Jackie The Musical comes to Theatre Royal

In a time before smart-phones, social media and the Internet, there was only one place a discerning young girl would seek advice on the topics that mattered. Launched in an austerity-ravaged Britain, Jackie Magazine keyed into the nascent phenomena of the teenager. Selling over a million copies each week, it gave 70s tweens everything they needed to make decisions about fashion, music and relationships. “It was absolutely their own. It came out on a Thursday and cost sixpence,” Nina Myskow tells me. “That sounds positively Victorian now, but you had to have your own copy, it was very personal.” As editor for the title at its peak, Myskow is delighted to see it become the subject of an exciting new stage production.

Capturing the childhood experience of millions of women, ‘Jackie The Musical’ harks back to simpler times. A recent divorcee seeks solace in old copies of the teen bible, hoping it will again support her through the trials of life. Starring Janet Dibley (‘The Two of Us’, ‘EastEnders’, ‘Fat Friends’), Olivier Award nominee Graham Bickley (‘Ragtime’, ‘Bread’) and Nicholas Bailey (‘EastEnders’, ‘The Archers’), the show comes to Theatre Royal Brighton, on Tues 5 – Sat 9 April as part of a national tour. “The women who were reading Jackie as teenage girls, they’re the people who’ll connect immediately. It’ll take them back to when life was very different for them.” Written by Mike James, directed by Anna Linstrum and choreographed by Arlene Phillips, the show’s soundtrack is packed with 70s pop idols like Donny Osmond, David Cassidy and Marc Bolan. This fun and feisty night show perfectly reflects the magazine’s enormous cultural significance.

Through quizzes, snazzy fashion tips, features on dating and the legendary Cathy and Claire problem pages Jackie reached out to young minds. If you needed a new look, wanted to know what a teen idol ate for breakfast or had a rubbish best friend, answers could be found in those pages. Reading it with a modern eye reveals an inviolable world with little uncertainty. But it remains the product of a modest era, offering practical advice on a range of subjects rather than obsessing over wealth, status or appearance. “Life was lived in black and white in those days. You lived a kind of solitary life, it wasn’t connected in the way it is now where you have unlimited access to information and fun.” So Jackie was a portal to an interesting and wider life, acting as a virtual big sister for girls aged 12-16. Existing to entertain with pop, fashion, beauty and boys, there remained a duty of care to their readership within its content. “That’s a very vulnerable age-group, it’s easy to persuade them to part with their money and influence them. I felt we should take a responsible attitude and take care of them in a way.” Unfortunately a glance through the magazine’s modern equivalents offers little in the way of outmoded concepts like charm or empowerment.

The transitional period from being a little girl to being a woman remains the same. It’s an anxious time that is full of uncertainty. Jackie might well be too structured to stimulate modern girls when set against our modern media landscape of bloggers, YouTube channels and social media click-bait. “Things are much more extreme, it’s faster and you don’t have the time to just work things out and feel comfortable. It seems to go from Barbie idols to bondage, and it’s a very sad thing.” Photo love stories and cheeky sewing tips are simply anachronistic. Now swagger has become more important than individuality. “I was very keen girls should been given a sense of their own identity and self-esteem. They could have far horizons, and the world was open to them. Obviously there were fun things, but there was a healthy dose of realism.” Through rampant commercialism and sexualisation, it would seem modern magazines are less encouraging to young girls to find their own way, instead urging them to conform. It stands at odds with the rise of feminism that accompanied Jackie’s glory years.

When Myskow joined Jackie the magazine had an editor in the unlikely form of Gordon Small, an ex-RAF engineer. “He was the least likely person to know anything about teenage girls, but he was brilliant…” By 1974 she’d been appointed the first female editor, not only at the magazine, but in the history of its publisher. It was a small victory for women in a male dominated world. Even at this time of radical cultural change and sexual revolution gender equality was far from a reality. Further reinforcing the title’s principles, Myskow undoubtedly played a part in making Jackie so influential. “If I meet a woman in their 50s and I mention Jackie, they’ll go completely to pieces.” Later working on papers like The News of the World and The Sun, Myskow became noted for her ‘outspoken’ views. “Because I was strong and fairly forthright, there was a huge fuss about it all. People find it very hard how to take a strong woman. Honesty is the most important thing.” Eventually, as a new millennium and new attitudes approached, Jackie’s conservative ethos was increasingly unable to withstand pressure from its livelier and grubbier competitors. While the physical version closed in 1993, publisher DC Thomson has reinvigorated Jackie as a unified brand. A series of 70s-themed compilation albums were issued by EMI Records in 2007, unsurprisingly selling millions of copies, predominantly picked up by women eager to relive their formative years. This was followed by an annual, compiling some of the magazine’s greatest features, and then a retro clothes range.

Now the latest treat for any Jackie devotee is this sumptuous musical. It might all be rooted squarely in nostalgia, but everyone has a special connection with their teenage years. The original performances in Dundee even saw people dancing in the aisles. “Anybody who likes 70s music will be in for a treat. It’s a proper story, full of hopes, laughter and fears. It’s extraordinary to think that a magazine which died a long time ago should be revived in this way!” Myskow was introduced to the show’s producer by Elton John’s manager John Reid. “They called me editor in chief, so I’m a kind of mentor and mascot.” After working in television, radio, magazines and newspapers, she is thrilled to be involved with a theatre show. There’s also a certain sense of privilege to have been in a position of influence in so many young lives. “At that age you’re pretty much on your own, with your spots, problems and crushes on somebody hopeless. Hopefully Jackie was there…”

‘Jackie The Musical’ comes to Theatre Royal Brighton, on Tues 5 – Sat 9 April


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