Thursday, September 13, 2018

Magazine Memories

As I've mentioned before, I've lately been mildly obsessed with the long defunct Meccano Magazine, scans of the entire run of which has now been posted online.  It's fascinating to see the content of the publication change over time as the popularity of the various hobbies its predominantly young male readership was interested in waxed and waned.  Obviously, as the title implies, Meccano Magazine was primarily interested in promoting the products of Meccano Ltd, which included the eponymous engineering kits, the Dinky Toys range of diecast metal miniature vehicles and Hornby Railways (and later the Hornby Dublo system).  But it also covered all manner of other hobbies, including balsa wood model planes and boats, fishing, air rifles, bicycles and, post war, plastic model kits and slot car racing.  In addition to these hobbies, it was packed full of articles about real life railways, ships, planes and major engineering projects.  Later on, of course, there were lots of articles about space travel.  There's no doubt that, in the pre world war two years Meccano and Hornby's tinplate O gauge railways which dominated the modelling side of the magazine, but post war, the emphasis began to shift toward other hobbies, with lots more on those balsa wood planes, for instance. 

Model railways being my primary reason for looking at these magazines in the first place, it is interesting to note how, as far as Meccano Magazine was concerned, for much of the immediate post war era there was only one 00 gauge model railway system available in the UK: Hornby Dublo.  Rivals such as Trix and Playcraft are never featured and rarely have any adverts in the magazine.  The existence of Triang Railways, Dublo's biggest rival from the mid fifties onwards, is never acknowledged.  Indeed, although Lines Brothers, the owners of the Triang brand, were allowed to advertise their other products - most notable Scalextric - in the magazine, you would never have known that they also produced a hugely popular 00 gauge model railway system.  Reading the model railway related articles from the fifties to the early sixties is to witness the Dublo systems attempts to adapt to the challenges being posed by the unmentioned Triang system, from the new, more detailed locomotives and rolling stock, to the gradual move from three rail to three rail.  But, of course, it was all in vain, with the Meccano empire faltering in the mid sixties, to be bought out by Lines Brothers.  The Dublo system was nominally combined the Triang system under the Triang-Hornby banner. 

Interestingly, there was a long period when model railway coverage was entirely absent from the magazine, reflecting the uncertainty over the future of the Hornby brand.  As soon as the merger was confirmed, though, a whole new slew of articles started appearing, all focusing on the Triang-Hornby range, (which was primarily the Triang range, of course).  To be fair, other brands were now acknowledged, with articles on building white metal locomotive kits and Superquick card building kits, for instance.  As the sixties gave way to the seventies, the model railway articles began to dry up again, presumably reflecting the fact there were now several well established magazines devoted solely to the subject.  Which, increasingly, was the problem for Meccano Magazine - it was too generalised and there were now magazines dedicated in their entirety to individual hobbies, be they model railways, remote control planes or model boats.  Despite attempts to find new hobbies to fill its pages - military modelling and miniature wargames started to feature prominently from the late sixties - Meccano Magazine began to falter and turned back to a focus on Meccano itself before finally folding.

Looking back on these old magazines has been a revelation - not just the articles, but the adverts too.  It really was a different world.  A pre computer and electronic gamers era, when even TV was in its infancy, and craft-based hobbies still reigned supreme.  It was all about creativity and imagination.  I'm not saying that it was better back then, just that it was fascinatingly different.  It seems unthinkable now that young people could get their kicks from building their own radios, for instance, or constructing models of the Eiffel Tower from Meccano.  But, of course, they had few alternatives.  Even model railways have moved on: back then,if you wanted detail, you had to add it yourself.  Nowadays, the models are incredibly detailed straight out of the box.  Mind you, they aren't as robust as those old Dublo and Triang models, nor as cheap.  But that's progress, I suppose.

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