Look-in – promoted as the “Junior TV Times” – was published every Thursday (eventually every Friday) between 1971 and 1994 and became the “must-have” kids’ magazine.
The magazine was overseen by former TV21 editor Alan Fennell, who packed the pages with the best television-related comic strips and a breathless array of features and pin-ups.
A product of the television age and a powerful marketing tool for promoting forthcoming ITV productions, the magazine flourished from the very beginning.
Every week the magazine took us behind the scenes of our favourite shows, chatted to the stars, and even enlisted some of them to write long-running columns such as ‘Stewpot’s Newsdesk’.
Not only did the magazine give regional listings of programmes earmarked for children, but what Look-In also did – even if unconsciously – was place the children’s series of the time in a mix of fashionable and sexy pop music. David Cassidy, ABBA and The Bay City Rollers rubbed shoulders with the likes of Susan Stranks and Mick Robertson of Magpie, who shared their pop pin-up status.
The magazine also presented readers with picture-strip versions of ITV’s top-performing shows including The Adventures of Black Beauty, Follyfoot, Catweazle, Bless This House, The Tomorrow People, Man About The House, On The Buses, Timeslip, Please, Sir! . . . The list went on and on.
Angus Allan wrote more of the strips than anyone. He remembers: “An episode would take me about an hour to write from scratch, then straight onto the typewriter. To tell the truth, I worked only two days a week – flat out without a pause from 9 am until about 7 pm,” getting through four packets of cigarettes a day and a bottle of whiskey in the process. “The rest of the week I spent in Fleet Street pubs”.
His efforts were matched by a blistering array of talented illustrators employed to realise his efforts. Mike Noble, Arthur Ranson, Martin Asbury, John M Burns, Gerry Haylock, Bill Titcombe – all turned out sterling work for Look-in.
The artist synonymous with the magazine, though, never tried his hand at picture strips . . .
By the end of its first year, Look-in decided to ditch its photographic covers and quickly enlisted Putzu (more often than not) to produce the iconic, lavishly painted montages that adorned each issue and immediately set the title aside from its rivals on the news-stands.
Constantly seizing on the newest crazes, Look-in enjoyed a capricious relationship with pop culture, going nuts over the latest big thing (Follyfoot! Our Kid! Flintlock! Mick Robertson! The Smurfs!), before growing bored and moving on to something else.
The magazine’s original designer and eventual second editor (following Alan Fennell’s departure in 1975) was Colin Shelbourn. He explained how he chose what went in the magazine:
“There were just two channels (BBC1 and ITV) and we couldn’t touch BBC as were [attached to] TV Times. Therefore any reasonably decent series for children that ITV bought would have a critical mass of viewers . . . That was the starting point of most of what we did.”
“Later we had to keep our eyes out for movies . . . Star Wars, Grease . . . the mega ones. Also, we had to be aware of shows that weren’t designed for kids but ended up being popular with them, like Starsky and Hutch.”
In its hunger for the next big thing, Look-in adopted a strange democracy, making for unlikely bedfellows within its pages. By the end of the 70s, the magazine was taking punk in its stride, happily rotating covers between New Wave acts like The Jam and Blondie with Cliff Richard and ABBA.
More often than not, the magazine got it right. A truth borne out by the fact that it’s nigh on impossible to find an issue today with the centre-spread pop pin-up still intact, as they fast became currency for many a playground swap.
Look-in spawned many rivals – Countdown, TV Action, Target, Smash Hits, TV Tops, Beeb, Fast Forward et al. But few ever felt as exciting, up-to-the-minute and vital.
Look-in burned brightly throughout the 70s and became an integral part of the world of pop culture, which it mirrored.