19 April 2011

Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo.

I am enamoured with the ABC1 docu-drama Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo.

Despite disliking Cleo in its modern form I thoroughly loved Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo. Set in the 1970s, Paper Giants is the story of how Cleo Magazine was founded, and edited by Ita Buttrose under the helm of Sir Frank and Kerry Packer.

Ita Buttrose is my new idol. I loved how she was in such a senior role yet rode the bus to and from work.

And as brash as Kerry Packer was portrayed, he believed in Ita's ability and work ethic. She was 30 years old - editing a new magazine and single parenting. Holding a magazine meeting right after the birth of her son! Oh the drive. Ita lead a team of progressive young writers and photographers in producing a groundbreaking magazine for young women. Cleo covered womens-lib issues such as politics, contraception, abortion and work-life balance as well as sex for women's pleasure and fashion.
Jack Thompson was 'in the bollocky' as the first nude centrefold.


Back then, Cleo knew its readers. It didn't underestimate their intelligence, and the content seemed new, vibrant, intelligent and relevant. Now I find Cleo repetitive, unintelligent and highly focused on body image and can be quite smutty and concentrating too much on how to please men.

I loved the liberated sisterhood. The way the Cleo staff threw around ideas for the magazine, saw potential in each other and encouraged each other was lovely - so collaborative. The conversations about sex were funny. So empowering. Cleo gave female journalists opportunities.

And the fashions – wow! Nina Edwards, costume designer, did an interview on the ABC website which is a great read. And my good friend Cheryl from Business Chic was so inspired by the fashions, she wrote a blog post on them.

It was such a good production. Well acted, well researched, great music and Australian references.

Asher Keddie was fantastic playing Ita. Here's Asher and Ita.

Her accent was perfect without being a characterture. She was warm, inclusive, driven, funny and very liberated.
Jessica Tovey looked beautiful playing the naive and extremely fashionable Leslie Carpenter.
Matt Day is a long time crush of mine.
And Will Meadows is a new crush!
You can catch the episodes on the ABC website.

Paper Giants made me think about my magazine consumption. I love magazines. It's relaxing flicking through them.

My magazine reading has not decreased but become more refined over the past five years. I buy each issue of InStyle, Shop til You Drop (because I love fashion) and Frankie, and sometimes Rolling Stone, Delicious and a Marie Claire/Madison depending on my time. Cosmo and Cleo are no longer relevant to me – while I fall into their demographic I hate the propensity to cover the same shallow topics of image, sex and diets and portray airbrushed perfection. The magazines assume the reader is dumb.

I did a magazine studies subject in 2006 as a part of my Masters of Communications, and I can’t believe how irrelevant magazines have become since then – due to the internet. I love the way the internet lets you choose the topics you want to read, and often the quality of writing and content is SO much better than the glossies. Since I consume most media online now, it doesn’t worry me that I don’t know what Gaga or the Hiltons are up to. I prefer reading about real women.


  1. Was great hey! Loved the music too. The extraordinary lengths they went to for the props was amazing.

    Great post Carly x

  2. Hi Carly

    Very intelligent review and discussion. Especially loved your photos from the series and your take on where the magazine is now. Sadly, I agree.

    SSG xxx

    Sydney Shop Girl blog

  3. You're correct about how Cosmopolitan has changed. I find it trashy and completely irrelevant to me. Sometimes patients leave copies for us to read and even the fashion doesn't impress me.

    I still buy magazines every month: Vogue, Russh, Harpers Bazaar, Delicious, Donna Hay, Grazia... but I've long kissed goodbye to the Cosmopolitan's of this world.

  4. Carly, this is such a great review/wrap up. I am a day behind. (Thank goodness for iView!)

    I love the 1970's full stop. This Australian drama only enhances me love threefold.


  5. It was a great series. I loved the fashion, love, love, l.o.v.e.d!
    I agree with you about the way Clea and Cosmo have changed. I began, like many teens of the 80's reading Dolly, then going to Cleo and Cosmo. I hope my daughter does not. The only magazines I buy now are Frankie and Delicious.

  6. i'm yet to watch it, it's currently sitting on my iq just begging to be watched tho - can't wait til i've got some alone time to indulge - everything i've heard says it's brilliant!


  7. Oh no, I missed this! I am so relieved to find that I can watch it online. Great review, Carly! I'm itching to watch it now :)
    Heidi xo

  8. I too loved it but my biggest take home message was that you know you're getting old when even Matt Day is starting to show signs of ageing!

  9. I never liked the Cleo magazine, but I always admired Ita Buttrose. Elegance, class, morals, ethics, whatever...Ita has it.

  10. Watch a minute of that drivel Park Street on Foxtel and you soon see what a bunch of amateurs the new young Editors are at the likes of Cleo etc.
    I loved this series and I just adore Asher Keddie - when is the U.S going to snap her up (I hope they don't!) she is brilliant in everything - loved her in Rush, Hawke, Love My Way and Offspring is back soon.
    Now I want to go and find out everything I can about Ita.

  11. Love, love, love. Just finishing a post - I've dug out an interview I did with Ita back in 1990. Think I had my tongue hanging out for the entire interview!!

  12. I am going to watch this on Sunday :) Excited. It was all the rage on twitter the other night and I didn't know what everyone was talking about!

    You are right about Cleo/Cosmo. I ditched them so so long ago. Def not intellectual and just very B-O-ring with the same garbled rubbish.

    I do like Marie Clarie for a read and Frankie too.

  13. Hey Carly,
    Have yet to view the show, but am hearing your pain about the demise of Cleo and Cosmo. I too fit the demographics, gave up on Cleo about 8 years ago, and only recently have realised that cosmo just doesn't cut it anymore, the articles oh how they are painful! Which is a shame because the fashion and beauty was always spot on for me. Nowadays I too subscribe to SHOP, and also the Weight Watchers magazine - its a perfect balance of fashion, beauty, health, food, lifestyle and inspiration!


  14. It sounds like a great series and I'll defintely be checking it out.

  15. Great review, I really like your perspective. I'm so in love with the show - I've been a staunch advocate of it to anyone who'll listen! I even 'channelled Ita' in my work attire yesterday.

    Until I saw the show I really didn't give Cleo or Cosmo (or Ita Buttrose) much credit for pushing a feminist agenda, particularly by virtue of their current incarnations (and Ita's preference for releasing books on etiquette, which seems awfully 50s housewife to me!), but I concede I was wrong. I felt inspired and humbled by the liberated women working on the magazine, and Ita's trailblazing and mentorship she provided to women.

    I don't really read magazines anymore, except for the occasional design mags, Frankie or Peppermint. I get excited finding and reading blogs instead!

  16. Hey Carly - THANK YOU for the shout-out! I certainly was enamoured with the workwear styles put together by Paper Giants costume designer, Nina Edwards - wonderful ideas on pepping up the modern day work wardrobe!

    I now want to read/learn more about Ita. Even just the other day when faced with a challenge, I did think to myself, "what would Ita do?" ;)

  17. I loved it too. And the wardrobe was just brilliant, I want beautiful dresses and nice shoes with matching handbags! One day...

    I haven't touched a copy of Cleo since my early 20's and despise the messages it portrays today. Such a shame really when it was so ground-breaking and liberal to begin with.

    Big fan of Ita now too. What an amazing woman.


Thank you for reading my blog. I love receiving comments :)
I really appreciate the time you've taken to write to me, and to share something about yourself.


Related Posts with Thumbnails