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RIP Tony Elliott

Started by Taman Tun, July 21, 2020, 07:40:10 PM

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Taman Tun

This obit from The Times.  I was an avid reader of Time Out when I moved to London for my first job on a princely salary of GBP 1,020 a year.

In 1968 Tony Elliott was a student reading French and history at Keele University when a well-heeled aunt gave him £75 (about £1,100 in today's money) for his 21st birthday.

He was due to spend the final year of his course on an exchange programme in France and the cash might have funded a bacchanal in the clubs and cafés of Paris's Latin Quarter. Instead, Elliott decided to abandon his studies and use the money to start a magazine.

The first issue was put together on his mother's kitchen table and was going to be called Where It's At until a last- minute change to Time Out, after a classic jazz album by Dave Brubeck. It was initially a one-sheet pamphlet that folded out to give detailed information on where to go and what to do in London; the first issue had a print run of 5,000. With no distributor, Elliott and his partner and co-editor Bob Harris — who would later achieve fame as "Whispering Bob" of The Old Grey Whistle Test — delivered copies to record shops, Kings Road fashion stores and other hip outlets around the capital.

"It was an era of dope, sex and rock'n'roll, heavily laced with serious cultural and political intellect," Elliott recalled. "I was fully connected to the cultural changes and the new wave, whether that was music, theatre, poetry, books. The only place where you could find out about these things was in what was called the underground press, but none of them were doing the information in a focused or dedicated way."

Time Out covered not only London's burgeoning counterculture but also the mainstream arts, the listings laced with editorial copy on the radical political issues of the day. "We had the best of the established and the best of the new," he said. "I think people took one look at the clarity of what we were doing and thought 'why hasn't anyone thought of doing this before?'. It was really plugging a need."

He had taken the precaution of asking Keele whether he could return to complete his course if the venture failed, but he never went back. Harris soon departed for a career as a radio DJ but Time Out grew rapidly to become a touchstone of life in London, expanding from fortnightly to weekly publication and covering food, drink and travel in addition to the arts and street politics. By 1970 it had grown to 68 pages and was stocked in WH Smith.

At about the same time, Richard Branson, a contemporary of Elliott at Stowe School, was running another hip, youth-orientated magazine called Student and preparing to launch into record retailing. Both went on to feature prominently in The Sunday Times Rich List, with Elliott's wealth peaking at an estimated £91 million.

Although he did not diversify with the same profligacy as Branson, he built Time Out into a global brand, licensing the name until his empire comprised 40 magazines in cities around the world from New York to Cape Town, along with dozens of travel books and city guides. Energetic and imbued with a boyish enthusiasm, he was a benevolent if demanding boss whose success was built on a hands-on style. He involved himself in every aspect of editorial, design and marketing. A Sunday Times interview in 1988 marking Time Out's 20th birthday noted that Elliott's "Peter Pan exterior disguises an astute businessman".

Cyndi Stivers, the first editor of Time Out's New York edition, which Elliott launched in 1995, recalled his forensic attention to detail. "Once, someone accidentally opened up the file containing the logo and shifted the text something like 1/128th of an inch. None of us noticed it, but he did, immediately."

Throughout the 1970s Time Out positioned itself as an alternative publication covering issues such as racial discrimination, police harassment and the role of the state. "It was a very political period," Elliott later said. "We had the disaster of Ted Heath and the miners' strike through the Labour government and then Thatcher coming in."

The magazine backed initiatives such as the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism and risked prosecution in 1976 by publishing the names of 60 alleged CIA agents stationed in Britain.

At first it operated on a collective basis in which all staff were paid the same. In 1981 Elliott attempted to place the magazine on a sounder commercial footing by introducing pay scales and asserting what he called "the management's right to manage". The staff went on strike, resulting in Elliott closing the title for three months and firing most of them. The sacked workers launched the rival City Limits with a grant from Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council.

Elliott was particularly bitter that the dispute scuppered his move to buy the bankrupt music magazine ZigZag. His plan involved expanding the magazine's coverage to include "fashion, clubs, sport and anything of interest to the younger stylish generation". Once again he had smartly identified a gap in the market and he remained convinced that a revamped ZigZag could have rivalled The Face as the most significant style magazine of the 1980s.

When Time Out re-emerged after the strike to go head-to-head with the nascent City Limits, it easily won the circulation war but lost most of its political radicalism. Elliott characterised the magazine's shift towards the mainstream as simply a reflection of the yuppified times.

Yet he came to regret twice turning down a partnership with Condé Nast, first in the 1970s when the publishers of Vogue, Vanity Fair and Tatler offered to invest in return for 30 per cent equity and again three decades later when talks with Jonathan Newhouse, the Condé Nast chairman, foundered on the company's insistence on taking control. "I told him that he had 'crossed the line' and I was quite cross," Elliott said. "With hindsight, the partnership would have been a good fit."

He was forced to sell a 50 per cent stake in 2010 when Time Out found itself heavily indebted in the aftermath of the recession. Ceding control for the first time in more than 40 years, Elliott appointed David King, a former BBC finance director, to run the day-to-day operations. King brought in the private investment company Oakley Capital, which bought a controlling stake.

"I'm a practical person and I accepted that because of the downturn and our debt position, something had to happen," Elliott said. His prediction that the share he retained would become "worth hugely more than if I held on to 100 per cent" proved right. Six years later the Time Out Group was floated on the stock exchange with a valuation of £200 million and a global reach of 116 million users across print and digital platforms.

Elliott remained closely involved with the business, even after a diagnosis of lung cancer. "Tony kept sending emails and calling until the last minute, about every aspect of our content, the design, the typeface, our social channels, our market, our purpose," said Julio Bruno, chief executive of the Time Out Group.

Elliott, a reformed drinker turned teetotaller, was a shy man who kept a low profile. His early flames included Anna Wintour, now the editor-in-chief of US Vogue. In 1975 he married Janet Street-Porter, the broadcaster and journalist; they divorced two years later but remained friends. In 1989 he married Janey (née Coke), with whom he shared a six-bedroom house in St John's Wood, London. She survives him along with their sons, Rufus, a producer in the media industry, and twins, Bruce, a teacher, and Lawrence, a singer-songwriter.

Anthony Michael Manton Elliott was born in London in 1947, the son of Alan Elliott, the managing director of a food wholesaling company, and Katherine Elliott, a doctor. After attending a private infant school in Knightsbridge run by the mother of the actress Susan Hampshire, he boarded at prep schools in Surrey and Sussex, an experience he enjoyed as an opportunity to escape from home life and a father whom he admitted he found "intimidating".

At 11 he was sent to Stowe, where the highlight of his five years was the Beatles playing a concert at the school in 1963. "John Lennon got out of the car and said: 'My God, it's all boys!'," he recalled. As a student Elliott claimed he was "definitely Division Two". He transferred to Westminster College for his A levels and discovered a love of Godard films; at Keele he edited a magazine called Unit, for which he interviewed John Peel and Jimi Hendrix, making invaluable contacts in London's counterculture.

He prided himself on having his finger on the cultural pulse, although his judgment was not infallible. He recalled interviewing the little-known David Bowie for an early issue of Time Out after a sparsely attended gig in Beckenham. "He was very quiet and hard to involve in conversation," Elliott said.

"I remember thinking, 'Oh, just another hippy folk singer', so his later emergence was a surprise."

Tony Elliott, publisher, was born on January 7, 1947. He died of lung cancer on July 17, 2020, aged 73
If the old only could, if the young only knew.

Johnnie F.

In the seventies I visited London a few times, staying at my friends in Bellingham and Brixton; then I got acquainted with Time Out Magazine, which helped me find some way around cultural London. Later in the eighties I worked for a similar magazine in the Rhein-Main-area in Germany myself, but quit, when it was taken over by an unpleasant new publisher. It was fun meeting musicians and all kinds of artists but not a way to get rich. Too much competition by other magazines of about the same kind.

Tony Elliot was a pioneer in that field, where too many thought they could do that, too.

Taman Tun

Yes, KFers definitely stay in the best parts of town:- Bellingham, Brixton and, in my case, Shepherds Bush.  I lived in a room which backed on to Shepherds Bush Market.  At night the market area was taken over by drunks who provided the entertainment by fighting, shouting and throwing bottles.  Here is a Time Out cover from the 70s:-
If the old only could, if the young only knew.

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