As the magazine celebrates its diamond anniversary, AW’s editor looks at the early years of the publication
In December 1945 a monthly magazine called Athletics was launched with long jumper Jim Morrish on the cover. Priced at just sixpence it contained just 24 pages and was curiously numbered Vol 2, No.1. This was due to post-war rationing rules barring the launch of new publications, so the creator PW ‘Jimmy’ Green sidestepped the problem by claiming the magazine had been ‘revived’ after a lapse of six years.
It was, of course, a white lie. There had been no Athletics magazine prior to World War II although, to be fair to Jimmy, he first had the idea for it in 1935 after being inspired by a paper called Athletic News which operated until 1931.
Jimmy had served in the RAF and was a businessman, endurance runner and official. Most people thought he was mad to try to launch an athletics ‘periodical’ but he ploughed on regardless and created a publication which would go on to record every run, jump and throw of note for the subsequent three-quarters of a century.
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EJ ‘Billy’ Holt, the honorary secretary of the AAA at the time, was also in on the ruse. In the first issue, he wrote: “I am sure all athletes will welcome the re-publication of ‘Athletics’, a paper devoted solely to track and cross-country running, field events and walking”.
From the start Jimmy, who was 36 at the time, made a plea for club secretaries to give him the “newsy items, fixtures and results and we’ll do the rest”. But it was challenging to begin with and the magazine was hardly a roaring success initially.
The magazine’s mission statement was to “bring all enthusiasts in the athletics world details of recent results, the latest information regarding coming events, club notes and news, results and news from the Colonies and other countries overseas, and articles of interest to the athlete generally”.
Certainly, the ethos was that this was the magazine mainly for “the club athlete” and Jimmy added: “Remember, the success and continuation of this paper depends on the support we receive from the athletes themselves. So if you want a paper of your own, rally around and tell your friends about it.”
Kent Art Printers in Chatham was the first company to print the magazine. Within the magazine’s first year there was also the timely boost of the news that the Olympics would be held in London in 1948.
Magazine goes weekly
Now growing fast in popularity, the magazine was selling around 5000 issues by the end of 1949. To meet demand, Jimmy took on the task of turning the monthly publication into a weekly with the first issue of Athletics Weekly out on January 7, 1950, costing just sixpence for 16 pages. As Mel Watman, who would later succeed Jimmy as editor, remembers: “To mark the occasion Jimmy doubled the size of the staff by taking on a typist to help him out.”
AW went weekly at a perfect time, too. In 1954 Roger Bannister ran the world’s first sub-four-minute mile and the White City saw Chris Chataway’s famous victory over Vladimir Kuts over 5000m. Athletes like Jim Peters, Derek Ibbotson and Gordon Pirie also lit up the sport domestically and AW was trackside to cover it all.
The bulk of the magazine’s content in the early years were results. But there were also fixtures listings, news stories, coaching features and athlete interviews such as the long-running ‘Questionnaire’ series and, later, ‘Spotlight on Youth’. The letters pages of AW were also often the scene of heated debate. Everything from pacemakers to poaching and fixture clashes to controversial team selections were discussed – with many of the same topics still being argued about today.
As Green took on Watman in the early 1950s the former’s business acumen was complemented by Watman’s writing skills and youthful enthusiasm. As Watman once said: “In some 30 years we never exchanged a cross word. We agreed on the fundamentals … that AW should always be regarded as the club athlete’s magazine above all else, that we would print every significant result we could obtain, publish training and technique articles by leading coaches and enable anyone to express their viewpoint as long as it wasn’t libellous.”
On the ethos of AW, Watman added: “Like any good, responsible magazine, AW has reflected the ups and downs in its particular milieu, opened its columns to comment and suggestions and, where appropriate, campaigned for reform. Right from the outset its function was to inform its readership – primarily active club athletes – of what was happening in the big wide world of athletics and how it might affect them.”
» To read a more complete history of AW, including further detail about its early years and the growth and changes through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and turn of the millennium, see Jason Henderson’s full article in our member-only Clubhouse for AW subscribers here
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