A Look Back At ‘Look-In’

The fiftieth anniversary of Look-In passed early this year with barely a murmur. Despite its massive popularity in the 1970s, this ‘TV Times for kids’ often seems to have been forgotten. But its funny and engaging mixture of comic strips, photos and articles pointed the way forward for children’s magazines today, as well as creating generation after generation of television fans.

The magazine was launched by Alan Fennell as a marketing tool for ITV to increase the viewership of their programmes, whilst providing high-quality children’s comic strips. Fennell had previously been involved with TV Century 21 (or TV 21), a magazine in the style of a fictional ‘newspaper of the future’ which promoted Gerry Anderson’s science fiction programmes, such as Thunderbirds and Joe 90, and included other popular children’s properties such as Terry Nation’s Daleks.

Other magazines were also capitalising on the explosion of tele-fantasy for kids: Countdown (launched 1971) used the gimmick of reverse page numbers in a literal count-down, and also explored Gerry Anderson properties, whilst its later incarnation TV Action broadened out into shows such as The Persuaders. Fennell brought a similar style to the new magazine, but also incorporated interviews, crosswords, competitions, and pin-ups, more in the style of a Melody Maker or NME. As a result, the magazine took the already established tropes of children’s magazines and fused them with elements from the music press, thus broadening the magazine’s appeal.

Look-In’s promotional capacities extended to include kids-focused TV listings for the various ITV regions, ensuring that readers would be aware of their favourite shows as well as reading about them in the paper, and individually painted covers by Arnaldo Putzu, which were works of art in their own right. The magazine was further notable for its inclusion of a wide range of topics, ranging from sport, in the form of articles on BMX-ing and a column by Bobby Moore, to science and a joke-filled column by DJ Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart. The magazine, in being geared to pre-teen obsessions, was incredibly wide ranging, and serves as a valuable time capsule for a time when The Tomorrow People and the Bay City Rollers could stand side by side in the popular consciousness.

Unfortunately, as the decade progressed and rolled into the 80s, Look-In became a victim of its own success in catering to a younger market. Glossy pop magazines combining a similar mixture of humour and insight, such as Smash Hits, began to dominate the market, and in the late 1980s the BBC launched its own magazine called Fast Forward which began to outsell Look-In. In 1994, the magazine had its last issue and seemed confined to history.

However, Look-In‘s influence is everywhere. It could be seen in its own lifetime: early issues of Doctor Who Magazine adopted the potent mixture of comic strips, articles and pin-ups. It stimulated the interest of television fans who grew up with the magazine, and who later began producing in-depth fan-zines and explorations of their own, such as Timescreen, which in turn have led to lengthy studies of seemingly ephemeral television. Whilst these seem worlds away from Look-In‘s light-hearted style, they reflect a similar engagement and passion for the medium. Modern television magazines for children, such as Doctor Who Adventures, have also clearly followed the Look-In format, mixing photos, puzzles and comic strips.

Look-In may have been designed as a promotional vehicle for children’s programming on ITV, but the individuality of its format, and impact on generations of children, elevates it above mere advertising.

Words by Issy Flower

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