The People's Friend looks for stories from its friends

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland News

Image caption,
The first edition of the People's Friend to feature a drawing of a Scottish landmark was in 1946

As it approaches its 150th anniversary, the world's longest running women's weekly magazine is looking for stories from its "friends".

When The People's Friend launched in January 1869 its mission statement stated it was "intended for fireside reading".

Half the magazine would be devoted to fiction, it said, "with preference given to Scotch stories".

The rest would deal with practical matters such as domestic household advice.

Blending instruction and amusement was the aim and nothing with the "slightest tendency to corrupt the morals" would be allowed.

Almost 150 years later the magazine has changed in many ways but editor-in-chief Angela Gilchrist thinks it would still be recognisable to those original readers.

She says: "In the founding statement, the editor of the day talks about how the magazine would be fully one half fiction and it would be for fireside reading, I believe we have really kept to that up until 2017 and beyond.

"We still have half of our content is fiction and the magazine is well known and loved for the quality and quantity of short stories that it prints so we have stayed true to our founding principles but we have been able to move with the times too."

Image caption,
The first ever edition of the People's Friend in January 1869

The People's Friend, published by Dundee's DC Thomson, began as an offshoot of another popular publication - the People's Journal, which ceased production in 1986.

It was originally a "monthly miscellany" which was designed to be "especially a friend of the mothers, wives, daughters and bairns of Scotland".

As well as fiction it featured articles on crafts and domestic advice.

Within a year, it was so popular that it went weekly.

By the 1890s, it also had an advice page called Gossip with Good Wives, which dispensed wisdom on a wealth of household-related topics.

Its free giveaways over the years have included scissor-sharpeners and needlecases.

Image caption,
A jelly pan that was given as a competition prize in the 1920s

One competition prize from the 1920 was a jelly pan and another was a tea caddy.

Ms Gilchrist says one of her favourite stories, which was told in the magazine in 1929, involves a man running away from a rhino in the Congo and tripping over a souvenir People's Friend tea caddy.

She says it shows the magazine's wide, varied and unexpected reach.

Image caption,
A pewter tea caddy was one of the prizes given out by the People's Friend

In the fiction pages, one of the most popular serial writers of the late 19th and early 20th Century was Annie S. Swan.

Her stories were often disparagingly dubbed "Kailyard fiction", a reference to the parochialism and sentimentality of the writing.

Image caption,
Annie S Swan began writing for the People's Friend in 1881 and continued until the 1940s

One critic said her characters knew nothing higher in society than the minister and his wife and believed all the world lay in wickedness except Scotland.

Despite the criticism, she wrote for the Friend for many decades and her serials were collected into books which enjoyed great commercial success.

These days the People's Friend still sells almost 200,000 copies a week and is read by even more people as it is widely shared and often found in doctors' waiting rooms.

Image caption,
The August 1947 edition showed Balmoral Castle and pictured the newly-engaged Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark

Its readership tends to be over 60 and female but the editor-in-chief says it has readers of all ages.

However, Ms Gilchrist admits it is a magazine "people seem to grow into as their lives become less busy and they have more time to enjoy reading".

She says there is often a family tradition attached to the magazine.

"It is so touching when somebody says 'my mum used to get it, she passed away last year but now I buy it because it reminds me of her'.

"It is such as strong and powerful connection."

Tradition is very important to the readers of the magazine.

In 1946, it began putting lines drawings of Scottish landmarks on its front page.

Over the years this evolved to become hand-painted scenes from around the UK, which are especially created by a small group of in-house artists.

For years, a roll of different artists produced cover art under the pseudonym J Campbell Kerr.

Image caption,
Margaret Macleod is one of four artists who produce the front cover of the magazine

Margaret Macleod, who lives on the Hebridean isle of Lewis, is one of the modern-day cover artists.

She told BBC Scotland: "People ask me why is my name not on the cover.

"I'm quite happy with my name not being on the cover.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people in the village who don't even know that I do this."

The Friend's editor-in-chief says: "It is really part of our identity that we have that illustrated front cover.

"We know our readers love those images so much. The minute you see it on the shelf you know it is the People's Friend.

"Over the years I think we must have covered every picturesque place that there is. Maybe more than once in some instances.

"Even today it is still produced by hand. Those are not digital images."

The magazine has always been a Scottish production but its appeal is well-travelled.

Australia is a particularly large and loyal destination for the Friend.

"Quite a few years ago we decided we would try putting an Australian scene on the cover for their edition and we actually got a backlash from readers," Ms Gilchrist says.

"They said they could see Australian scenes any time. They bought the People's Friend because it reminded them of the UK and particularly Scotland."

Incredible stories

In January, a year before its 150th anniversary, The People's Friend is launching an appeal for readers to share their stories.

"Readers love to tell us where they came across the friend and that can sometimes be exotic and interesting locations," Ms Gilchrist says.

"Part of the secret of its success is the incredible love of the magazine that the readers have. They are so loyal to it.

"We have incredible stories of people who have been reading for 40/50 even 60 years every single issue."

She says she knows of one reader in Kilmarnock who is 103 years old and has been reading the magazine since she was five.

"The magazine has always had a strong bond with its readers," Ms Gilchrist says.

"They have trusted us to give them what they want.

"It's a really powerful connection that we have."