The UK’s first newspaper colour supplement, the Sunday Times Magazine, is marking its 60th anniversary.
The glossy magazine, originally called the Sunday Times Colour Section, launched on 4 February 1962 in what was seen both internally and across the industry as a “risky experiment”. It initially focused on fashion, travel, home and shopping, and the launch issues featured a new story from James Bond author Ian Fleming.
Then-owner Roy Thomson said at the time: “My God, this is going to be a disaster.”
Scroll down for an exclusive gallery of some of The Sunday Times Magazine’s most iconic covers of the past 60 years.
Indeed it recorded an initial loss of up to £900,000 in the magazine’s first 18 months due to initial advertiser hesitancy and received more than 1,000 letters of complaint from mostly elderly people about its visual style after the first edition, according to media and film academic Richard Farmer.
Then-Sunday Times editor Denis Hamilton responded in the following week’s paper: “Perhaps it was, for its first number, too unconventional in typography and layout. But it follows a modern trend in design, as younger readers familiar with the contemporary illustrated magazines are well aware.”
But the magazine bolstered sales, with it said to have attracted a quarter of a million new readers to the newspaper during the tenure of founding editor Mark Boxer between 1962 and 1965.
Hamilton described the launch in his memoirs as “perhaps the most successful single innovation in post-war journalism”.
Most newspapers now have glossy supplements of their own. The first to follow The Sunday Times were The Daily Telegraph on Fridays and The Observer on Sundays in September 1964.
Farmer wrote in 2018 that colour printing had previously been seen as “tricky, time-consuming and increased the chances of production delays”, but that Thomson saw its potential value to advertisers wanting to reach the quality paper’s wealthy readers.
Thomson also, Farmer said, wanted to differentiate The Sunday Times from The Sunday Telegraph which launched in 1961 and appeared to be impacting its circulation.
Current editor Krissi Murison said: “It may have begun as a risky experiment but 60 years on The Sunday Times Magazine is still one of the most popular parts of the paper. Whether we appear on your phone or still land with a thump on your doorstep, our agenda-setting mix of stories, interviews and eye-popping visuals makes the magazine the definitive read every Sunday.”
Well-known writers past and present to have written for the magazine include Martin Amis, AA Gill, Bruce Chatwin, Lynn Barber, Jeremy Clarkson, Christina Lamb, Decca Aitkenhead and Adam Kay, while war photographer Don McCullin and fashion photographers David Bailey and Terry O’Neill are among those who have had their images showcased.
Its popular A Life in the Day feature looking at the everyday minutiae of well-known figures has been running since 1977, while Relative Values is another long-running slot.
In 2012 InPublishing wrote that the launch “broke the mould of weekend newspaper publishing” while former Sunday Times Mag editor Peter Jackson recalled having the luxury of a big budget in the mid-1980s.
He wrote: “…advertising revenue could top £1 million net in a single week and issues were regularly of 120-plus pages (not counting occasional 32–40pp London supplements). Editorially, money was no object.”
Gallery of some of The Sunday Times Magazine’s most famous covers:
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