Many people remember Look-In as a comic / magazine hybrid with an emphasis on pop music features. However, when it began, the publication was somewhat different and, in my opinion, a more enjoyable comic than the one it evolved into.
Look-In was launched in the first week of 1971, promoted by tv advertising and ads in the TV Times. Look-In was in fact sub-titled The Junior TVTimes and its design and format (glossy photogravure) was similar to its parent publication, although at 24 pages, the comic was significantly smaller in page count. Early issues featured photo covers, often staged exclusively for Look-In, similar to the covers of TVTimes, although this practice was later dropped in favour of illustrated covers by Arnaldo Putzu as the comic strip content was slightly increased.
Comics devoted to strips inspired by tv shows were nothing new of course, even in 1971. The 1950s/1960s had produced the first tv generation and publishers were soon capitalizing on that with titles such as TV Comic, TV Fun, and TV Century 21. What made Look-In different was that it had more of a balance of strips and features than its contemporaries. Unlike TV21 which had run items on space exploration, the features in Look-In were about television itself; the programmes, the stars, and the behind-the-scenes production. Truly a "Junior TVTimes" as the cover line promised. In a rather telling display of how society has changed, the page design and the tone of the articles in a 1971 Look-In seem more mature than those in the TV Times of today!
Running articles on tv shows in Look-In was a wise move by the publisher (Independent Television Publications Ltd). Falling sales of comics were partly being blamed on the distractions of the high quality of children's tv and early evening light entertainment at the time. It made sense to tackle this with a magazine that would capture children's interest. The editor of Look-In was Alan Fennell, who had previously edited TV Century 21 in its early, most popular, years. Apparently it was hoped that Fennell could work similar magic on a new tv title, - and he did.
Even the free gift in the first two issues of Look-In was designed to appeal to the new generation of tv savvy readers: a press-out cardboard model Magpie studio, complete with camera, boom, and presenters. (Magpie was ITV's answer to the BBC's Blue Peter.) The backdrop to the studio appeared in issue No.1's centre pages. Clearly Look-In expected its readers to be a bit more sophisticated than the ones who played with the free Thunder-Bangs or plastic whistles given in other comics.
As the comic was published by ITV, the strips and features within Look-In could only be based on ITV shows. However, this didn't present a problem as the 1970s were a prolific period for children's television and family entertainment. That said, only a third of the first issue of Look-In carried strips, although more strips were added later.
The standout strip in the early issues of Look-In was Timeslip, illustrated by Mike Noble. Mike had previously worked on TV21 and, highly regarded by Alan Fennell, the editor had invited him to work on the new publication. As expected, Noble's spectacular colour work was dynamic and exciting. Back then of course there could be no video or DVD reference sent to the artist, but when he appeared at a Bristol Comic Expo a few years ago Mike recalled how he had been invited to the studio during the recording of an episode of the ATV Timeslip drama in order to meet cast members Cheryl Burfield and Spencer Banks.
Another established artist working on Look-In from day one was Graham Allen. He had previously utilised his humour style for Odhams on strips such as The Nervs, Tuffy McGrew, and Kicks, and had develped an adventure style on Typhoon Tracy for IPC's Tiger and Jag. For Look-In he was commissioned to draw Please Sir!, a popular London Weekend sitcom starring John Alderton, and used an effective style which had just the right amount of caricature and slapstick.
Tom Kerr, another veteran artist of British comics, was the artist on Crowther in Trouble, featuring the comic actor Leslie Crowther. Kerr was another artist who could draw "darker" strips when required, but here he used his popular lighter approach. A good artist for drawing physical comedy.
Comics based on tv shows provide a good historical record of television history that might otherwise fade into the mists of time. For example, who can remember a tv series called Wreckers at Dead Eye? Not me for one, but the early issues of Look-In carried a single page serial of this relatively obscure pirate saga. Nicely illustrated, but I'm at a loss to identify the artist. Can anyone help?
Freewheelers was another well illustrated adventure strip in the early years of Look-In. Initially a two page serial drawn by Jorge Badia, who had previously illustrated romance comics for Fleetway. The strip later became an unusual mixture of text story and a few comic frames drawn by Mike Noble.
Other notable strips in the early (1971/72) issues of Look-In include....
On The Buses drawn by Harry North. The sitcom was a massive hit for itv although its humour was often too bawdy and sexist to transfer to a children's comic. Nevertheless, the strip version was fun in its own right, and North's artwork was superb.
Superflop was a comedy sketch on the Les Dawson comedy show Sez Les. Dawson portrayed a blundering British superhero and the comic strip version was drawn by Brian Lewis.
Brian Lewis was one of the rare breed of comic artists who could turn his hand to cartoony slapstick with equal accomplishment as his adventure strip material. Truly a highly talented creator. He also drew Mark Strong for Look-In, a strip based on a Mattel action figure.
Look-In had a rival in the form of Countdown, launched a few weeks after the ITV publication by Polystyle. Although the content of Countdown was more appealing to the sci-fi fan (including as it did Doctor Who and UFO) it was sadly out of its time and too 1960s and similar to the now-failing TV21.
Personally, I was an avid reader of both Look-In and Countdown, but a development would happen with the comics that would put me off both of them. In 1972, Countdown moved away from all sci-fi strips to become TV Action, including strips such as Hawaii Five-O and The Protectors. I didn't mind that so much, but what did put me off was the later inclusion of pop star pin-ups.
Look-In moved into similar territory (before TV Action) in September 1972. The first noticeable change was the paper stock. Photogravure was gone, replaced by a glossy (albeit better quality) stock for the colour pages, but a rough litho stock for the mono pages. However, the biggest change was the arrival of the "free" 4 page extra - a pullout devoted to pop stars.
Previously, Look-In was exactly the kind of tv comic/magazine I wanted, until the new look came along. It had always been aimed at boys and girls although in fairness it was probably pitched more for the male market. Now the balance appeared to be tipping the other way. The strips and tv features were still there but the magazine seemed to be dominated by that pop pull-out. I was never into the glam rock music of the day, so a cover and pull-out poster of Marc Bolan were waste of pages to my mind.
The second "bigger and better" issue was even worse. The centre pages featured a huge face shot of Donny bloody Osmond. Next issue promised "a four page extra on the fabulous David Cassidy". Look-In had always been aimed at both sexes but now it felt like it was turning into Jackie. I was 13 years old and wanted Look-In to feature pin-ups of Penny Spencer from Please Sir! or Gabrielle Drake from UFO, not some poncey posing lads with blow waves. Grumpily I dropped Look-In like a stone and probably went back to reading Valiant or something, whilst eating Marmite sandwiches, and watching Benny Hill just to really assert my Gene Hunt status.
I still bought Look-In occasionally over the years, if a Kung Fu or Blondie cover caught my eye, but never on a regular basis again. Obviously the decisions by ITV (and later IPC who took over the mag) were correct as Look-In enjoyed a long a very successful run. My reluctance to buy the mag on a regular basis meant I missed out on lots of artwork by John Burns, John Bolton and the like but Look-In was a relatively expensive comic for the few pages that appealed. The last issue I bought was in 1984 for Mike Noble's new Robin of Sherwood strip but the accompanying Bucks Fizz comic strip and Nik Kershaw pin-up made sure I didn't buy another. Although by then I was 25 so it's hardly surprising Look-In had lost its appeal.:)
Last year, a book was published collecting some of the Look-In pages. It focused too much on the late seventies for my tastes, but if you're interested it can be ordered from Amazon.
Fans of the Timeslip tv series may be interested in this website: http://www.timeslip.org.uk/
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