Sunday, August 01, 2010

Haaappy Birthday MRJ

MRJ 0 and 200
Note to the kids - that title spelling makes a lot more sense if you sing it along to Neil Sedaka's "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen". It's on YouTube to help you.

So the Model Railway Journal has reached 200 issues. That's not 200 months because the publication schedule is a bit sporadic during the summer. Issue number 0 appeared in the Winter of 1985

Back in the old days we had a couple of layouts, a scratchbuilt locomotive (GE class M12), some very good practical advice on Spratt & Winkle couplings, real plans for Ross-on-Wye goods shed, modelling baulk road pointwork and kitbuilding a Class 40 diesel from an etched kit. If we assume that issue 0 is a prototype and issue 1 a production model there isn't a huge change apart from the inclusion of an article called "RTR to finescale - fast".

That last topic still appears in issue 200 where there are no less than 3 piece rattling on about this. However the tone has changed. Iain Rice covered the venerable Airfix GWR 14xx tank. The assumption was that while the body was nice, it needed work. The chassis would be replaced with a Perseverance item. Like most of Rice's articles, the tone is matey and practical. The attitude is that you can do this.

Now the tone has changed. Three RTR models make it into the pages, Bachmanns 04 and Hall plus a Hornby 8F. Over the years, MRJ stalwarts have become very protective of their baby and see it as something very special. Therefore these locos are allowed into the hallowed pages because they have been graciously deemed "good enough". Most of the work carried out of them is covered by the phrase "Alan Gibson drop in wheelsets" apart from the 8F which gets a make over involving a level of engineering that I and most other people couldn't hope to emulate.

This is symptomatic of the finescale world as a whole, something that MRJ has both influenced and been influenced by. There are people out there who can produce the most exquisite models. And there are those who can do this and encourage others to try and do the same. Sadly they are in a minority as the skill  sets are very different. This is my problem, early issues of the magazine seem to encourage me. If I tried to do something I knew it would be appreciated and applauded. Now I feel it's a much colder publication where success is the only thing that matters. This isn't to say I don't expect to see the best modelling in the magazine, it's what you buy it for, but something has (IMHO) changed.

That said, I do own a complete set. Some of them are even in the proper binders made of hens teeth (the rest are in Private Eye binders which fit quite well if you buy some extra rods) but more because I keep expecting it to go bust any time and then the sad completionist in me will want to make up the whole set...

Issue 1 (43 pages) cost £1.50, issue 200 (56 pages) a still very reasonable £3.75.


Matt Ots said...

I have to say that while I am still a huge fan of MRJ I do agree completely about the way the tone has changed over the years. Holding up great work as an inspiration and challenge to better things is fine and good but there needs to be that encouraging voice as well. I guess a lot of it comes down to the editor.

Anonymous said...

I gave up this magazine years ago as it became 'too predictable'. Pages and pages on how to build some etched kit which I was never going to want to build anyway, followed by some bloke telling us how he built an automatic signalling system utilising defunct parts from a retired space shuttle, or some similar article, which I could never hope to copy anyway. Add to this the deletion of the words 'colour' and 'photography' from MRJ's dictionary, and you have all that is wrong with this magazine, although I understand that the colour bar has now been relaxed.

chicofrank said...

The old English game of bashing those who try to be the best. The writers are some of the best in modelling today so knock em' down! Yes, I do feel a bit talked down to but just look at the photos. Not all of the models are fantastically detailed; a lot like Chris Pendlentons' North Shields in the Christmas issue, exude atmosphere especially those of the steam era which where black and white suits them and piles on the old nostalgia. And, if you don't like it, don't buy it!

David Smith said...

Very interesting analysis. I found the early MRJ issues highly inspirational but when my interest waned in railway modelling (I'm back now) I stopped taking the magazine, and every other one come to that. So, to learn how the mag has developed was surprising. Now, I find I get all the inspiration I need from my vast magazine collection of the 1960s to 1990s plus websites and blogs on the net, which keep me up to date with latest trends.

CF said...

MRJ worked until about issue 40. After that there have only been a few copies that have caught my eye. Since the original design team broke up it seems as though it wishes to be exclusive - in that it excludes. This is a real shame as the original thrust of the magazine was to 'raise standards' which it did. Now it's publishing in the ghetto.

Phil Parker said...

Interesting to get 5 comments on a quiet Sunday. I think this is because, despite any faults, MRJ does have a place in a lot of modellers hearts. People really care about the magazine, no matter what they think about the changes over the years.