Sorting the boys from the men

Here are two items from different magazines which broadly come under the definition disgusting. The first item, entitled “Toilet Trouble”, suggests the spreading of crunchy peanut butter on a piece of loo roll then, having convinced your friends it is excrement, dipping your finger in and eating it.

The second was a Q&A with Ewan McGregor in which the journalist asked if he had ever drugged a girl’s drink to make her sleep with him. The question was asked not once but twice, as if the interviewer was surprised that Obi-Wan wasn’t doping with Rohypnol for a bit of Jedi date rape.

The first was from Toxic, a new magazine aimed at eight to 12-yearold boys. The second appeared in FHM, which is aimed at somewhat bigger boys. What a moving portrait of boy growing into man one gets from these titles, an emotional progression from back bottom to front bottom.

Toxic, whose first ABC was 45,000, has boys writing fond odes to their poo: “Then out came a ripper too, I said to my mates get out of the way, Cos here comes the follow through.”

The words “guff”, “parp”, “fart”, “turd” appear on most pages. Although the line is drawn, the editor Matt Yeo tells me, at “crap”. Strangely “ass” is OK, but “arse” is not.

FHM, with sales of 600,000 is Britain’s bestselling men’s title. With its tits but no bits policy and its phoney “Ladies’ Confessions” which reek of used Kleenex, FHM is a sweaty, unconsummated frottage with Niki from accounts of a magazine. Porn for men too embarrassed – or perhaps too short – to buy from the top shelf.

Its humour has a stag weekend relentlessness: even two climbers who died on Everest were fair game for piss-take recently. How their families, who were bereaved just a few months earlier, must have laughed. A problem section invites the reader “to have a good hoot at other people’s misfortunes”.

However, let’s not be too po-faced here. Because both titles in their own way are hugely witty, entertaining, irreverent – whether against teacher or boss – and have a clear vision of what interests their reader. But sensitivity, responsibility, relationship guidance? Man, that’s strictly for chicks.

So it is interesting that a new magazine designed to fill the gap between Toxic and FHM, the as-yet-untapped 11 to 16-year-old male market, plans to offer “big brother advice”. Sorted, whose first issue is out in January, will have an agony aunt answering boys’ problems and contain features addressing issues such as sex, drugs and homelessness.

The vast majority of its subject matter will be computer games, sport, music, skateboarding and all the other Kevin the Teenager staples. Yet the very fact it will have any emotional content at all is groundbreaking and perhaps a huge gamble.

Will it succeed? Getting men to buy magazines is hard enough. But boys present the toughest challenge of all: they are less inclined to read for pleasure then any other group. Boys with all their libidinous energy want to do stuff not read about it; reading isn’t cool or macho and has no playground cachet.

So won’t a boy feel a ponce carrying around a glossy, perfect bound monthly as Sorted plans to be? Industry insiders are sceptical about the title’s chances: the 11 to 16 age group may contain 3.1 million boys, but it has the great divide of puberty running through it.

“The 12 to 15-year-old male market is a Holy Grail of publishing,” says one youth editor. “Boys enjoy a mixture of interests until they reach 12, then they tend to splinter off into specialist groups. Some of them obsess about football and buy sports magazines, others love computer games and buy gaming magazines. But a magazine which has a mixture of hobbies wouldn’t appeal to them. “Furthermore, at around 15 they start to look to adult titles and might read their older brother’s FHM or Loaded.”

The key to success for Sorted is its tone of voice. It must be cool, but effortlessly so. It cannot patronise or preach and must synthesise serious matters into amusing information McNuggets. Editor Martin Klipp’s background on Loaded will certainly help in this regard.

But he should be warned that once he starts addressing sexual issues, the full force of the Daily Mail, angry parents and TMAP, the teenage magazine watchdog body, will fall upon him.

Given the grief that Sugar gets despite its constant, effortful keepyourknickers-on refrain, perhaps it’s time that a boys’ title shared the burden of responsibility for British teenage morals. You don’t hear of FHM, Front or even Loaded being blamed for teen pregnancies or promiscuity. It is simply assumed that sub-porn covers and explicit content, without even the fig leaf of sexual education, are necessary enticements to get young men to buy magazines. Boys will be boys, girls have to be perfect.

But I would bet that teenage boys have just as many insecurities and blank spaces in their sexual knowledge as teenage girls. In fact more, because who can they ask? Certainly not their mates (without getting laughed at) or their parents and teachers (without blushes). Sorted’s agony pages will be few in number and slotted in between XBox reviews or fart jokes, I am told, but no doubt they will be the most avidly read.

As for Toxic, my younger son thinks it was published just for him. He’s reaching for the peanut butter now. In 10 years’ time I just know he’ll be reading FHM.

It has been fascinating this year to be a judge in the BSME awards, not least for the insight into the many different ways editors fill in the entry form. I had always assumed everyone did I as I did and just rushed out 500 words on foolscap about two hours before the deadline.

So it was an education to see the effort that some people go to. For example, the beautiful multicoloured pages with little thumbnail sized covers down the border, like superdooper Power Point presentations.

Some enclosed CVs: did they think we were going to give them a job? And there was a divide between those who wrote an “everything counts” 498 words and the more laid back, “take me or leave me”, 300.

Is it better to write about yourself in superstar third person – “It’s been a terrific year for X” or “X is truly an inspiring editor”? Or should one risk sounding egotistical by using “I” every 10th word? Editors are notoriously bad spellers, but a couple could not even get “category” right, which was in the heading. My one bit of acquired wisdom is, don’t send in your entry until your chief sub has proofed it. Then at least you can blame her. 

Janice Turner is a columnist for The Times on Saturday and former editor of That’s Life! and Real. 

by Janice Turner

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