Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Nina Myskow - Jackie The Musical

It was May 17th 1973 when Nina Myskow met David Bowie in Dundee. Myskow was working as a writer on Jackie, the iconic girls pop and fashion magazine that was already one of the most iconic signifiers of the decade. Bowie had just done a show at the Caird Hall as part of the final leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour, and was at his glam-packed peak.

When the clock struck midnight at the after-show party in the hotel bar, it was Myskow's birthday, and Bowie bought her a bottle of champagne.

“I said thank you very much,” says Myskow today after four decades as tabloid pop columnist and TV critic and personality, “but what I really want is an interview.”

Bowie said okay, as it was her birthday, he'd do it, and that she should come and see him at 11am.

When she arrived later that morning, Myskow sized up the superstar in front of her.

“Can you imagine it?” says Myskow “It was probably the first time anyone in Dundee had ever seen a man in make-up. I looked at him and said, 'I do think that if a man's going to wear nail varnish, David, it shouldn't be chipped.”

This mix of girl-powered attitude and near parental judgement has not only defined Myskow's career since then, but Jackie itself as she went on to become the first female editor of the magazine where she'd begun her career.

Today, Myskow has been appointed 'editor in chief' of Jackie – The Musical, an all singing, all dancing homage to the seemingly more innocent age the magazine represented and the influence on women of a certain age that it's left in its wake as they grew up in a pre social media age. Scripted by Mike James and with choreography by Arlene Philips, Anna Linstrum's production of a show originally mounted in the Gardyne Theatre, Dundee in 2013 focuses on a fifty-something woman of the same name who returns to her old copies of the magazines for advice as she embarks on a very grown-up divorce.

“It's very strange for me becoming involved in such an extraordinary show so long after I was working at Jackie,” Myskow reflects. “It's nearly half a century, but although Jackie was so long ago, because it was my first job it meant so much.”

Jackie was founded by publishers DC Thomson in 1964, and by the time Myskow ended up working there a couple of years later after departing St Andrew's University following the end of her first year, “because I wanted to get on with things,” it was already making waves.

“The editor then was a lovely, big, gruff, red-bearded, bald guy called Gordon Small,” Myskow remembers, “and the office was full of these young girls like me in their teens or their twenties, so there was this mix of his journalistic brilliance and our knowledge, and that's what made it work.”

During Myskow's twelve years with the magazine, Jackie grew to be the best selling teen magazine in the UK. The likes of Fab 208 and the sorely under-rated Pink couldn't compete, and by 1976 Jackie was selling more than 600,000 copies. The mag's mix of pop, fashion, romantic fiction, photo-based comic strips and advice from the much lauded Cathy and Claire agony column tapped into a teenage readership like no other girls magazine before or since. The Cathy and Claire page alone generated as many as four hundred letters a week. The reasons for such a phenomenon, according to Myskow, were a mixture of time, place and circumstance.

“There was all sorts of competition,” says Myskow, “and it would have been very easy to market something to the vulnerable age group we were dealing with and make these vulnerable young girls part with their money, but there was a certain ethos in place, and, without being pompous, we had a certain responsibility to our readership.”

Under Myskow's tenure, shortly after the contraceptive pill was made free on prescription, this sense of responsibility manifested itself in a Dear Doctor column that dealt with what were coyly termed 'below the waist issues.' For all there may have been a focus on boys and teenage romance pulsing throughout Jackie's pages, a sense of empowerment and independence for young women on the verge was also paramount.

“I felt it was important that we articulated that young girls could have dreams and self-esteem,” says Myskow. “My mother was a science teacher who'd gone to St Andrew's University and brought me up after my dad died when I was twelve, so the idea of being around intelligent independent women wasn't strange to me, and I wanted Jackie to be like an encouraging big sister.”

Being based in Dundee too kept those behind Jackie grounded, not least Myskow herself.

“We weren't living some flash existence in London and falling out of 1970s parties,” she says. “I think it's fair to say that Dundee in the sixties and seventies didn't swing in any way, and because we lived more of a nine to five existence I think we could reflect more what our readers, who were really a lot like us, were about. In that way, Jackie was a sort of early technicolour form of social media that concerned itself with the sort of life we thought might be possible.”

In terms of an equivalent to Jackie today, beyond the more upfront Just 17 and More that followed in Jackie's wake before becoming similarly defunct, “I don't think there is one,” says Myskow. “Life moved on but magazines didn't. Teenage girls have so many advantages now in a way that they didn't in the seventies, but there's so much pressure that comes with all that in terms of sexting and online images of the Kardashians that they're pressured into aspiring to. Teenage girls aren't equipped for all that pressure. They used to be able to go to mum and dad to ask about things or they could go to Jackie for answers, but they don't have that sense of security anymore.”

For Myskow, at least, Jackie changed her world.

“My interests were always showbiz and entertainment,” she says, “and Jackie opened so many doors for me. I met Elton John and went to America on a private plane. I met Freddie Mercury, David Cassidy and David Essex, and went on tour with the Osmonds.”

All of this proved essential once Myskow moved into the tabloid world en route to being dubbed first the 'queen of pop,' then later the 'Bitch on the Box.'.

“I had all these contacts,” she says, “and that extended, so I ended up going to China to see Jean Michelle Jarre and had all of these other opportunities.”

Myskow describes Jackie The Musical as “hot flush heaven” and “a riot of platforms and prosecco.” But beyond such flourishes of tabloidese, she also points out that “It does have heart. It makes you laugh, dance and sing, but it also makes you cry at points as well. For me, that all goes beyond nostalgia, and I think there's something in the show that women of every age can learn from.”

Jackie The Musical, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, April 12-16; Perth Concert Hall, April 26-30; Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, July 12-16; His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, July 19-23; King's Theatre, Glasgow, July 26-30.


ends

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