Most literary people when they think of past magazines called The Idler would cite Samuel Johnson’s famous miscellany and Jerome K Jerome’s humorous organ of the1890s. Today’s Idler is edited by the anti-corporatist and ukelele enthusiast Tom Hodgkinson, author of How to be Free. But there was another Idler, which is, as yet, unknown to Wikipedia, and indeed has a very, very low online profile.
This Idler, a tabloid format miscellany printed on newsprint, edited by Sci-Fi writer James Parkhill-Rathbone, and published by ‘Editorial Associates’, existed for a short time around 1966 and then folded. Published quarterly from the editor’s home, the Old Crown, Wheatley, a former coaching inn, it called itself an ‘entertainment’, which is about right, since most of the articles are middlebrow excursive essays on a variety of literary and art-related topics with decorations by classic illustrators such as Pennell, and Charles Brock and contemporary artists, including Edward Ardizonne. Much of the material reflects the tastes of its middle-class and middlebrow editor, who after working in publishing and as an editorial assistant for Science Fantasy, settled down to a life as a writer of pretty conventional science fiction. What makes him a little unusual among the Sci-Fi community is the informed passion for art and architecture, which emerges from much of his work for the Idler.
It is no surprise, for instance, that the middle-of-the road travel writings of Cyril Upton, author of a slim volume entitled The Perfumed Pen (1937) and Musings in Provence and Beyond (1955) comprise much of the Idler content. Nor that the work of another Sci-Fi writer, the much younger and more talented Josephine Saxton, who enjoyed gardening and shared Parkhill-Rathbone’s love of old houses, also appeared. Interestingly, given that both made their names in science fiction, and indeed Saxton’s ‘ feminist’ Sci-Fi was later to earn her the label of being a ‘ true original’, no material of that kind can be detected in any of the issues of The Idler that we have examined.
The souped-up Robert Lynd and E.V.Lucas-style musings and a few reprinted extracts from classic authors and some living ones don’t make for exciting reading, but the Idler did publish extracts from novels by William Gerhardie and a few more academic pieces, notably some perceptive art criticism by the twenty-eight year old Marina Vaizey. Her lengthy, perceptive, exegesis of Ardizonne’s work stands out boldly from the Sunday supplement content of one issue, as does her description of a visit to the V & A. in another. [RMH]