Former Woman magazine editor Barbara Boxall dies aged 84 - 'Barbie was God, a very big deal'

Former long-serving Woman magazine editor Barbara Boxall has died aged 84.

Boxall – known to friends as Barbie – was editor of the magazine from 1964 to 1975, when it was the biggest-selling women’s magazine in the UK.

Former colleague Ruby Millington said: “Barbie influenced a generation of young female journalists and inspired a genre of woman’s interest imitators”.

“She was a charismatic, once-met-never-forgotten character who led a very full and busy life right to the end, continuing to mentor and support her legion friends.

“Her philosophy was that one had to go out and do something stimulating every single day.”

She said Boxall had claimed the secret to a popular women’s magazine was for every issue to include a “womb-trembler” and a “triumph over tragedy”.

When asked about the secret of her success, Boxall was said to have replied: “I just kept getting promoted”.

But former Woman magazine colleague Lee Waller put it down to her “efficiency – but not ruling with an iron fist” and the fact that she “inspired teamwork”.

Boxall began her career at Good Taste magazine in 1952, first working as a secretary before moving into a writer role.

In 1956 she moved to Woman & Beauty magazine before briefly joining Woman a year later. She left to become assistant editor at Woman’s Illustrated in 1959, also spending a year as editor of the title.

Boxall worked at Woman’s Realm from 1961-64, the second biggest-selling woman’s magazine in Britain at the time, becoming editor before leaving to rejoin Woman as its chief.

She spent more than a decade as editor with a staff of about 120 people and led the magazine to a weekly circulation of 4m.

Millington said “Barbie’s staff were required to wear hats and gloves to work while she, who had grown up in modest circumstances (her father was the doorman at a gentleman’s club), was mortified to have a car and driver sent to the family home in Fulham to collect her every day.

“She was equally embarrassed to be given possession of a key to her own, personal ‘editor’s toilet’.”

Maggie Jordan, who worked in the offers department at the IPC Media (now Time Inc UK) offices where Woman was based, said: “Barbie was God, a very big deal. Ordinary beings like me would tug our forelocks when we passed her in the corridor.

“Woman was huge then – we would sell over a hundred thousand of our offers. There had been restrictions on paper after the war and in the late 50s when they were restricted it just boomed – and all in lovely colour.

“Also with the rise in disposable income there was lots of advertising. They were the glory days of magazines.”

Following the death of her husband Lewis in 1983, Boxall retired from editing and worked freelance in various capacities including consulting and briefly as cookery editor of a sex magazine called Personal.

She also put her lifelong love of fiction into use as fiction editor of the monthly Woman’s World magazine where she mentored aspiring writers who’ve gone on to be successful novelists – including Helen West series author Frances Fyfield.

Novelist and former editor of Elle and ES Magazine Maggie Alderson worked with Boxall at Woman’s World as the magazine’s features editor.

“I was fascinated by her stories of ‘How Things Were Done’ at Woman, back in the day,” she said of talks with Boxall.

“There was a department just for letters – every letter was logged in and the reply logged out — and within that there were separate departments for knitting pattern letters, letters regarding recipes, about short stories and so on.

“Barbie was a great mentor to me throughout my career as a journalist and magazine editor, as she was to many others.

“She suffered bouts of serious depression, which she blamed on the trauma of being evacuated from London as young child during the war, but her experience of the illness made her wonderfully compassionate and supportive of friends, especially those going through difficult times.”

Boxall remained active up until her death while on holiday in Tenerife on 14 March. Her funeral will be held on Sunday in Spain. A memorial celebration is due to be arranged in London.

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