In the 1980s and early 1990s, I was a dedicated reader of the London Spectator, which has now launched an Australian version, the English magazine with a 12-page Australian supplement in the middle, edited by Oscar Humphries.
With a circulation of 77,000, according to The Australian‘s write-up of the magazine’s local launch, it sells many more copies than it used to. But the magazine seems to me to be much weaker than it was 20 years ago. A couple of regulars from that time are left – columnist Paul Johnson, and ‘high life’ columnist Taki – but the stars are long gone: writers such as Christopher Hitchens, who of course went on to much greater fame, Timothy Garton Ash who wrote superb articles from then communist central Europe, Jeffrey Bernard with his ‘low life’ column, Auberon Waugh with his weekly ‘Another Voice’ column (the latter two have since died), and many others. In more recent times Mark Steyn and Theodore Dalrymple made it worth reading occasionally, but Steyn has gone and Dalrymple appears infrequently.
It was always much lighter, more personal, and more opinionated than other news magazines, and still is – but this only works if the writers have the style, substance or humour to carry it off, and it is the lack of these that makes much of the current Spectator at best moderately interesting. Oscar Humphries is really only (slightly) famous for being his father’s son, so do we really care that he has a small art collection? But at least I know who Oscar Humphries is, which is at least the starting point for possibly being interested in what he has to say, if only in the hope that he tells us something interesting about his dad. Reading the magazine on a plane without Google I had no idea who the diarist Charles Waterstreet was, and even now that I do I don’t care that he had a mid-life crisis aged 12, or that he thinks that at 60th birthday parties the trouble is that there are too many candles and not enough cake.
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