Launched a year after the New Musical Express (NME), Record Mirror never attained the circulation of its high-profile rival, but during the 1960s and early 1970s did achieve a reasonable circulation based on its reputation among both mainstream pop music fans and serious record collectors as the most interesting—and often quirkiest—of the then four competing pop weeklies (Melody Maker, NME, Record Mirror, Disc). The first ever UK album chart was published in Record Mirror in 1956, and in the 1980s it was the only consumer music paper to carry the official UK singles and UK albums charts.
Isadore Green, like NME founder Maurice Kinn, was formerly a sports newspaper editor, and the same combative form of journalism was initially encouraged. Staff writers included Dick Tatham, Peter Jones, and later Ian Dove. But Green’s greatest love was with the world of show-business and as the ’50s progressed he devoted increasing column inches of Record Mirror to show-business articles and interviews, especially the British music-hall tradition (by then virtually dead), theatre, stage musicals, Hollywood musicals, and the comings-and-goings of mainstream show-business entertainers from TV, radio, stage and screen. This did not help circulation.
For almost two months in the middle of 1959 Record Mirror failed to appear due to the national printing strike. On its return, Green had re-named it Record And Show Mirror with the majority of space being devoted to traditional show-business. It was a financial disaster. By the end of 1960 the circulation had fallen to 18,000 copies and Record Mirror’s main shareholder, the major Decca Records group, was unhappy. Decca had been buying shares for years in order to support Record Mirror, although they were gentlemanly enough not to influence editorial content. Nevertheless their involvement precluded much advertising from rival major EMI.
In March 1961 Decca sacked Green and brought in their own editor, Jimmy Watson, a former Decca group press officer, who changed the title to New Record Mirror and considerably streamlined the paper, ditching the show-business element. Watson, with the enthusiastic editorial team of Peter Jones, Ian Dove and Norman Jopling, and well-respected free-lance columnists James Asman (traditional jazz, and country & western), Benny Green (modern jazz), and DJ David Gell (singles reviews), oversaw a rapid circulation rise, helped also by an innovative chart coverage. This eventually included the official UK Top 50 singles, Top 30 LPs, Top 10 EPs (as compiled by Record Retailer), the US Top 50 singles (compiled by Cash Box), Top 20 five years ago, Top 20 R&B singles and Top 10 R&B albums – a far broader coverage than any other pop weekly. Over the next few years such regular features as Ian Dove’s Rhythm & Blues Round Up, Peter Jones’ New Faces, and Norman Jopling’s Fallen Idols and Great Unknowns, plus New Record Mirror’s specialist music coverage helped the circulation rise rapidly to nearly 70,000 copies weekly. New Record Mirror became the first national publication to publish an article on the Beatles, and the first to feature many other groups from the Sixties’ UK beat boom era including the Rolling Stones, the Searchers, The Who, and the Kinks. Bill Harry, founder and editor of the influential Liverpool music paper Mersey Beat, was brought in to write a column on the Liverpool scene, and other local columnists reported the burgeoning beat scene in Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, etc. Record Mirror also heavily championed black American rhythm & blues, becoming the ‘bible’ for UK R&B fans, as well as maintaining a regular flow of articles on classic rock’n’roll.
During 1963 Decca Records’ chairman Edward Lewis sold a substantial share of Decca’s interest in Record Mirror to John Junor, editor of the Sunday Express. Junor had been intrigued by his MP friend Woodrow Wyatt’s new enterprise, a four-colour web-offset printers in Banbury, and Junor subsequently began looking for a guinea-pig to test the web-offset printing process with a view to printing the Sunday Express in colour. New Record Mirror became that guinea-pig.
Junor temporarily moved in his own Sunday Express production team to 116 Shaftesbury Avenue and decreed that New Record Mirror should become more mainstream pop-oriented. Thus it was re-relaunched in November 1963, once again titled Record Mirror, and featured a colour picture of the Beatles on the front…the first music paper in full colour. Although the entire first print run of 120,000 sold out, the following issue saw the circulation fall back down closer to 60,000. Junor swiftly sacked editor Jimmy Watson and replaced him by promoting Peter Jones. Jones knew RM was in danger of losing its considerable specialist fan base and over the next few months achieved the feat of maintaining the paper’s new pop pin-up image, but also retaining sufficient specialist articles, interviews and charts to satisfy the connoisseur element of the readership. The circulation recovered. Jones also hired notorious ex-NME journalist Richard Green (“the Beast”), and RM successfully continued with essentially the same editorial format throughout the Sixties.
Following the acquisition in 1962 of NME by the publishing giant Odhams, RM was the only “independent” pop music newspaper, and throughout the ’60s its tiny offices above Drum City became a haven for pop business mavericks and misfits, while Peter Jones’ “second office” around the corner at DeHems Oyster Bar was a mecca for artists, publicists, and assorted hangers-on. All this ended late in 1969 when RM was acquired by Record Retailer, later to become Music Week, and was incorporated into the larger Record Retailer offices in Carnaby Street.
Other journalists and present and future music business luminaries to work at Record Mirror full or part-time during the Sixties included Graeme Andrews, Derek Boltwood, Roy Burden, Terry Chappell, Lon Goddard, David Griffiths, Tony Hall, Valerie Mabbs, Barry May, and Alan Stinton. The Record Mirror photographic studios were run by legendary lensman Dezo Hoffmann, whose colleagues and apprentices included Bill Williams, Eileen Mallory, Alan Messer, Feri Lukas, David Magnus, Keith Hammett, (more names here)
In 1977 Music Week (formerly Record Retailer) and Record Mirror were sold by the Billboard organisation by Morgan Grampion, and both offices moved to Long Acre in Covent Garden. Morgan Grampion then moved in 1981 to Greater London House (the famous Black Cat building) in Mornington Crescent.
In an effort to boost sales it changed to a Smash Hits-style glossy magazine format in 1982, but ceased publication in April 1991, with sister publication Sounds closing in the same week (of the above mentioned publications only NME survives today.) Its final cover stars were Transvision Vamp. In its final years it veered wildly from being a largely humourless imitation of Smash Hits to attempting to gain credibility as the magazine of record for the emerging rave and acid scene.
Record Mirror was continued as a four-page supplement in Music Week, driven by the chart section, although in later years the supplement concentrated solely on dance music. The RM dance charts were later incorporated into Music Week itself.