Tony Elliott, founder and publisher of Time Out magazine died on 17 July. Jessica Cargill Thompson remembers the man who shared his enthusiasm for the capital by telling us all what was going on every week.
'Growing up in Gloucester Road, South Kensington, in a slightly sheltered background, I found London quite genteel. For a teenager in the mid '60s, there wasn't a lot of interesting, accessible options for entertainment. There were clubs for grownups and high-profile casinos, but for someone who was 15, 16, 17, there were very few venues.'
So wrote Tony Elliott, founder of Time Out magazine and its chairman for more than 50 years, in 'London Calling' a book published in 2008 to celebrate the magazine's 40th anniversary. Not only did Tony, who died from cancer on 17 July 2020, leave a very different London to that of his teens, he undoubtedly played a seminal part in that transformation.
When 21 year old Tony Elliott dropped out of his French degree at Keele University a few years later it was to chronicle the capital's burgeoning countercultural scene: the Arts Lab on Drury Lane, the Roundhouse, Rocky Horror, Island Records, and Kensington Market. Using birthday money from his aunt he published, on 12 August 1968, a black-and-white pamphlet telling people where to find the best of what was going on in the city under the radar. The cover price was one shilling and the magazine itself a double-sided A2 sheet folded down into an A5 pamphlet.
From there Time Out's growth mirrored that of the city it championed, both of them becoming bigger and more colourful, as well as internationally revered.
In the 70s it was feisty and political, producing a 'Red Pages' guide to agitprop groups and throwing its weight behind the 1971 campaign to Save Covent Garden - which ultimately saw 250 buildings in the area, including the former fruit and veg market, listed rather than, as the GLC had planned, flattened. Internal strikes in the early 1980s over a move from a collective setup of equal pay for all staff to a more hierarchical structure led to a breakaway group of staff forming another London listings institution, City Limits.
As London learned to love food, Time Out waited on it with it savvy Eating & Drinking Guides, and more recently food markets. As foreign travel became easier, a raft of city guides were at hand with the inside track on living life like a local. When Don Ward's Comedy Store birthed something called alternative comedy in 1979, Elliott and his magazine told everyone where to find it.
There may have been Oscar winning film stars and guest editorships by international beknighted rockstars on the cover, but Tony never abandoned his commitment to championing the small and independent, always interested in what was new, supporting the best of the city and encouraging readers to enjoy the capital as much as he did.
I was lucky enough to work for Time Out magazine and guides, both on the staff and as a freelance writer and editor, over roughly two decades from the mid 90s. But it was a place you never really left. I don't think it's breaking any confidences to say that since the announcement of Tony's death has seen an outpouring of personal sadness and huge respect from former staff, many of whom had kept in regular contact with their former boss.
The welcoming, energetic, culturally curious and totally dedicated office culture, came directly from Tony and flowed through the magazine's pages and out to readers. Although he did allow himself his own office, there was no secretary. The New York Times obit described him as an 'accidental tycoon', and it was a sad day when the doomed business model of doing things because they were good rather than because they were profitable bowed to the inevitable - after decades of turning down offers of partnerships Elliott finally sold a 50 per cent share in the company to a private investment company in 2010.
Though socially shy, when talking London and publishing he was in his element. He'd stroll round the office, casually attired in one of his trademark patterned shirts, to check in with the day-to day-workings of the magazine and guides, discuss a hit play or latest releases with his team of influential critics, or point out a millimetres misalignment of the logo to an exasperated designer. He may have been at the helm of a global brand, but he never lost his eye for detail – it was bloody annoying, and even more so because you knew he was usually right.
Tony's philanthropy spread wide across London culture and beyond. He lent his time and wisdom to cultural organisations such as the Photographers Gallery, BFI, Somerset house, and Manchester International Festival, amongst others. He gave a hand to fledgling magazines such as i-D and Dazed and, legend has it, once guaranteed fellow publisher Felix Dennis' mortgage.
Everyone who worked for Tony, and many more who have used his products to embrace London life, talk of feeling part of a family. But we were always aware of the warmth and support that came through from his actual family - wife Janey and sons Rufus, Bruce and Lawrence - who have promised to harness his legacy in a positive way.
Tony's 2008 piece concludes with the observation 'Twenty-first century London is a very different creature from the London of the 1960s and 70s, but its current form was shaped by the energy an vision of those times.' He wasn't actually referring to himself, but he could have been.
Time Out will dedicate its 11 August issue to Tony, 52 years after its first publication
Tony Elliott, publisher, 7 January 1947-17 July 2020 (age 73)