Nineteenth-Century Nuts: The Anatomy of a Victorian Lads’ Mag

Bob Nicholson
Edge Hill University

In 1886, readers of the Pall Mall Gazette were invited to cast their
vote for the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ newspapers in England. The top
accolades were, rather predictably, awarded to The Times and other
members of the respectable daily press. However, the dubious honour of
being crowned the ‘Worst Newspaper in England’ was bestowed upon
the Illustrated Police News. First published in 1864, this low-brow
Victorian newspaper made its name by offering sensational, illustrated
accounts of the week’s biggest crime stories. Gruesome murders,
romantic suicides, tragic accidents, and rampaging animals were its
bread and butter for the best part of 30 years. However, in the
mid-1890s the paper came under new ownership and began to morph into
something rather different. Crime stories continued to appear, but
were increasingly displaced by sports coverage and sex. Boxing news,
racy music hall songs, bawdy jokes, drinking stories, adverts for
pornography, and sketches of half-naked female celebrities soon became
the staple features of the paper. In other words, it started to look a
lot like a modern day lads’ mag

This paper will examine the history of the IPN and compare it to a
typical issue of Nuts – the recently sunk flagship of the modern
lads’ mag genre. In particular, it will explore the changing
representation of women in the paper. Whilst the IPN once prized
itself on obtaining genuine likenesses of the people involved in its
stories, by the late 1890s it rarely depicted a woman who was not
young, beautiful, and unrealistically curvaceous. This preference for
sexualised women found its most obvious expression in the
scantily-clad music hall pin-ups that adorned the magazine’s back
page – a Victorian precursor to Page 3. However, it also began to
seep into the paper’s crime coverage. Before long, even the victims
of brutal murders were presented with heaving bosoms, shapely thighs,
and tightly-corseted waists. In recent years, lads’ mags and online
pornography have been accused of blurring the lines between sex and
violence – the case study of the Illustrated Police News
demonstrates that this kind of ‘laddish’ media culture has
surprisingly deep roots.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900