Outrageous innocence was fab, spots and all

16th January 2004 at 00:00
The past really is another country. Teaching media to a mainly teenage client group, I tend to be pretty clued up on what's in and what's out.

Being clued up, however, is no protection against the shock of realising that a whole swath of my past has suddenly been consigned to history. Look under 1970s popular culture for Jackie magazine. The recent commemoration in print and on radio of the launch of Jackie in 1964 has promoted the teenage weekly into the realms of historical artefact.

Throughout the 70s, when Jackie was in its heyday and selling more than a million copies a week, I was half of Cathy and Claire, the magazine's problem page agony aunts. My partner in crime Dorothy and I trawled through the sacks of letters and replied to the 500 or so a week who had enclosed the required SAE. We used a selection on the page - the ones that were fit to print, given the strict editorial policy at the time.

On the page, the letters dealt with how to let a boy know you fancy him, or spots, or how to survive losing the love of your life (from Samantha, 12).

Off the page, we offered personal replies to letters which were frequently darker; anorexia, bulimia, family disputes and abuse.

We had leaflets to give out on everything from how to kiss a boy to leaving home for the first time. We had fact sheets on sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, and we gave out information on specialist agencies to encourage the writer to seek further help.

Mostly, I suspect that just setting all that angst down on a sheet torn from a geography jotter and popping it in the postbox helped the writer more than anything Cathy and Claire could say.

We took ourselves seriously. We were a magazine, for goodness sake. If sometimes our readers wrote to Cathy and Claire and said how much they loved "the comic", we were pretty miffed. Jackie tried to be responsible. A feature on diets would be balanced by one on healthy eating and fitness.

Despite the fixation on boys, pop groups and make-up, the staff were a feisty bunch and at least some of that leaked into the magazine. There was frequently a subtext of independence, of having the world at your feet and knowing happiness didn't depend on whether you were linked into a fella or not.

The mix of fashion, fun, beauty and pop was a phenomenal success, and an unruly offspring for DC Thomson. Jackie was their Kevin, alien and terribly, terribly scary. Thomson was a paternalistic firm where tradition and moderation ruled: we were directed by a fixed notice on the telephone to "speak softly and say 'yes please'", pay packets were given to you personally by the pay-boy and you could set your watch by the tea trolley.

Against that backdrop, being outrageous was easy.

Jackie Bird, the pop editor, caused a stir at the Jackie party by wearing a man's dinner suit, complete with bow tie, instead of a pretty girly mini.

Was the weekly paper just wholesome fun? Or did it in some way offer its readers a false, idealised image of teenage life, giving them a tantalising peep at a world from which they were mostly excluded? Did it in fact create half the problems we then had to fix on the problem page?

In our innocence, we never bothered to ask. It was another country and it was fab. And if you wrote to Cathy and Claire in the 70s, chances are you've had a letter from me. I hope your spots are a lot better now.

Dr Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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