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The joy of the Spectator’s ‘Portrait of the Week’

13 April 2014

It’s a gorgeous spring day, and I’ve been spending it reading an out-of-print history of The Spectator from 1828-1928. With out new online archive – which has scans of every single edition – it’s easy to go back and find out why we were the only publication to support the north against the slave-owning south in the US civil war, for example. Our first-ever edition, in July 1828, explained what would be, for this new magazine, our signature theme – it’s preserved on our new online archive, here. You can actually call up the page itself. The first wee piece, on the top left of the above picture, explains perfectly, what our ‘Portrait of the Week’ does right now in 2014:-

‘The principal object of a Newspaper is to convey intelligence. It is proposed in the SPECTATOR to give this, the first and most prominent place, to a report of all the leading occurrences of the week. In this department, the reader may always expect a summary account of every public proceeding, or transaction of interest, whether the scene may lie at home or arid, that has taken place within the seven days preceding the termination of our labours; which, we wish it to be remarked, close on Saturday at midnight.’

The only two things that has changed in the intervening 186 years is that we now call ourselves a magazine (Charles Moore excepted) and the termination of our labours is 1pm on  Wednesday. But the rest is the same. And Portrait is still a work of art. A regular reader of the Spectator wrote in 1871 in praise of the magazine’s…

‘clear and copious summary of the events of the week, that he who carefully reads that part of the Spectator cannot appear ill-informed in relation to the intelligence of the day, no matter in what society he may happen to move’

Readers still gush about Portrait of the Week. I’ve met a chief executive who tells his staff to read it, to find out how to write properly and make sure they use language as well in their memos to him. I’ve met another reader who has collected every one for 40 years, judging it the best single summary of what’s happening in the word. Which, of course, it is.


It’s put together by our Christopher Howse (right), Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 17.28.57now of the Daily Telegraph, who is acknowledged only by his initials at the end (‘CSH’) . He’s one of these Fleet St geniuses, who each week makes Portrait a masterclass of juxtaposition and humour.  Christopher is great at spotting links between otherwise unrelated stories, showing up the absurdity or the wonder of this world of ours.

Reading Portrait is a weekly delight for our readers – you don’t have to read a magazine like The Week. Christopher’s one-page summary of the week has all you really need to know. That’s why The Spectator’s sales are growing, and heading for an all all-time high.

To see what I mean, you can try us out: click here to have 12 weeks of The Spectator for just £12.

Below – Portrait from November 1918

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 17.35.01


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  • gram64

    ‘…to read it, to find out how to write properly and make sure they use language as well in their memos to him.’ I do hope they ‘use language as well’, presumably in addition to doodles, thumbprints, wine and coffee stains, and whatever other adornments such memos usually have.

    ‘…the best single summary of what’s happening in the word (sic).’ Perhaps. This article is, though, not the best single example of good grammar and sub editing.

  • Shorne

    Whilst I do not often agree with the views expressed in the Spectator I do believe in giving credit where credit is due. This was the magazines response to the Daily Mail’s ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ front page article in 1934,
    ‘… ..the Blackshirts, like the Daily Mail, appeal to people unaccustomed to thinking. The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made.’
    Sadly reading some of the comments one sees here, and which my comment will doubtless attract, the same could now be said of some Spectator readers.

  • RolandRWetzel

    I have an annoying habit of asking anyone who laughs openly what they’re laughing at – and on a Wednesday morning, it’s normally the way Christopher has brilliantly spotted a link between two otherwise unrelated stories, showing up the absurdity or the wonder of this world of ours.

  • HookesLaw

    ‘The principal object of a Newspaper is to covey intelligence’ … well you are failing there straight off then in the way you pander to the nutjobs and are so self servingly intent on twisting truth to benefit your campaign to be above the law.

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