Cover Story: Radio Times at 90 – Museum of London

As a massive TV-listings snob the only magazine allowed on the coffee table is the Radio Times, purchased every week for as long as I can remember. Even as a student it was my one luxury, read from cover to cover with tea and toast after Tuesday morning lectures. Lots of people only buy the famous Christmas issue and spend the rest of the year with an inferior publication, and you certainly get what you pay for. If you only spend 45p, then you get 45p-worth of value – soap spoilers and articles about dreary Sunday night hospital dramas. Instead in last week’s RT you could have read about child slavery in the industrial revolution, the consequence of removing bees from the natural world, Caligula’s reputation, successful female sports presenters and news reporting in war zones – and that’s not even half the content.

Understandably then, the Museum of London is celebrating 90 years of the Radio Times with a small exhibition of key covers from across the period, showing how the RT has explored and reflected national life as it happened – from the first ever TV broadcast to key historical moments including Second World War air raids, coronations, royal weddings and births, wars and changing Prime Ministers. There’s a 1920s Marconi radio on display, a Luftwaffe map, covers from the 60s and 70s announcing the birth of Radio 1 and interviews with Mick Jagger,  responding to shifts in music tastes, and an unpublished article on secret dealings in 80s politics.

There’s not much detail about the processes involved in producing the weekly RT and how decisions are made on controversial topics, but it is interesting to see how leading artists and photographers, as well as renowned writers have contributed to its relevance. There’s also a display dedicated to Dr Who with some selected covers and art work, plus a recreation of the award-winning Dalek on Westminster Bridge cover – photo opportunity for fans celebrating 50 years of the show.

The exhibition is probably a bit too small for a special trip, but the Museum of London is great so it won’t be a wasted journey. And on the way home, trade in your lesser TV mag for the Radio Times – and you’ll never look back!

The free Radio Times exhibition is at the Museum of London until 3 November.

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About Maryam Philpott

This blog takes a more discursive and in-depth approach to reviewing a range of interesting cultural activities in London, covering everything from theatre to exhibitions, films and heritage. I am part of the London theatre critic team for The Reviews Hub where I have professionally reviewed over 300 shows. It was set up in 2007 to review all forms of professional theatre nationwide including Fringe and West End. My background is in social and cultural history and I published a book entitled Air and Sea Power in World War One which examines the experience of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy. View all posts by Maryam Philpott

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