Brigid Keenan

How Nova revolutionised women’s magazines

Nova did for magazines what Mary Quant did for clothes

Batsford has just brought out a huge tome on Nova — ‘one of the most influential magazines in history’ — compiled by two of the magazine’s star art directors, David Hillman and Harri Peccinotti. It covers the ten years that the magazine existed, 1965 to 1975, and focuses on the brilliant and groundbreaking layouts it introduced. But somehow it is not quite the Nova that I loved when I went to work there as assistant editor in 1967.

For me, Nova was its editor, Dennis Hackett, who had been brought in to save the failing magazine soon after its launch. I don’t know what genius first thought of putting a tough Yorkshire newspaperman in charge of a women’s magazine but he had already made a name for himself on trendy Queen. These were the happiest years of my professional life. The staff was made up almost equally of men and women. We were easy with each other and driven by a desire to please Dennis and to win his approval — but in a collegial way.

It is almost impossible to explain to an audience who didn’t know what things were like before a revolution how they changed. Maybe it’s easier to say that Nova did for magazines what Mary Quant did for clothes. Women’s magazines in those days were mostly what have been called the knit-your-own-royal-family type, dealing with exclusively female issues in a cosy unchallenging way. But society was changing dramatically — both abortion and homosexuality became legal in 1967 — and Nova tackled these subjects head-on.

Dennis was all about ideas — this could simply mean looking at something in a totally new and unorthodox way. For instance, he was a Catholic and wanted to publish a piece on confession: his idea was that there should be a hole cut in one of the magazine pages through which the priest and the penitent would face each other.

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