It looks like Nuts may be about to close, ten years after the lad’s mag was launched with great fanfare. Although it came to epitomise in some people’s minds the objectification of women, Nuts aimed at first to be a magazine that young men wouldn’t feel embarrassed to have around the house. No nipples were allowed, and the aim was to celebrate women, not denigrate them – or at least that was the official line. It was repeated so often it had to be true.
Then after about six weeks or so, with disappointing sales, a marketing expert was called in to ask focus groups for input. His conclusion, which presumably he was paid a great deal of money for, was that young men like looking at breasts, as well as occasional pictures of machine guns.
Rather more depressing for me, being a writer there, was his claim that a quarter of British men were functionally illiterate and therefore we should reduce the typical word count from 400 to 150.
As it was, the marketing man was right and the change in policy set off a boobs arms race with our rival, Zoo, reaching its pinnacle (well, nadir) with one issue featuring over 200 bare breasts.
Most of the people who worked there weren’t especially happy about this; they were nice liberal-lefties who mainly wanted to write for the Guardian or Observer. My immediate boss, a dynamic and incredibly young features editor who was clearly going on to big things, had studied women’s literature at university but saw no contradiction between what she was doing and her feminist principles.
But the whole lad’s mag thing which began 20 years ago this month with the launch of Loaded came during a period of confusion in that area. People wanted sexual equality and sexual freedom, and tried to celebrate both, even though these two ideals obviously clash. The sexual freedom that Nuts readers – young, working-class white males – wanted was the freedom to gawp over topless pictures of young, working-class white females.
But then the profile of the readers and the writers could not have been more different. A colleague and I used to joke that the editor Phil Hilton, an eloquent, thoughtful father-of-two who read the Independent and lived in north London, used to go home every night and sit by the fire with his head in his hands. I’m not sure we were that far off, as he later wrote an article in the Indie (as did the features editor, in the Observer) confessing how bad he felt about the whole thing. (And fine editor that he was, he ensured that no one at the magazine ever made fun of the readers in public – even the really weird ones.)
In contrast, the people at Loaded, with whom we shared the 26th floor of the IPC tower, really did reflect their readers (or at least how their readers once were). They belonged to the older era of monthly lad’s mags, and had started with a genuine ideal about masculinity – a hedonist’s handbook they called it – and it wasn’t until FHM had started the practice in 1995 that they had cover girls at all. The people who worked at Loaded were still living that dream, and each day you could hear riotous laughter and music from next door while we worked away in silence. They were Animal House; we were Kevin Bacon’s Omega House next door.
Nuts might not have been everyone’s cup of tea but my colleagues were a great bunch of lads; while there I joined Friends of the Earth and started giving blood on the advice of a colleague – a vegetarian, Millwall-supporting, half-Irish, half-Jewish arts-lover who once intervened in a violent domestic assault by hitting the man with a copy of Ulysses. Nothing like how people would imagine of lad’s mags.
Clearing up the flat recently I found my leaving present from my colleagues, a whisky flask with my nickname engraved; although there must have been some sort of mistake at the shop because it said WEASEL, whereas I’m sure my nickname was ‘Ace’ or something.
Nuts was a very successful operation in its time, and its demise doesn’t say anything about society, only about technology and its effect on print. Those publications gloating about its demise should remember that they too are dust, and to the dust they will return.