The Oldie believes it's hip to be square

March 03, 1992|By Suzanne Cassidy | Suzanne Cassidy,N.Y. Times News Service

LONDON -- Its logo is a triangular British road sign that features two stooped senior citizens, one with a cane. It promises to "out" people who lie about their age. It hopes to be very politically incorrect and has started by calling itself The Oldie.

The Oldie, a new biweekly magazine, wants to be a sort of Rolling Stone for the graying set. Mixing humor and rant with serious reportage, it wants to do battle with the cult of youth. To borrow a phrase from Huey Lewis and the News, a group few at the magazine would have heard about, The Oldie wants to make it hip to be square.

"I call it hip replacement -- putting hip into old," said Emma Soames, formerly the editor of Tatler, now deputy editor of The Oldie.

Being an oldie, explained the publication's founder and editor, Richard Ingrams, is less a question of age than of state of mind. In an interview at the appropriately creaky central London building where The Oldie has its offices, Mr. Ingrams, 54, who previously was the editor of the naughtily satirical Private Eye magazine for 23 years, cited Barbara Bush as a singularly "good oldie."

The first lady accepts her age and the body shape that has come with it, he said. President George Bush, on the other hand, is not in Mr. Ingrams' view an oldie, but, rather, "a ridiculous man, going jogging all the time and trying to keep fit, and falling down because he's trying to keep fit."

Britain's population is aging, but its oldies are under siege, Mr. Ingrams said. Youth culture used to be confined to magazines like New Musical Express and The Face; now, he said, national newspapers and even the British Broadcasting Corp. seem "obsessed" with what Mr. Ingrams and others have mockingly termed "yoof."

The Independent, a newspaper, Mr. Ingrams said scornfully, devotes "two whole pages a week" to pop music. Even conservative newspapers like The Daily Telegraph, which once were "a haven from that sort of thing," have become preoccupied with "sex, rock music and health."

Youth culture, claimed Mr. Ingrams, is not even a genuine culture. He believes that pop music, for instance, "has nothing to do with art; it's just a big racket." The Oldie, he said, will try to win young people away from their "materialistic and consumerist" preoccupations.

His magazine also will reach out, he said, to the "culturally isolated" older person, who "feels like a bit of a stranger in the modern world." There are, he noted, "oldie magazines in America, like Longevity and Senility and Senior Citizen." But, he asserted, "they're pretty depressing, because they're like George Bush: they're telling oldies they've got to keep young and have sex every day and this kind of thing."

Unsurprisingly, considering its source, The Oldie started out as a joke. But to Mr. Ingrams' own astonishment, people took him seriously when he began to talk about the need for a magazine that would challenge the dominance of youth culture.

The publisher Naim Attallah, who owns Quartet Books, put up more than $122,000. Stephen Glover, former editor of The Independent on Sunday, invested about $21,000, as did Alexander Chancellor, editor of Independent Magazine, the author and journalist Patrick Marnham, writer John McEwen, and Auberon Waugh, editor of The Literary Review. Mr. Ingrams invested about $35,000 of his own, and set The Oldie's circulation target at 50,000 copies. For readers in the United States, an annual subscription costs $95; for people over the age of 100, it is free.

What people will get in The Oldie is what Mr. Ingrams calls "old blood": columnists such as Germaine Greer, who in her recent book about menopause argued that women should spurn the Joan Collins route to artificial youthfulness.

Another of his recruits is Dame Barbara Cartland, the prolific novelist. Mr. Ingrams heard her being interviewed on the radio and "thought she was very sensible."

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