience look at each other and then, more often than not, the words "Cathy and Claire" , the names of the magazine's big sisterly agony aunts, are murmured. Myskow talks of fortysomething professional women running up to her and squealing and trying to prise Jackie books out of her hands.

It's this kind of depth of feeling that Jackie: The Musical, a production about to open at the Gardyne Theatre in Dundee, hopes to exploit. Writer Mike James notes that he and producer Alan Dear had been "toying with the Jackie idea for quite a few years" and saw an opportunity with the magazine's 50th anniversary coming up next year. From the start the storyline had been clear. Jackie would be a fiftysomething divorcee, back on the romantic market, using the advice found in the problem pages of her once-beloved Jackie to guide her. At a low point, she would stumble across a stash of old mags in a box, and up would pop "young Jackie" to counsel her. There would be plenty of music, and some wild 1970s fashion, but this would be no simple juke-box production. There would be real feeling and drama to the show.

Director Geinor Styles, a 44 year old one-time Jackie reader, fell in love with the idea, and the notion of Jackie as a modern-day advisor in this complicated romantic world. "Some things," she says, "don't change. That feeling that you get of having a crush on someone, if you're 16 or if you're 68, it's exactly the same. That never ages you really."

Are the team right to believe there is a rich seam of Jackie-love to be mined? Myskow notes that in recent years she has encountered an "incredible amount of nostalgia" for the magazine. "Every woman that I've encountered in her early fifties, who would have been in her early teens in the 1970s, is extremely nostalgic about that whole era. "Partly this is because, as Myskow points out, "the teens are an important time in anyone's life". But also because, she believes, "Jackie brought colour to a black and white world", reaching out to teenagers who were otherwise very disconnected.

"The Jackie teenager," she says, "would not have had a phone never mind an iPhone, would not have had social networking, would have not have had a television of her own. If she was lucky she would have had a transistor radio through which she would listen to Radio Luxembourg, probably under the bed covers in the night."

Jackie also arrived in an era when suddenly adolescence was being acknowledged. "Before that era there were children and grown ups," says Myskow. "Jackie was part of that recognition that this was an entire group of young people who were not children and who weren't adults, but who wanted to have their own thing."

This nostalgia for Jackie is also for a lost world of romance. Jackie was about boyfriends rather than about sex; about finding the right guy and pursuing him, but also not breaking the rules and loyalties of friendship in the process.

For director Geinor Styles, its moral tone was part of its appeal. This is something many former Jackie contributors acknowledge. "It's rather quaint," says Jacqueline Wilson, "that if you look at Jackie's early problem pages the tone was always very moral. Maybe I'm just an old fuddy duddy but I rather like that approach."

One only has to open a few pages of Jackie, as I did, looking through the archives at publisher DC Thomson last week, to be thrown back into the period and its values.

Even just a few of the taglines from the stories are enough to conjure up a whole world: "I felt awful about deceiving Ann, but I was falling more and more in love with Jeff and I didn't want to stop seeing him."

Or: "I just wish I knew what was going on. Whatever it is I bet that Julia's behind it all. She's tried to make trouble for Lucy and me ever since she came to this school."

The problem pages were populated with concerns about being too shy to ask a boy out, or having boyfriends that were disapproved of by parents, either because they were too old, too badly behaved, or, in one case, worked as a window cleaner. As Geinor Styles points out, often Cathy and Claire were quick to support the parents. A typical line might be, "We can't help feeling that your parents do have a fair point here." Or, "Whatever age you are, it's always a good idea to have one or both parents around when you're throwing your first big party."

The Jackie of my own era, the early 1980s was, I like to think, like one big problem page, endlessly working through the dilemmas of teenage life. Readers' real experiences explored what it was like to have a crush on your teacher or go out with an older boy who drank alcohol. Thought bubbles taught us what might be going on inside the heads of other girls, and perhaps also our own. Myskow notes that the management was "very much old school, paternalistic, reactionary, careful to look after their young readers".

Certain subjects were off-limits, especially in the early days, sex being the main one.

Myskow says: "I always felt very frustrated about the fact that we did get some letters that we couldn't reply to in the magazine. Although we did reply to them personally. You always got a reply."

Progressively, throughout the 1980s, more risky subjects started to appear. One article asked, "Are you drinking too much?"

Readers' problems included concern about siblings or friends getting involved with drugs like "magic mushrooms, grass and pot". One reader even expressed her worries that she might be pregnant. "Tell your parents," wrote Cathy and Claire. "If it is a false alarm, you won't need us to tell you how very silly you've been. In future, for your own sake, please make sure you don't get yourself into this mess again. "Can laxatives be harmful?" asked another. "I take about 20 every night to help me lose weight."

"What I think is quite incredible," says Wilson, "is that this small team in Dundee were being the trendsetters for the whole of Britain. Teenagers right across the board read it - whatever type of girl or class."

Jackie folded in 1993. Maria Welch, a former deputy editor of the magazine, believes this is part of the reason why there is such nostalgia for Jackie. "I suspect that some of these feelings are because Jackie ceased publication when it was at its most bright and beautiful. A little bit like Sid Vicious or Kurt Cobain it never gets old and tired. You and I remember it when it was exactly what you wanted to read and relevant and current." Could it ever be relaunched? Wilson believes that though the girls of today might enjoy the fashion and pop stories, for them, Jackie wouldn't be enough. "I'd like to think that girls today might want just a little bit more content that wasn't just boy and pop orientated.

"Today's girls have more of a diversity of interest. I think that's what makes life more exciting for girls now, but perhaps more challenging, in that you're not just expected to have a gorgeous boyfriend but you're expected to do brilliantly at school and have some wonderful career plan and to look pretty hot and special too."

Today's teenagers also no longer need Jackie to give them a sense of connected girlhood. There are plenty of social media platforms for that. You can get your problems solved by anonymous peers on ask.fm. They might not be responsible big sisters who tell you to listen to your parents, they may occasionally say very ugly things, but they are today's multiple Cathys and Claires.

Meanwhile, writer of Jackie: The Musical, Mike James believes that part of the warm feeling many of us older women have now for the Jackie days is really just for a more simple time, when we had to deal with less "technological nonsense": a time, he says, "when it was easy to see the wood for the trees."

Either way, clearly nostalgia is there, waiting to be brought to life with song and dance. "There is," notes Wilson, a pining for "those long ago slightly more innocent days." A musical could exploit that. "Many women, I think, will want to go. They'll think, 'I want to revisit that time in my life'." n

Jackie: The Musical is at the Gardyne Theatre, Dundee, from September 19 to October 5

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

181802