"This great magazine was once a contender for the Time Out throne."
A lost London listings magazine
It’s weird that somewhere as big as London only seems to be able to sustain one city-wide newspaper and one (significant) listings magazine - but it hasn’t always been this way. Back in the 80s City Limits was a contender to the Time Out throne, at least as far as those of left-wing persuasion were concerned.
Don’t get us wrong. London-RIP loves Time Out. Of course we do –- they’ve given us a mention. But it’s a very different publication to the one it was in days of yore, when its underground roots were apparent in sections like Agitprop (agitation and propaganda, anyone?) and also in its policy of parity - that is paying everyone, from the cleaners to the journalists, the same.
With the dawn of the 80s, TO’s owners must have decided parity was a relic of the magazine’s hippy past, but their attempt to scrap the system resulted in a strike which stopped the magazine coming out. Instead, striking staff produced an alternative version, imaginatively titled Not Time Out, which appeared on single sheets of white A3 paper and looked as if it had been photocopied.
I remember it being sold by people shaking strike donation buckets in places like the Screen on the Hill. Naturally, all us lefties bought it to show solidarity with the strikers.
City Limits was launched - backed by the GLC - about six months after the strike began and was staffed by the former Time Outers. It was a fine publication and, in our opinion, the only serious contender to Time Out if not in sales then in terms of actual Londoners actually reading it. I guess it was the listings equivalent of the News on Sunday (remember that?) - eg lefty, but not worthy. It wasn’t as glossy as Time Out but had some excellent writers, including Duncan Campbell, Dave Rimmer, Beatrix Campbell and Chris Auty . Richard Branson also tried to get in on the London listings act in 1983, but Event, which was, in fact, very big hair and 80s, only lasted six months.
What happened to City Limits, I wonder? I think it changed hands, then sort of faded away in around 1992. I don’t know whether this was tied up with the scrapping of the GLC, but it seems part of the general demise of many things culturally left-wing/alternative in London in the early 90s. A lot of bookshops went at around the same time. Maybe it was also because Thatcher’s ousting meant the loss of a formidable hate figure the left could unite against, so ironically… ah, theories. Everyone’s got one. Still, any good capitalist would say that competition is a good thing and there’s lots of political dissent brewing, so could the time be right for a City Limits revival? (No offence Time Out, please mention London-RIP again).