MEDIA: Headliner - Radio Times seeks a modern identity via a feminine touch. Can Radio Times keep its readers as Hudson alters its style? Jeremy Lee asks

Another era in the Radio Times' 80-year history has drawn to a dramatic close with the departure of its editor, Nigel Horne, after just one year in the job.

Horne's editorship was one of controversy. Rumours abound of harried staff having to endure temper tantrums and hissy fits, which led to poor morale and an editorial product that has seen better days.

On reflection, Horne's exit was perhaps not surprising. To put it plainly, he had baggage. Horne was once suspended from his previous job as the editorial director of magazines at the Toronto Globe and Mail for using "abusive behaviour", and it seems old habits die hard.

His replacement is Gill Hudson, a stalwart for BBC Magazines who was the launch editor for its foray into the women's magazine sector with Eve. As a former editor of New Woman and Maxim, Hudson has worked in both the men's and women's magazine sectors.

Radio Times continues to supply robust ABCs, selling 1.2 million copies per week. But judging by the reaction of some, there are grumblings that the magazine is losing its place at the top end of the market.

In addition to internal problems, Radio Times has also undergone changes in its layout and editorial direction, leading some agencies to question what its future holds.

Gone is the familiar masthead, which was one of its core brand images, and with this, some say, its sense of direction. Alan Hansen's weekly column has disappeared, and there are expanded readers' letters and more general entertainment tittle-tattle.

This has led to concern that Radio Times is now too mass market and, in a rush to appear young and trendy before its 80th birthday in 2003, is alienating its middle England core audience. With this, of course, goes its unique selling point. (Hudson refutes this, pointing out that 73 per cent of its readership fits into the ABC1 category.)

Comparisons have been made between the Radio Times' attempts to appear cool, and that of William Hague when he wore a baseball cap to the Notting Hill carnival.

Not all the changes were made by Horne - the first big move occurred some months before he joined when, for the first time, the front cover featured a promotional shot from a non-BBC production.

This wheeze was instigated during an interregnum overseen by the deputy-managing director of BBC Magazines, Nick Brett. The move was seen as an example of Radio Times distancing itself from the BBC and attempting to be seen as an independent entity. Hudson says that she will continue this approach.

"We are not some patsy house mag for the BBC. We will run what we think is best on TV on our cover, she claims.

Andy Martin, the deputy managing director of Mediaedge:CIA, is one of those critics who thinks that the Radio Times has become virtually indistinguishable from its competitors.

"Whereas previously it used to hold your attention, it now lacks depth and has become a bit too poppy for my liking, he says. "Under previous editors it had gravitas and personified the BBC. The editor needs to look at how the Daily Mail has managed to be successful by not alienating its core readers from middle England."

Brett, too, is obsessed with modernity and keen to quash any talk of middle England. "We are modern, but not trendy, he says.

Brett's opinions of Hudson reveal the way he hopes the magazine will go. "Gill is liberal, sensible and interesting. She has a heady cocktail of wackiness and zaniness and she's great fun to be with. She brings a feminine touch, he gushes.

While Brett acknowledges that there have been significant changes at Radio Times, he says that these have been instigated to keep the magazine up to date. "The median age of our readers is 45, which is exactly the same age as the average British person."

With competition from newspapers' free listings guides, BBC Magazines has had to continually convince the public that shelling out on Radio Times is still worthwhile.

Hudson says that the listings are the magazine's pride and joy. "We've got the best listings function and the best quality writers but I want more. She thinks that Radio Times sometimes suffers from being predictable and wants it to have a "warmer approach.

This may be too touchy-feely for some cynical press buyers, but Hudson only started her job this week so it remains to be seen in what direction she takes the magazine.

Although Hudson is not giving much away yet, she admits that she is reviewing every section. "I've pored over every semi-colon in the magazine, but I don't think making changes to satisfy an editor's ego is the right thing to do."

The first editor to put tits on the cover of a men's magazine promises that the Radio Times won't look the same in six months' time.

THE HUDSON FILE
1987
Company, deputy editor, rising to editor
1990
New Woman, editor
1995
Maxim, editorial director
1999
BBC Worldwide, editorial director, then editorial director of new
developments
2002
Radio Times, editor

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