catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile


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For many years I subscribed to the Spectator. It presented a idiosyncratic view of Britain – more Whiggish than Tory, it seemed to me – but almost always fun to read. I had in a previous life subscribed to New Statesman which arrived by sea mail 6 or 8 weeks after publication. It showed a different and perhaps more seriously worthy slice of Britain. I would not say it was fun to read but then I was a bit less interested in fun than in discovering the world.

I have recently let my subscription to the Spectator expire. The reason was simply that the 6 pages tacked on the front with what was claimed to be Australian content annoyed the heck out of me. For the first year or so it was edited by Oscar Humphries who lived in London. The content was mostly stuff from expatriates or from Australian writers who we had mostly already read in the daily papers. Not quite the same articles but there was a warmed over feel to it.

I wrote a couple of letters expressing my dissatisfaction. In one I pointed out that the magazine was British – well English really – and I was sure that was why people here bought it. Can you imagine, I asked, New Yorker or Atlantic tacking on a bit of English content and claiming it was a local publication? No reply was received.

Recently Tom Switzer has taken over as editor. At least he lives here and does not need to rely on a few old mates for contributions. But still, why do we need it and what does it do to the distinct character of the magazine?

I don’t know how much the Australian circulation has increased. There seems to be quite a few free copies about, which is the usual way  new magazines are launched. So far as I can see – I did buy off the news stand the Bumper Double Christmas issue – there is no Australian advertising, which must be a disappointment to them all.

My guess is that Spectator Australia will not survive. Will I return? Probably not. I can get as much of Britain that I want from the online publications.

Written by Ken Nielsen

January 7, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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18 Responses

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  1. I like The Spectator too. I haven’t seen it for a while and haven’t seen the Oz bit. I thought it might be good because writing in Australia is a closed shop featuring the same old haggard left-overs and their spouses who get book deals if the wine goes well with the chicken.


    January 7, 2010 at 6:20 pm

  2. Peter Coleman is there, Adrien.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 7, 2010 at 6:22 pm

  3. I love the Spectator, and am not phased in the slightest by an “Australian” edition.

    daddy dave

    January 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm

  4. I agree Ken. I think the Oz pages are a distraction and a bit of a waste of resources, since they have to have both an Australian cover and a British cover. The feeling remains that it has been tacked on to an already existing magazine as an afterthought. Also, it makes you wonder if anything has been left out of the British version to make room for the Australian content. (I looooove the Christmas Spectator, chock-full of goodies, but this Christmas it seems to be lighter. It was certainly missing out on the Viz-Spectator Christmas collaboration which other Christmas issues have had.)

    Anyway, the feeling I get is that they subtract from the British character of the magazine and we get nothing substantial in return. So two thumbs down.


    January 7, 2010 at 6:47 pm

  5. funny I always saw the Spectator as more Tory than Whig, but then I have not read it a while. I see Whig vs Tory as represented by The Economist vs Spectator and am more of an Economist reader myself.

    The Australian content is pretty predictable,


    January 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm

  6. I enjoy it and am a subscriber. I think it’s simply a bonus to see a few conservatives (including ex Labor MPs who’ve been left behind by current ALP hijinks) get published to counter-balance the uncritical Leftie bias of the local press – even if it’s a mere fraction by comparison.

    I think the editorial content has improved out of sight since Switzer took over. He’s more of an intellect than Rupert and living here helps.

    What I don’t like is the Diary in which they rarely ever tell you who the hell the minor celebrity is doing the writing. Who are some of these people? They often tell you in the English content, why not in the Aussie content where you are actually LESS likely to know the author…

    Anyway, the Spectator isn’t as good as it was when Steyn wrote the movie reviews and a polemic or two, and it never will be.

    Nonetheless, it’s a more satisfying read than New Stateman, which is too right on and serious and wouldn’t know who to call if they needed a humorous or ironic article.

    Abu Chowdah

    January 7, 2010 at 6:51 pm

  7. I do agree that the British covers are missed. The Australian ones are usually rubbish, especially when Patrick Cook contributes one of his shithouse drawings.

    Actually Cook’s column is also irrelevant – unfunny and pointless – just as it was in The Bulletin.

    Indeed, they want to be careful they don’t emulate the Bulletin too much. That mag died because it was rubbish.

    Abu Chowdah

    January 7, 2010 at 6:57 pm

  8. A C, yes I’m pretty sure they see a gap after the death of the Bulletin. But the Bulletin died not because it was a bad magazine but simply because pretty well no-one wanted to read a magazine like that anymore.
    What does interest me these days is the glossy inserts in the dailies every month or so – Wish and such.
    Full of ads for expensive watches. I mean, how often does a person buy a $2000 watch?
    What am I missing?

    Ken Nielsen

    January 7, 2010 at 7:06 pm

  9. Well I’m about to buy an Oris because of the ad that’s been appearing in the Spectator! ($3000)

    But that’s actually one of the cheap ones. Most of those watches in the Spekkie are worth 10 times that amount.

    “But the Bulletin died not because it was a bad magazine but simply because pretty well no-one wanted to read a magazine like that anymore.”

    That’s what I said: rubbish.

    Abu Chowdah

    January 7, 2010 at 7:22 pm

  10. I was pretty annoyed when the Australian content started, and said so in a survey some months back. However, since then, I’ve come to enjoy it.

    boy on a bike

    January 7, 2010 at 8:37 pm

  11. I, likewise, read an enjoyed the Spectator for years. I didn’t renew my subscription partially out of a similar spirit of revolt at the lazy Australian edition but also because I felt it was doing conservatism a disservice by publishing articles that seemed to be increasingly composed of angry, out of touch rants by old men living in the country. While it was interesting and frequently amusing it wasn’t really attacking leftism at its own level, which is what needed to be done.

    Jack Robinson

    January 7, 2010 at 11:49 pm

  12. I’ve read a few issues of the Economist recently after a long absence. I had gone off it because as my economic literacy and knowledge increased I found myself annoyed at some of it’s errors. Now that I look at it again after the passage of some time I find that the good far outways the occassional annoying inaccuracy. I won’t be relying on it for an account of economic history but for enlightenment on contemporary issues instead.

    TerjeP (say Tay-a)

    January 8, 2010 at 8:57 am

  13. Having read the Speccie since Alexander Chancellor turned it round in the 70s, I have to say that the Australian content phased me too at first. Now I just ignore it and move on to the British section. The great thing about the new Oz version is the fact that we get the British content on the same day as it is published on the UK instead of a week later.

    Jason is correct, since the 1960s the Speccie has always been a Tory in tone. And quite right too. This gives the mag a unique tone that is matched by no other, although the new Standpoint is essaying to be something like it. The Oldie is also very good. But unfortunately, both are rather expensive in Oz.

    If you want some longer book reviews, I would suggest The Literary Review, which apart from the appalling Jonathan Mirsky, has the same Tory tone as the Speccie.

    Also, if you like to keep up with the Art world, Apollo (now in the Speccie’s stable) is excellent, but very difficult to get in Oz outside of a library(I have a subscription).

    Rococo Liberal

    January 8, 2010 at 9:31 am

  14. RL: It wasn’t too bad when the Australian content was in the middle and it could be removed. Perhaps Switzer will improve it – at the moment, for me, it degrades the rest.

    Still not sure about where on the scale to put Spectator. Not high Tory and not City banker Tory.
    A bit unpredictably liberal to call Tory, I think.

    Lit Rev is OK but not as it was under Auberon Waugh.

    Jason: I blow hot and cool on the Economist. It seems to have reduced the average length of articles over recent years. I most enjoy the long in depth pieces telling me things I didn’t know.

    I am enjoying New Yorker and Atlantic very much lately. Again, long articles seem to be what I want most. Too much time on my hands, as my daughters point out.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 8, 2010 at 10:18 am

  15. Is there such a thing as a city banker Tory? I thought City bankers were intrinsically Whig?


    January 8, 2010 at 10:23 am

  16. OK OK OK.
    I concede and will try, in future, not to write about things I don’t fully understand.
    Doesn’t leave a lot to talk about, though.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 8, 2010 at 10:31 am

  17. City bankers were Whigs back in the 17th century Jason, but became Tories by the 19th as they melded in with the landed aristocracy.

    Ken, don’t waste your time with the humorless stuff in the New Yorker and Atlantic when you can read the City Journal or the New Criterion which have the added bonus of having the inestimable Theodore Dalrymle/Anthony Daniels writing for them, as does the New English Review.

    Rococo Liberal

    January 8, 2010 at 4:50 pm

  18. RL, trouble is when I read the magazines you mention I find myself pretty well in agreement with everything, which really does nothing for me. My thoughts are sharpened when challenged. And it’s better to have to think than just nod.

    I do like much in the New Yorker. Alex Ross is worth the price on his own but then music is more important to me than it is to many people.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm

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