Who read the ‘Magnet’?

In its heyday the Magnet sold over 200,000 copies a week. Since many copies were likely to have been shared, passed around or swapped the readership would have been higher than this. In 1916, the magazine printed this page of readers’ photos. One wears a a straw boater and one a yarmulke; others wear cloth caps. Two readers are identified as from South Africa, and three are Sea Scouts. (Click the picture for a larger version.)

Who were these readers? Not, mostly, pupils at schools like Greyfriars. Many of them were students at much less distinguished schools, or boys who had left school at twelve to become office boys or apprentices. No girls are included among these pictures, though there definitely were girl readers, and several of the readers’ messages that appeared from time to time are from girls. Mary Cadogan once claimed that there were as many girl readers as boys, but that seems an overestimate to me. There were enough, though, for Hamilton and his Amalgamated Press editors to see the potential of a new magazine featuring Billy Bunter’s sister, Bessie.
Between 1914 and 1918 there were also quite a few readers in the armed forces. Many wartime issues carry this notice:


There are also often messages from soldier readers asking for pen-pals, or for copies of the magazine. One issue contains the addresses of readers who are prisoners-of-war in Germany, and asks readers to send them back numbers of their favourite magazines, the Gem and Magnet. There are also sometimes messages from parents, asking for any information concerning the whereabouts of a soldier who is missing.

In 1916, the editor with, I think, a mixture of pride and annoyance, reprints an extract from the Westminster Gazette, which attests to the popularity of the Magnet with servicemen, though condescending to it rather mightily:


The Magnet and Gem also had readers in prep schools, young boys who would soon themselves be going to a public school. From his autobiography we know that Evelyn Waugh greatly enjoyed the magazines at this time (his enjoyment enhanced by official disapproval). There might be a Ph. D. in tracing the influence of Greyfriars on Waugh’s comic vision.

So I can’t help but wonder whether the E.Waugh in this 1916 list of back-number requests might not be the future novelist. He’d have been about thirteen at the time.

back numbers

The young Waugh lived in North London, but not at this address, so far as I know. But maybe he wouldn’t want unrespectable reading material delivered to his home… I’ll try to do a little detective work on the address.

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