JIM DUCKETT EXAMINES THE POPULAR TELEVISION TIE IN MAGAZINE WHICH RAN FROM 1971 TO 1994.
In January 1971 a new weekly for young readers appeared on the news-stands. Described as the ‘Junior TV Times’, Look-In was published by Independent Television Publications, like its parent ITV listings magazine. It also carried two pages of listings of ITV programmes that should appeal to its target audience of 8 – 14 year olds. Originally edited by Alan Fennell, who had previously edited TV Century 21 during its most successful period, it was produced on glossy paper with eight of its twenty four in colour. Comic strips occupied just eight pages initially, with much of the publication devoted to features about television shows and their stars and other features such as sport, linked to TV programmes or their presenters. However there was a slight increase in the strip content as the weekly became established. The strips were almost all based on ITV programmes or TV personalities. In the earliest issues the main strip was Timeslip, from the children’s serial about time travel. This was illustrated by Mike Noble, whose first strip work was drawing Simon and Sally in EAGLE’s companion paper Robin. Mike later became an established adventure strip artist, drawing Fireball XL5 and Captain Scarlet for TV Century 21. Timeslip occupied two colour pages. Another early adventure strip was Freewheelers, drawn by Vicente Alcazar and later Jorge Badia, in black and white. Also in early issues were a two page black and white strip of Please Sir! a popular TV comedy series set in a school. This was drawn by Graham Allen, whose previous work included cartoon strips for several of Odhams’ Power Comics and Typhoon Tracy for Tiger. He would later draw some episodes of the Please Sir! spin off, The Fenn Street Gang. A historical strip adapted from a serial called Wreckers at Deadeye was drawn by C.L. Doughty who had replaced Robert Ayton as artist of Jack O’Lantern in EAGLE.
The free gift given in the first issue was a press out model of the Magpie TV studio. Magpie was ITV’s answer to BBC’s long running educational ‘magazine’ programme Blue Peter and originally it was planned to name the magazine after the programme, but having its own title freed Look-In to develop its own distinct style. It also outlived Magpie by nearly fourteen years, so the decision was undoubtedly the right one. The model included press our figures of Magpie’s presenters, one of whom was Susan Stranks, the daughter of PC 49’s creator, Alan. The early issues carried photo covers, but these were soon replaced by painted ones by the poster artist Arnaldo Putzu, which made Look-In instantly recognisable and visually appealing for the buyer seeing it on a news-stand.
Many ITV programmes only ran for one or two series, so Look-In featured a lot of different strips during its twenty three year life. Mike Noble worked on the paper until the mid 1980s and in that time drew The Famous Five, Follyfoot, Worzel Gummidge, The Adventures of Black Beauty, Space 1999, Kung Fu, The Man from Atlantis and Robin of Sherwood, among others. Look-In also featured the work of many other talented artists. These included John Burns, who had illustrated Wrath of the Gods for Boys’ World and EAGLE in the mid sixties and The Fists of Danny Pike and a Dan Dare adventure for the new EAGLE in the 1980s. He drew Magnum, The Bionic Woman, Space 1999, The Tomorrow People, Smuggler and How the West Was Won. Brian Lewis, who had drawn Mann of Battle, The Guinea Pig and the humorous strip Blunderbirds for EAGLE, drew a humorous strip based on a character played by the comedian Les Dawson. He also drew the adventure strips Freewheelers and Mark Strong, a strip based on an action figure. Gerry Embleton, who drew a few Riders of the Range episodes in the original EAGLE and the early Dan Dare episodes in the new version, drew Catweazle for Look-In. Tom Kerr, who drew Oddball Oates in the combined Lion and EAGLE in 1969, drew Crowther in Trouble in early issues and later Doctor in Charge and The Fenn Street Gang.
An artist who first came to prominence in Look-In was Arthur Ranson, who drew strips as diverse as the fantasy adventure Sapphire and Steel and the cartoon Dangermouse. He illustrated The ‘A’ Team and a series of biographical strips about popstars, including The Beatles and ABBA. Artists on Look-In tended to move around strips and Ranson also worked on Doctor in Charge, The Bionic Woman, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Robin of Sherwood. John Bolton also drew The Bionic Woman and Martin Asbury also drew Buck Rogers and Kung Fu. Asbury contributed many strips to Look-In over the years, including Battlestar Galactica, Dick Turpin and The Six Million Dollar Man. Harry North illustrated On the Buses, Supergran and ALF (Alien Life Form), Phil Gascoine drew Knight Rider and Robin of Sherwood and Bill Titcombe, who came to Look-In after years of experience on TV Comic, drew Inspector Gadget, Dogtanian, Scooby Doo and strips based on comedy characters played by Cannon and Ball and Benny Hill, although the Benny Hill strip was first drawn by Andy Christine. The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman teamed up in 1979 in a strip called Bionic Action, which was drawn by Ian Gibson, Ron Tiner, John Richardson and Mike White.
Despite the limited number of strips in each issue, Look-In managed to include a great many different ones in its run. Other strips I have not mentioned include Pathfinders, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Bless This House, Man About the House, Just William, Mind Your Language, Terrahawks, Charlie’s Angels, The Fall Guy and Magnum P.I. There was also a fictional adventure strip about the actor and popstar David Cassidy!
In September 1972 Look-In introduced a four page ‘Pop Pullout’ and subsequently much more emphasis was placed on popstars, particularly those who appealed to young teenage girls. This proved popular with its target audience and kept sales high, but was less appreciated by the male readership, as evidenced by comments from its former and now adult readers, such as comic artist Lew Stringer, who wrote an interesting Comics Blog called Blimey! for several years. He wrote “Look-In had always been aimed at both sexes but now it felt like it was turning into Jackie.” Comics enthusiast Norman Boyd replied on Lew’s blog: “I too had the first couple of years and gradually got cheesed off with the Donny Osmond type stuff.” However the strip content was maintained and despite losing some male readers, it clearly gained some female ones.
Over the years, Look-In included some excellent informative features which would not have been out of place in EAGLE. A good example is Survival, which took its name from a television show that explored wildlife under threat. There were also science articles, written by Peter Fairlie, who was the Science editor for Independent Television News. World of Sport and On the Ball, named after the ITV sports programmes, featured articles by Brian Moore, the ITV sports commentator and various sports personalities. The disc jockey and children’s TV presenter, Ed Stewart wrote a regular page for the magazine from the first issue until 1980. This took several forms, including a news page and articles about his work in radio. How? was named after the TV show which explained in clear terms how things work and the magician David Nixon showed readers how to perform simple tricks.
Like Fennell’s earlier weekly, TV Century 21, Look-In was undoubtedly influenced by the early EAGLE. On TV Century 21 he had engaged some of EAGLE’s best former artists to produce a high quality weekly of EAGLE’s size, with eight pages in colour and printed in photogravure by Eric Bemrose, EAGLE’s printer. High quality printing was first provided by Southernprint of Poole in Dorset and later by Carlisle Web Offset. The front page was presented as a future newspaper, using an idea which had also originated in EAGLE, on the Dan Dare strip. In Look-In he included a lot of well written educational and informative features, along with high quality strips and he wrote signed editorials to his readers, just as EAGLE’s Marcus Morris and Clifford Makins had done.
I believe that in its turn Look-In influenced the 1980s EAGLE. In his book Comic Strip Hero, Barrie Tomlinson, the new EAGLE’s originator and group editor, wrote that one of the aspects of the old EAGLE that he was keen to include in the new version was the involvement of well know personalities to write for the weekly. While some famous people had made contributions to the original EAGLE, notably on the sports pages, the involvement of personalities was much greater in Look- In. Barrie Tomlinson recruited the disc jockey and children’s TV presenter Mike Read to write for EAGLE, just as Look-In had employed Ed Stewart. He also praised the way that the original EAGLE engaged with readers through the Editor’s letter and clubs, competitions and offers. Accepting that the first EAGLE was his inspiration, he must have been greatly encouraged to say the least by the fact that a contemporary magazine whose editor also engaged with the readership and provided a blend of strips, features and competitions had proved such a success.
Look-In was a major success at a time when comics sales were in steady decline. Launched twenty months after the original EAGLE was absorbed into Lion, it continued for the next twelve years when there was no EAGLE and then lasted throughout the life of the new EAGLE, outliving it by two months. None of the I.P.C. comics which already existed when Look-In was launched were still running when it closed. Sales were undoubtedly stimulated by its strong links to television, but there were several other weeklies devoted to television over the years and only TV Comic, which began at a much healthier time for comics (in 1951) ran for longer, but it folded a decade before Look-In.
Clear indications of Look-In’s quality are the three Facebook groups devoted to the magazine, the two books published about it and the prices it sells for on Amazon and e-bay. Like EAGLE it is fondly remembered.