Anthony Howard and the old New Statesman

Anthony Howard

I just came across Anthony Howard on Wikipedia. He was the editor of the New Statesman when I used to look forward to every issue of the weekly.

Just out of high school, reading English as an undergrad, I had a thing about newspapers and magazines back then. Shakespeare and Wordsworth were all very grand but, to keep up with the language, one had to read new books and periodicals too. And top of the pops for me were the New Statesman and Time.

The two were hardly peas in a pod. The New Statesman supported the Labour Party and Time was an American icon. But both were eminently readable, and that’s all that mattered to me – good writing, which they had on every page.


There was no internet then. I am talking of the 1970s. We had to kill trees to read and write. Every book and newspaper rolled off a printing press.

I still remember the bookstall where I used to get my copy of the New Statesman. It was a hole-in-the-wall – bookcases fixed to the wall and a wooden counter piled with books and magazines set on the pavement.

The New Statesman cost a little less than Time, but it wasn’t dirt-cheap – one could buy an International Students Edition of a Penguin paperback for about the same price.

How did I discover the New Statesman? It wasn’t an international news weekly like Time. I first saw it in a friend’s relative’s house – old copies of the magazine dating back to the late 1940s and 1950s, when it was edited by Kingsley Martin. Next, I saw it at the British Council library, where I could also read the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, and The Times.

The New Statesman then

The New Statesman wasn’t much to look at – mostly text, with few pictures, on newsprint. But the writing! I loved the humorous column by Arthur Marshall. And enjoyed reading the clever entries in the literary competitions. I still remember the name of a frequent competitor and prizewinner: Stanley Sharpless. Here’s one of his witty prizewinners preserved on the net:

Prince Hamlet thought Uncle a traitor
For having it off with his Mater;
Revenge Dad or not?
That’s the gist of the plot,
And he did – nine soliloquies later.

There was also a funny little column reprinting howlers – grammatical errors, misuse of words – from other newspapers and magazines.

The New Statesman counted its readers in the tens of thousands, not in the millions like Time. The readership was small but the talent humongous. Anthony Howard, who was editor from 1972 to 1978, hired good writers. When he died on December 19, 2010, at the age of 76, the Guardian noted in his obituary:

“His editorship, lasting six years, was acclaimed – albeit more in retrospect than at the time – as a golden age. He recruited an extraordinary array of young talent, including Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Julian Barnes, James Fenton and Patrick Wintour.”

The New Statesman changed after Howard left. His successor, the Australian Bruce Page, who was editor from 1978 to 1982, laid emphasis on investigative journalism. The arts and culture coverage remained as good as ever, but the investigative stories were written in a manner and touched on subjects that didn’t interest me. I stopped buying the magazine.

The New Statesman changed under Bruce Page because “circulation fell like a stone” under Anthony Howard, said Godfrey Hodgson, who had been associate editor under Page. In a letter to the Independent, he wrote: “Right or wrong, Bruce’s conception was that the commercial prospects were limited for a magazine offering 1,200-word essays, however talented their writers.”

So the market was already changing then. Now, of course, journalism is a whole new – not very lucrative – ball game.

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