Ten Years Ago in ‘Spy’
Reliving one’s formative years of logrolling, short-fingered vulgarians and Separations at Birth


September 1993

While bored absolutely out of my gourd, I rooted through my Spy pile for another issue to read and lo and behold, the date read July. Yes, there really were summer issues.

But let’s not dwell on the past.

This month, we relentlessly beat up on the English. It’s an absolute tour de force by Joe Queenan.

Start, though, with a graphic-design note. This issue does not have an art director; David Kaestle is listed as “consulting art director.” Isley, Honeycutt, and Kuypers kept quitting? Or what? In any event, all the fonts are huge now, rivaling Windows word processing, in fact, with none of that subtlety or reverence for centuries-long typographic usage that made the old Spy so very difficult to read.

If you’re going to make the magazine look like something viewed through a magnifier, could you at least do a complete redesign to make it all work? Very large Metroblack and very large Garamond 3 work about as well as an NBA forward in a tuxedo.

“Great Expectations”

The front-of-book column circa 1993 was renamed “Great Expectations” (it never had a name before, which I suppose is kind of a name). Straddling a sepiatone photo of what appears to be a very young Clark Johnson with a moustache, we read:

That Brits bring class to an enterprise is an idea that should have been exploded long ago, together with the myth that they have good manners. When a Brit is imported to take over an American enterprise, it invariabley takes a downward turn in tone. It becomes tackier, cheaper, more vulgar. The dynamic, in fact, is the diametric opposite of conventional wisdom. It is American enterprises that have the strength, the knowhow, the traditions – in the best sense of the word, class. It is the Brits who are the interlopers, the vulgarians, the Goths at the gate. [...]

Brit Anglophilia goes hand in hand with a profound contempt for all other cultures, in particular that of the U.S. Hence their success. Nothing makes exploitation easier than loathing what you’re exploiting.

DCC: You’ll never be popular

Let’s interrupt the Brit-bashing for a moment.

One notes a lavish double-page spread from Philips (complying with David Ogilvy’s precept that there’s no such thing as too much copy) pushing the doomed cœlecanth of an audio format, the digital compact cassette.

Cassette, for Chrissake. What were they thinking?

Who the hell wants a linear magnetic format that can still get all tangled up, or at least remains susceptible to being pulled out of its casing and strewn all over the ground by tough guys in American police dramas? And who the hell likes the faggy word cassette?

The Philips advert (note how difficult it is to actually buy a Philips product in North America) seems to use alternating black and dusty-blue shades of Gill Sans Bold Condensed (ugly as shite) and ITC Garamond Light body copy. It goes on and on and on forever. “Can you take it on the road if the road is a trail? Does it record in pure digital sound? Does it impress the experts? Will it play your existing cassettes? Is the music industry behind it? Is there really any other choice?”

Well, where does one start?

  • Why are all the questions posed using the second person, you? Are we talking to the ad or is the ad talking to us? How the hell can “the music industry is behind it” be a selling point? When you ask “Does it record in pure digital sound?” aren’t you failing to mention that you cannot record a compact disc or another DCC onto a DCC (more than once, anyway)?
  • Do you really want to be told you have no choice, and have it made to sound somehow beneficial?


Whenever I deal with pedants who insist that K.D. Lang must be written as kd lang because she or her publicists claim it must, invariably the example of e.e. cummings is trotted out. What about him? Huh? Huh?

Well, Spy runs an entire table of all-minusculist orthographies, and challenges auteurs to defend them. Soderbergh says “It just looked better”; Herskovitz says “There was something in the material, the way in which it was unformal [sic] and realistic and like everyday life, that somehow made [our designer] think of all lower case.”

What about e.e. cummings?

“[The publishers] decided to print his name... in lower case, supposedly because he did not have a conventional approach to capitalization... But that was in his poetry. He spelled his own name with capitals. His widow was furious when it was said that he’d legally changed his name to lower case. She blew her stack”
Norman Friedman, biographer

Hannibal, shurely?!

In “Party Poop” this month, a man with a full head of hair smiles quietly behind an old balding man who walks smartly away while wiping his mouth. “Jonathan Demme describes to fellow auteur Robert Altman some of his ideas for Silence of the Lambs II.”

Altman was wracking his brains, shurely?!

Bash the British

All right. Let’s get down to business!

“Royal Bums and Knickers: The Rude Bits”: “They went to dinner with Norman Mailer, whose books Sarah confessed she had never read. ‘Which one should I begin with?’ she asked the famous author. He suggested Tough Guys Don’t Dance. When Sarah asked what it was about, Mailer replied ‘Pussy.’ ”

Oh, but we’re just warming up.

A Day in the Life of Johnny Brit

by Joe Queenan

A steady drizzle patters against the cracked windows of Jonathan Applegate’s grotty Hackney bedsitter as he drags himself out of bed to face another grim morning in Albion.... Yanking on his frayed Marks & Sparks underpants – purchased when Ted Heath was still at 10 Downing Street – Jonathan decides to forgo the needless expense of a bath and slips into his brown-and-pewter-checked poly-cotton suit, purchased last Bank Holiday at Mister Byrite in Stepney Green. [...]

After work Jontahan gets back to Hackney just as Neighbours, the Australian soap opera that launched the careers of both Minogue sisters, is beginning. He tucks his feet into his durable Cavendish House slippers and slips into a fraying Edinburgh Woolen Mill cardigan. He reads The Sun (MONK, 55, WITH A RELIANT ROBIN, STOLE MY BLONDE LOVER, 25) straight through Coronation Street, then nips off to the kitchen for a bite. He can’t decide between Linda McCartney’s Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie and Marks & Sparks’s frozen Toad-in-the-Hole. [...]

Dad marches in at 9:06 and says it’s time for world-class snooker, so it’s off to the pub for a pint.... On the telly, two paunchy snooker players in cheese-coloured velour vests are telling Paddy jokes.

After snooker, it’s back to the bedsitter in Hackney. Turning into Poulton Close, he flirts with the idea of an onion bhaji from the Jewel in the Crown but thinks better of it, electing to set aside the 70p to partially underwrite a weekend in Weston-Super-Mare at Christmastime. The Plantagenet Arms Hotel is offering free brekky and complimentary pantomime for 12 quid (based on double occupancy), and as Jonathan climbs into bed it gives him something to dream about, other than, of course, Di’s frayed Miss Selfridge knickers, purchased last Bank Holiday, on special offer, in Dorking.

Queenan’s just getting warm, no doubt by feeding shillings into the heater at the foot of the bed.

How Do the English Survive?

by Joe Queenan

[W]e must examine the intricate tapestry of meteorological dreariness, Silas Marnerian stinginees, Uriah Heepian creepiness and Ron Woodian slovenliness that coalesce to make Great Britain. From its Druidic origins, England’s has always been a society where it is pointless to buy expensive clothing, because the incessant rain ruins everything. Doomed to wearing morbid checks and parallelogrammic plaids that artfully conceal mud stains, and forced to stay indoors more than 70% of their waking lives (slipper sales there outpace shoe sales 3:1), English people need to replace their wardrobes only once every 13.4 years. As a result, they spend 11.8% less on clothing than Americans. [...]

Of course, the linchpin of the British economic system is an enthusiastic policy of national slovenliness. English people gave up on the idea of daily bathing right after the invention of trousers in 1141, reasoning that there was no point because you simply had to put on the same damp, dirty clothing in the morning.... Companies like Caswell-Massey and Yardley have grown to gargantuan sizes precisely because they manufacture strong-smelling soaps whose potent bouquets camouflage the fact that the person exuding them last bathed on Boxing Day. [...]

With this data in hand, it is possible to see Britain for what it is: A run-down, smelly society that makes vast economies on personal hygiene to free up cash for food, lodging, and glossy magazines about caning naughty schoolgirls. In short, the English are not pasty-faced, mean-spirited, stingy, badly-dresed, anal-retentive, unfriendly, unadventurous, unimaginative people because they want to be, but rather because it’s the only way they can survive.

I’ll drink to that.

Night out at the movies, perhaps?

You are here: fawny.orgTen Years Ago in SPYArchives → May 1989

Updated: 2002.10.01


See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director