I’m more impressed than most that The Spectator has racked up 10,000 issues, because I used to be a magazine publisher myself and I know just how hard it is. In 1991 I co-founded the Modern Review with Julie Burchill and Cosmo Landesman and appointed myself its first editor. Our motto was ‘Low culture for highbrows’ and we ran long, scholarly essays by intellectuals and academics about popular icons like Madonna. I remember one particularly good piece by David Runciman, now a politics professor at Cambridge, called ‘Wazza mazza wiz Gazza?’ about the footballer Paul Gascoigne. Among the magazine’s more dubious achievements was publishing the first ever article by Will Self. In 1995 it went belly–up after 21 issues.
In some respects, keeping it going for four years was an achievement. The total invested in it over that period was less than £50,000 and each issue was produced on the floor of my flat in Shepherd’s Bush. When WHSmith called to speak to the circulation manager, I used to put them on hold for 30 seconds then come back on with a different voice: ‘Circulation manager here. How can I help?’ At its peak it sold about 30,000 copies and I briefly entertained fantasies of being the next Jann Wenner, who started Rolling Stone on his kitchen table in 1967 and is now worth $700 million. But it all went pear-shaped in the end.
In part, it was a victim of its own success. When the Modern Review launched, the idea of asking a highly intelligent, educated person to write 2,000 words on, say, Terminator 2 was quite unusual. Incidentally, the guy I got to do that was Oliver Morton, who’s just written an acclaimed book about the moon.