- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LONDON (AP) - A dusty grande dame of British publishing is getting a makeover.

The Lady magazine, founded in 1885 as a “journal for gentlewomen,” is famous for recipes, rules of etiquette and classified ads seeking cooks, butlers and nannies. On Tuesday, it marched into the 21st century with a glossy new issue featuring adventure-travel tips, full-color advertising and even _ whisper it _ a Web site.

The revamp is part of the ambitious plans of new publisher Ben Budworth, great-grandson of the magazine’s founder.

“We’re very keen not to be seen just as a place where butlers and under-gardeners are sought,” said Budworth, a former radio-station executive who took over The Lady last year after a stint training helicopter pilots in Florida.

“Where we were seen as irrelevant and eccentric, we want to be seen as charming and amusing.”

The Lady is a well known _ though no longer widely read _ British institution, whose classified ads have regularly been used by the Royal Family to seek domestic staff. Its offices, in an imposing pastel-painted building in Covent Garden, are a London landmark.

The past issues displayed in the building’s window indicate The Lady’s problem. There’s not much difference visually between a 1939 issue featuring a model in quilted chintz negligee and a black-and-white 1978 edition promising stories about “a prettier you” and “Charles Darwin.” No connection between the two was apparent.

Inside, the building is a labyrinth of corridors and staircases leading from a basement archive full of dusty bundles up to a comfortable staff “smoking room” _ smoking in the workplace is now banned _ and a boardroom dominated by a portrait of founder Thomas Gibson Bowles, a politician and journalist who also launched the British version of Vanity Fair.

Adrian Monck, head of the journalism program at London’s City University, says The Lady is “a charming reminder of another age.”

“It’s a miracle it’s still with us,” he said.

Although The Lady has survived, it has not thrived in recent years. The magazine’s circulation is about 30,000, less than half its peak. Budworth thinks he can double that within a year, despite the economic crisis.

“There is huge untapped potential in The Lady,” said Budworth, 44.

He may have a point. Women over 45 _ Budworth’s target audience _ are a huge emerging market, and traditional activities from baking to knitting are seeing a resurgence thanks to a credit crunch fueled back-to-basics mood.

Groups like 94-year-old volunteer organization the Women’s Institute have seen a surge in membership from the “Calendar Girls” effect, so called after the hit film based on the true story of Institute members who posed nude for a charity calendar.

The Institute has reshaped its rural, jam-making image with activities including a sex guide for seniors and campaigns against climate change.

“It’s very fashionable now to be an English lady _ clever, witty, confident of your own style, family-based,” said Sarah Kennedy, a veteran of glossy women’s magazines including Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan who has been brought in as The Lady’s editor-at-large. “These women are becoming more visible, commercially and financially.

“They’re not interested in (reality show) ‘Big Brother.’ They’re not interested in celebrity culture. They’re confident enough to say, ‘I like gardening. I like walking holidays _ but I still want to look like Sharon Stone.’”

Anxious to capture this audience _ settled, well-off, interested in travel, gardening and books _ Budworth commissioned The Lady’s first-ever market research. He found to his alarm that the magazine’s average reader was 78 years old.

“I think we were in danger of becoming irrelevant and only appealing to 80-year-olds,” he said. “Dearly as we love them, you have to bring in new readers.”

Budworth flips though old issues, shaking his head at pictures of fluffy kittens, heavy blocks of text and many advertisements for home stair lifts _ “just to remind people how old they are.”

The relaunched publication features cleaner, full color layout. There are articles on hiking, cycling and spa holidays, gardening, adventurous “gap years” for over-50s and Baroque architecture.

“The stair lift ads are still there,” Budworth said, “but they’re further down the magazine.”

Some things, though, will not change. Budworth vows The Lady will not stoop to “celebrity, sex and tittle-tattle.”

“I would never use sex to sell the magazine,” he said. “The Lady is greater and grander than that.”


On the Net: https://www.thelady.co.uk

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