How we launched Current Archaeology
I intended this to be a short introduction to the magazine, but having started I got the bit between my teeth and in a single session dictated over 3000 words: it has taken rather longer to edit my original dictation. But here are sections on launching the magazine, our first house and the transfer to Nassington Road, our early trips abroad and then running the magazine and inflation. One day I must sort this all out again.
P.S When we reached our 300th issue, I wrote a piece on how we launched Current Archaeology. It was published in CA 300 in a cut down version. Here is the original.
PPS. We are just about to celebrate 50 years of Current Archaeology and I have written two pieces to be published in our next issue, probably in a reduced form. Here once again are the originals firstly, an account of the changes that have taken place over the past 50 years, and then an account of my love affair with computers.
In 1966, we left work, determined to launch an archaeological magazine. The first problem was to find a suitable premises from which to publish. When we first got married, Wendy moved in with me in my one-room flat at 130 Haverstock Hill – we were given a somewhat larger room – but we spent nearly a year searching for somewhere suitable. At first we looked for business premises, but then the chartered Surveyor with whom Stuart was working, persuaded us just to buy an ordinary house and to keep one’s head down, and make sure that no-one realised that we were actually running a business from an ordinary house – lots of people do it. Eventually we found a suitable house at 128 Barnsbury Road in Islington, and here we lived from 1967 to 1970, during which time it doubled in price, and it was from here that we launched Current Archaeology. But the delay was in many ways advantageous, for we spent the whole summer of 1966 going round in the Commer campervan, visiting virtually every excavation in the country and in this way getting ourselves known
We decided to launch the magazine by sending out the first issue free, and so we spent a long time collecting names and addresses of archaeologists. We eventually acquired no less than 5000 names, helped by Beatrice De Cardi.. We will also greatly helped by John Rotheroe, the publisher of Shire Publications. Wendy had a contact through his wife and we met up and he was very helpful, and through him we obtained our first printer, Bletchley Printers, as well as a paper merchant, and a block maker. Even more important, he persuaded us that we should have our first magazine properly designed, and he recommended a designer, Reg Bass. Reg was a very top designer who for two days a week designed the Daily Mirror – which was a 24-hour job, and so for his spare time and the rest of the week he took on outside commissions. He did a super front cover for us, with a bold half page title of Current Archaeology in a bold sans-serif font, which we could vary the colour: we kept the front cover for the next hundred issues though after t he first issue, we designed the inside of the magazine ourselves, running riot by using every typeface in the book provided by Bletchley Printers.
The first magazine was very stressful. We sent it off, we waited, then we have 20 repleis, but then they became a whole deluge and to our delight subscriptions rolled in. We had fixed the subscription at £1 for a year – six issues, asnd by the time it came to print the second issue, we already had 1000 subscribers, and the money from our initial subscribers paid for the cost of the launch issue – and several of the succeeding issues.
From there I think we enjoyed great success at least down to 1973, with the subscriptions increasing steadily till we reached 5000, which we had estimated to be the circulation we needed to break even on a steady basis. I remember we reached 5000 with the first and only time we ever purchased a magazine. This was a magazine called Ago, which had been launched as a rival from some people down in Bournemouth, but I felt from the start it was quite hopeless. The very title was wrong – no one knew how to pronounce it: was the stress on the ‘A’ or on the ‘O’? Anyway they produced about 10 issues and then gave up and approached us to take on their list. We paid one pound for the magazine for which we acquired 800 subscribers. Four hundred of them were duplicates but the other 400 were new, and actually took us past the magic 5,000 mark. Of course we had to service the outstanding subscriptions, but it was certainly worth it!
The first dozen or so issues were sheer magic. This was the Golden Age of archaeology. Martin Biddle was digging at Winchester and was always very pleased to see me, and showed me round all his sites with great enthusiasm. Barry Cunliffe was also in full flight, finishing off Fishbone and also digging at Portchester and Bath. I did not know him and we made an unfortunate first visit down to see him at Bath when he was in the depths of the baths when we arrived, but he too eventually became, if not a friend, at least a supporter. Then there was Geoffrey Wainwright at the Ministry of Works, digging first at Durrington Walls and then the further giant hinges at Marden and Mount Pleasant. He too became a great supporter as did many people from the then Ministry of Works. The Ministry of Works was situated in Great Sanctuary Street and I became accustomed to wander down there, wondering in – there were no checks on those days – and finding my way to the offices of the various excavators. And then there was South Cadbury where Leslie Alcock was searching for King Arthur which again we featured strongly in CA 11 – and we made a good friend of Chris Musson. Every summer we would go out on our searches round the country, looking for excavations. I remember one time sitting in a car park at I think Tamworth, knowing there was one more excavation I had not seen up in Dumfriesshire, and wondering whether I should make the journey north just to see that one minor excavation. Reluctantly I decided not.
Current Archaeology had three main reasons for success.
First, my archaeological background. I already had a substantial background in archaeology having starting from running the Natural History Society at school and then going on to becoming president of the Oxford University Archaeological Society.
Secondly there was the publishing background. While serving my articles for chartered accountancy, I became editor of Contra, the magazine of the Chartered Accountants Student Society of London, with a circulation of 10,000 among the articled clerks of London. I edited two issues of this, and since it was an accountancy magazine, we were expected to oversee all the financial side, so I became aware of the costs of publishing a magazine. I was particularly proud of my article on the top hundred firms of Chartered Accountants – I think I was the first person to publish such a list.
And thirdly there was the managerial side for I had succeeded in acquiring a wonderful co-editor and manager by marrying my wife Wendy which I did in 1966. She has proved to be a very good bargain and the crucial element in the success of the magazine.
We also did some foreign issues. Our first was to Greece which was in the way of being a delayed honeymoon. After our marriage there was no time for a honeymoon and we set of that evening in our van for a trip down to Dorchester. We spent the first night on Bagshot Heath where we had a wonderful sexual orgy in the van in the middle of the Heath. We joked that Wendy was losing her virginity and that it was fortunate that being on a Heath it did not matter how much she screamed as no one would hear her, and I could rape her with impunity. We then went on the following day to visit Graham Webster at Waddon Hill, surprising him by telling him that we had just got married the previous day.
But we decided in 1968 that we would have our delayed honeymoon, so we went to Greece, driving in our van down the motorway through Yugoslavia. I remember it was a time when the Colonels were ruling Greece and I remember going to visit Professor Marinotos in his very posh flat in central Athens – he was the Colonel’s archaeologist, and he was very impressive and helpful. But I also wanted to write an article on the newly-discovered Cretan palace at Zakhro, so we had to visit Nicholas Platon up in Thessalonica who was the opponent of the colonels, and he had a very dingy flat – but was very welcoming. We even went down to Crete for I think a single day, leaving our van on the quayside at Piraeus, crossing overnight in a rather scary ferry where they had cut away the side to make a loading ramp. Then we went out to Knossos and then we came back the following night and found our van where we left it. We produced a special Greek issue – CA 7.
The following year we went to Germany and produced CA 13, which is I still think is one of the best of all my issues. This was a marvellous trip. Germany was just recovering from the war. After the war a range of archaeologists had been liberated as it were and set to work digging without the restrictions of the previous regime, and by 1969 they were ready to publish and were only too keen to tell me all about their work. The big breakthrough was Federsen Wierde, the Roman Iron Age site at Wilhelmshaven. This had been occupied throughout the Roman period from the 1st to 5th centuries AD, until the rising sea levels in the fifth and sixth century meant they had to up-sticks and sail away to drier land in England, and the last pottery at Federsen Wierde is the same as the first pottery at Mucking on the Thames estuary. But there was also the early Iron Age hill fort at The Heuneburg and the oppidum at Manching, spectacular early churches at Cologne and Paderborn, and there were the Roman legionary fortresses at Xanten and Neuss. We will greatly helped by Irwin Scholar, who was Russian by origin but who had studied at Edinburgh and had then gone to work at the Rheinish Germanish museum at Bonn. It was a shock going into the museum and being immediately confronted by Neanderthal man – the real thing! He was doing great things with aerial archaeology and computers – both very new – but he was our main contact and did the arrangements for us and was absolutely wonderful.
The following year Fiona had appeared, so our style was somewhat cramped so we decided to go to Ireland – the only opportunity I had to ‘do’ Ireland thoroughly. We did a special series of articles on the two great Chamber tombs at New Grange and Knowth, where we visited George Eogan and also Navan fort, or Emain Macha, and also the other great ceremonial site at Dun Ailinne. I think we produced a very good Irish issue
And soon after that, Alexander came along, and that put paid to our foreign trips doing archaeology
The next big change came in 1970 when we moved from Islington to Hampstead. Our Islington house was a simple terrace house, late Georgian or early Victorian. The big advantage was that it looked out over what had been a bomb site, but was turned into a park thereby helping to double the price of the house in the three years that we lived there. But it was a essentially a three storey terrace house, with two rooms on each floor with the bathroom in a shack out the back, and bizarrely the toilet at the far end of the bathroom so to go to the loo one had to go out into the garden and then round into the loo at the far end. We got used to it – though going to the loo in the middle of the night in winter was always something of an ordeal!
We always intended to do the house up, but we had no money and no time and we never got round to it, so it was always a bit ramshackle, though there were cellars in which to store the growing backlog of magazines. But eventually my parents said, Why don’t you move to a better bigger house, preferably in Hampstead? Very generously they said they would and they would liquidate some of their money from Uncle William to enable us to do this.
This was very generous of them – and it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Wendy was very enthusiastic, travelling regularly to Hampstead looking for suitable housing. She got to know all the leading estate agents and they will often simply give her a key say go around and look at this house and see what you think of it. She saw dozens of houses, but none of them came up to scratch till eventually one of the livelier agents run by a young man called xxx said go and look at a house at 9 Nassington Road, which I think may be coming onto the market. We went and looked at the outside and thought it might be very possible. Then one day we saw it advertised by another estate agent. We went back to our estate agent and he said immediately, leave it to me, and by the next day he approached the seller Mrs MacDonald said he had a possible buyer and she agreed to give him an agency just for us. When we actually saw inside, we fell in love with it at once. For one thing, it was bigger than expected, for although there are three stories at the front, the land slopes, so that at the back it has four stories – and a nice garden. Furthermore it has a wonderful view, due south over London.
We immediately wanted to buy, but when we had the surveyors report it was not very good, saying that being on sloping ground, landslip would be possible. We were put off, but then Stuart’s friend who was in fact his principal when he was studying chartered surveying came round to have a look and said, not to worry, all houses on the slopes of Hampstead Heath were liable to slip and this was simply the surveyor being cautious. He said we should not worry about it too much – and we haven’t, and we have survived. Admittedly in the very summer of 1976, cracks threatened to appear and we had to have it patched up, but the patching seems to have worked.
Anyway we moved here and it has proved to be a wonderful bargain, and I constantly give thanks to my parents that we have spent the main part of our life in a wonderful house where we have lived and brought up our children and produced our magazine in far greater comfort than we could ever have achieved by ourselves. We bought it eventually for £18,000 which in retrospect was a bargain: but we will could never have done it without my parents generosity. Thank you, mother and father!
But having moved in, there was a lot to be done. There is no central heating, the plumbing was ramshackle, and the surveyor had said in his report that the electrical wiring was positively dangerous. Indeed we had a fire on the very first night: there was a ramshackle sort of on off switch for the light over our bed, and when we tried to move it, it burst into flames so we had to turn off the electricity at the mains and spend the first night in darkness.
Fortunately my parents generously subsidised the work of renovation, and we had a thorough job done which has served us well ever since. The main problem with where to put a big reception room, and after much discussion we decided to do this on the first floor. This gives us a wonderful view over London, but it is somewhat inconvenient in that the kitchen is two stories down, so that parties are always a little inconvenient. It has worked out that the posh reception room is on the first floor, the ground floor is the working area where I have my study and secretaries had their office, while Wendy has the basement for the kitchen and the breakfast room or rather the main dining room, so that when we have people in, we start off on the first floor and then had to go down two floors in order to dine.
This there was also a major change in the bathroom arrangements, for it meant that a big bedroom and a small bedroom on the first floor had to be thrown together to form, the large reception room, and the large bathroom had to be cut down into the small shower room and the bathroom was moved upstairs. The builders were going to throw out the old cast-iron bath and replace it with a modern smaller plastic bath, but we spotted this in time and insisted that they take the old cast-iron bath upstairs and reinstall it. Thank God we did, for it is a wonderful bath which we have been enjoying for 40 years –it is much bigger than the normal bath and it keeps its heat in the way that a plastic bath does not, so it is better all round. And it also meant that the bathroom is on the same floor as the three main bedrooms, even though I have to come down one floor every morning to have my shower. But it does mean that technically the only have four bedrooms in the house
But we had new plumbing and new electricity – the electrician complaining that we wanted double plugs everywhere – and again thank heavens we insisted on this. Above all we had central heating. I remember the day the central heating was first turned on. It was in the middle of the winter, and the house, which had been two small islands of warmth in an ocean of coldness, suddenly warmed up. It took some time – days, even weeks for the house to accustom itself to its new state of civilisation, but we began to appreciate the idea that the whole house should be habitable even in the coldest days of the winter. Suddenly one realised the virtues of central heating. The original boiler was a an oil fired boiler with a tank in the garden and a chimney going up the main chimney of the house which served as for about 20 years. But when it broke down, we decided to have gas boiler with its flue on the passage at the side of the house, and that is the boiler that is still working today. It has been a wonderful house and we have been very fortunate throughout our lives to live in a house with very adequate accommodation, plenty of room in a marvellous situation, and with a wonderful view over London. It will be a hard wrench if ever we have to move.
The magazine and Printers
The 1970s and 80s were in many ways the best time of our lives, producing the magazine and bringing up the children. I can’t really remember many details of these years. The major trauma for the magazine was inflation. We began by charging a pound a year for the six issues which was a very sensible price. But we never really realise that inflation was creeping up on us, and eventually we found we were losing money and we would have to put up the subscription, first to £1.50 then I think to £2 or was it £2.50 and then gradually creeping up enormously till it eventually became I think £12 which seemed enormous – though this was with CA 120, when we went up to a bigger size and more colour. It seemed exorbitant at the time, But it didn’t seem to matter – indeed that is when the circulation really began to take off. But such was the extent of inflation in the 1970s and into and 1980s.
We stayed for a long time with our original printers, Bletchley printers – who were essentially Methodist printers, but then they were taken over by the notorious Robert Maxwell who turned them into the European Printing Corporation, putting them together with a couple of other printing works, the idea being that you would put one good printer, in this case Bletchley printers, together with a couple of bad printers, and the good printers would infect the bad printers. In fact the reverse happened, and European Printers eventually went bust and we had to move. Fortunately they were so inefficient that they did not chase is up for the backlog of our payments for at least a year, but when they did, the only way we could pay up was by putting up the subs yet again. We then moved to a small printer at Tring, and then onto David Green at Kettering, with whom we stayed for quite some time until eventually moved down to the Friary Press at Dorchester where we continued until Robert took over and began changing printers rapidly.
But I have been battling on for far too long and I think I had better stop dictating and start getting ready for supper when Wendy comes back.
But when I resume, I must say something about Canvas Holidays and our trips to the Dordogne ending up with the beginnings of Barbarism and Civilisation and my lecture first Venice and then on the Cunard cruises which Brian Hobley organised
On to CA 300