In 2019, Overseas will celebrate its 104th birthday. Read Adele Smith's potted history of the changes to the journal over the course of the past century.
It was not surprising that Evelyn Wrench, trained as a newspaper man, was determined to establish a journal for the new society as soon as possible. Despite the difficulties and paper shortages of wartime Britain he launches Overseas, a monthly magazine for members, edited by himself, in December 1915.Early contributors included George Bernard Shaw, AA Milne, and Harry Lauder. King George V, the Prince of Wales and the Prime Ministers HH Asquith and Lloyd George were among the many distinguished and busy people who sent personal messages to the magazine, acknowledging the great contribution made by members of the Over-Seas Club to the war effort.
Evelyn Wrench's view of what the magazine could achieve was ambitious from the beginning: "My vision of Overseas was a journal dedicated to the highest ideals, which would ultimately earn for itself a unique place in the literature of the Empire". He later claimed it was "The foundation on which our edifice rests".
The first edition comprised 32 pages including eight pages of advertising, take only from British firms. There was a strict embargo on advertisements for alcohol. With a cover by the popular artist Macdonald Gill, its identity was established quickly. The cost of the first four years of production (£1,000 per year) was paid for by Alex Cochrane, an American and early supporter of Wrench.
In 1922 there was a great increase in the length of the journal. Regular features now included Evelyn Wrench's monthly newsletter, which was extensive and rambling, covering topics of the moment, political situations at home and overseas, details of his travels and general philosophy. There were reviews of new books and London theatre productions, 'Sport at home and overseas' (including football results!), a motoring column and a series 'Why I went overseas and what happened to me', as well as articles on every imaginable Empire topic. Large numbers of photos enlivened the text.
As early as 1917 a special column for female readers was established, called 'From a woman's standpoint', it was written anonymously under the non de plume 'Wayfarer'. The variety of information and comment was extensive, with one of the first articles in 1917 featuring 'The most interesting post held by a woman in England!'. This was Lloyd George's Secretary, who went on to play a more influential role in his life, eventually becoming the second Lady Lloyd George.
During the 1920s and 1930s the magazine combined details of League activities at home and abroad, advertisements, contact addresses and photos with a similar interest in wider political and social issues, creating an excellent record of the period from a 'Middle England' point of view. There were well-known and sometimes controversial contributors, but Evelyn Wrench, as editor, kept the balance with professional skill.
Evelyn Wrench gave up the editorship of Overseas out of necessity during the Second World War. He was succeeded first by Eric Chaplin and then by two professional editors, Tom Iremonger MP and Elwyn Hartley Edwards. After the war, the magazine still retained its MacDonald Gill cover. Serious articles such as 'Australia in the atomic age', 'Empire into Commonwealth' and 'The coal crisis' reflected the mood and concerns of a post-war world.
In 1951, Tom Iremonger introduced a variation of the cover. The trademark Macdonald Gill artwork disappeared to be replaced by tasteful photos of Commonwealth scenes. Serious articles about the Commonwealth, and themed editorials on countries such as Scotland, Ulster, Pakistan and Australia' made the magazine more formal and professional.
The 1960s saw the introduction of a newspaper format as a cost-cutting measure, which saw a loss of general articles and a decline in appearance. The Chairman's message was an important feature and the usual reports on Branch and League activities kept contact alive. Home members were asked to pay 5s. a year to receive the magazine, so difficult was the League's financial position at this time.
In the early 1980s, the magazine became the responsibility of successive PR directors with external editorial and design help. The format only changed more radically when Pat Treasure, PR Director from 1988, gradually initiated more Commonwealth coverage, larger through the contacts she had made when attending the Commonwealth conference at Harare as ROSL representative in 1991. With a bigger budget for articles and pictures, plus a new design format, Overseas became much more professional.
Pat Treasure became the full-time editor from 1994, and was able to concentrate on obtaining articles from journalists and League members with specific interests in the arts, which made the journal more focused. At the same time, particular aspects of ROSL life were realised in more face-to-face interviews, including with artists and musicians. Vicky Baker continued the modernising process, changing the format where appropriate and experimenting with improved photography and layout. Miranda Moore (and now Mark Brierley) have developed this style, rationalising the content to make more accessible and returning to a more serious examination of the world, typical of the pre-war magazine.
To see copies of Overseas from the last decade, visit the archive here.