Celebrating 70 years of Yorkshire Life
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:55 26 January 2016
As Yorkshire Life marks its 70th anniversary, historian Andrew Hobbs looks back at the origins and early life of your favourite monthly
War was over, but peacetime 1946 was no picnic, as rationing worsened and footballers threatened to strike over demands for a £7 weekly wage. On the plus side, a new magazine was launched, by the name of Yorkshire Life.
This flimsy black and white quarterly, with Flamborough Head on the cover, arrived in the summer of 1946, when paper was still rationed. It was part of a stable of titles published by Charles Herbert Wood, a Yorkshireman who more or less invented the modern county magazine.
Wood, a former Batley Grammar School pupil, began by producing parish magazines in Leeds in the 1930s before branching out into county magazines, with many of the early titles linked to the Rural Community Council movement. Over the next two decades he became the UK’s biggest publisher of county magazines through his company English Life Publications.
As the first issue hit the streets, lanes and avenues of Yorkshire, future Prime Minister Margaret Roberts was elected president of Oxford University’s Conservatives, the FA Cup was televised for the first time, and the coal industry was nationalised.
But in the pages of Yorkshire Life, readers were cheered by a mix of Yorkshire personalities, natural beauty, nostalgia and rural life. Magazines like Yorkshire Life did well from national advertisers such as Bournville cocoa and Player’s cigarettes, who struggled to buy space in national magazines, squeezed by paper rationing.
An article on cheese-making in Wensleydale included a photo of a boy leading a donkey across the fells, laden with milk churns. But old ways were threatened by new influences, as historian Laurence Whistler warned in an article on the history of Christmas carols. They were the ‘only national songs to hold their ground against the streams of fragrant hair-oil that ululate towards us from the crooners of America’.
The new magazine flourished, as did a rival launched around the same time, the Yorkshire Advertiser Illustrated, published from Skipton. It was edited by Leeds barrister John Parris, and was less traditional than Yorkshire Life, with profiles of Yorkshire MPs (written by another MP, the unashamedly gay former communist, Tom Driberg).
Yorkshire Illustrated had a fashion page, in which clothing coupons loomed large. ‘Cami-knickers are a popular and wise buy from the point of view of coupon economy,’ the correspondent wrote in April 1947. And ‘for the gay young things there were exciting rayon chiffon nighties at £2-6-11’. That’s £2.35, about the same price as a nightie from Primark today.
In 1952 Yorkshire Illustrated was taken over by the Whitethorn Press in Manchester, who already owned Cheshire Life. In 1953 they bought Yorkshire Life and Lancashire Life as a job lot, and merged the two Yorkshire titles, first under the name of Yorkshire Life Illustrated, before reverting to Yorkshire Life, the title that continues to this day.
In 1956 the magazine got its first full-time editor (originally it had been edited from its publisher’s Derby HQ, and then by the editors of Cheshire Life and Lancashire Life). Maurice Colbeck stayed in the chair for more than 30 years, and helped the magazine to grow to its current status.
70 years of Yorkshire Life
An illustration from October 1949
A detail from an advert for Yorkshire Insurance Co in 1957
Motor dealer John Kaye's advert from the August 1955 Yorkshire Life
A gift guide from December 1955
Len Hutton in the Yorkshire Illustrated in July 1952
An advert for Moorhouses marmalade
An illustration of Starbotton in Wahrfedale from Yorkshire Illustrated in December 1948
A state-of-the-art televsion advertised in December 1954
Aluminium ware advertised in 1954
The cover of the Yorkshire Illustrated from April 1947
The cover of the second issue of Yorkshire Life, dated October-December 1946
A Yorkshire Relish advert from 1949
Wendy's Cafe at Skipton advertised in the March 1949 issue of Yorkshire Illustrated
Striking a pose to advertise ballgowns in 1951
A 1951 advert for ballgowns
Things did not always run smoothly under Colbeck, though. As he confessed in his memoir, My Yorkshire Life, he once described the town of Pudsey as ‘the traditional home of the gormless’. Long before the days of internet trolling, it produced the expected reaction. More happily, Colbeck persuaded legendary writer JB Priestley to pen a piece, in return for nothing more than a few photo books of the Dales sent in for review.
The Dales remain a popular subject among Yorkshire Life readers and current editor Esther Leach said: ‘As county boundaries are knocked about and local government is constantly reorganised, Yorkshire Life plays a vital role in defending and developing the Yorkshire identity.’
In 1958 the magazine’s cover went full colour; in 1959 another communist, Raymond Postgate, founder of the Good Food Guide, began a drinks column, and in 1961 an eating out column was introduced, written by ‘Chablis’. The post-war boom was under way, and Yorkshire Life was part of it. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the magazine boomed, with circulation rising by 50 per cent.
Yorkshire Life continued to reflect the best of the county in the following decades, through several changes in ownership, hosting many distinguished writers and photographers. The arrival of full-colour photography added to the magazine’s attractions, enabling it to present Yorkshire’s countryside, towns and cities in their full glory.
Editor Esther Leach said: ‘We are proud to have served this fantastic county for the last 70 years, and we hope to be here for the next 70, reflecting the best things about life in Yorkshire. You can never run out of new things to say about Yorkshire!’
Tell us what you love about Yorkshire by sending us a tweet @Yorkshire_Life using the hashtag #LoveYorkshire