RIP Felix ...
from someone who's subscribed to Fortean Times since before El Reg was born
There's quite a bit that comes to mind when you think about Felix Dennis: the Oz mag obscenity trial, Maxim, drugs, women and dodgy poetry… But we're not going to do these here - at least, not yet. Felix Dennis, who died last weekend aged 67, was a pivotal figure in tech publishing: a super-smart dealmaker whose judgment and …
Which was the comment of the very biased* Old Bailey of the first trail.
And those of us around at the time found it was one part of the summing up we kinda agreed with
Dennis spent his time and money trying to re-write history over his involvement in School Kids Oz, (I am a proud owner of a copy) and I have watched as he got adsorbed by the establishment he claims to have antagonised
Richard Neville, with Anderson, the real smarts behind Oz wrote some telling stuff about Dennis in Hippie Hippie Shake, IIRC. Mostly about how he scuttled away as soon as he could.
Not a fan.
* other words could be used but this post would not get allowed if used.
Would love to know who's idea it was to bundle a free copy of Viz with Your Sinclair one month. These were the days when YS sold many times more copies than Viz.
It ensured that Viz suddenly fell into the laps of 80,000 kids without the people who may dislike that sort of thing noticing.
Dennis later sold YS to Future.
Didn't realise this was a Dennis publication. Maybe explains why copies were never lodged with the British Library (as I discovered when I was doing some undergraduate research in 1988).
Still, their horror at seeing me with a copy of a magazine they tried to tell me didn't exist did get me a pass to the library proper, which was almost unheard of for an undergraduate.
I remember being drafted in to do the launch ads for PCW, and being briefed by Felix. "You gotta understand that the only thing about this mag is that's it's weekly. It's exactly the same otherwise. Major on that, and be hard, very hard hitting!".
So we came up with a DPS for Campaign, the ad weekly, in gritty black and white, showing dumped piles of computer monthlies, being eaten by rats (well, big mice actually). "Yeh, that'll get the point across!". VNU publisher (who was that?) had a fit, but Felix insisted, and we got lots of PR coverage too. Tons more stories...
I arrived late into the Spectrum world (1986), by which time the newsstands were occupied by Crash, Your Sinclair and Sinclair User, heavily games oriented.
By chance at a car boot sale I picked up the entire collection of Your Sinclair's predecessor - Your Spectrum - for just a quid, which had a much stronger focus on tech.
I came along a little later, starting on Computer Buyer - the 'me too monthly' John refers to in this piece - at Dennis in 1991, back when it was launching and the company was still in all the little offices around Newman Street and Rathbone Place. I took over the helm of that after John left, at the tender age of 25.
I too have had my share of stand up arguments with Felix in the past - which I always got the impression he rather relished, as an alternative to the "cult of Felix" which reached its nadir for me in an internal memo that began "Felix thinks, and I agree with him"
While, like John, I eventually decided to leave Dennis, it was a fun place to be, and got my my first break into the world of IT publishing. I began by compiling the buyer's guide listings in the back of the magazine; two and a half years later I was editor, and I don't think there were many other companies where that sort of rapid progression would have been possible.
So, though at times I found him vulgar and brash, Felix deserves a warm and hearty thanks for the opportunities and the experience his company gave me.
Former Reg Staffer Tony Smith, of course, is also a Dennis alumni, from around the same time as me.
Although nowadays a reader of El Reg and no longer a writer in any guise, I did work with John L on PCW and also worked on SOFT, YS and many others in the Bunch Books stable - the forerunner of Dennis Publishing. Those around at the time would know me as Nigel Cross!
Still, twas fun knowing Felix and his business methods.
Yep - absolutely correct! That's why you were a sub-editor and I was a lowly programmes man! As regards wellbeing : heart attack 13 years ago, now fighting fit and living in Newcastle. Just become a state pensioner - where did the time go? Still attempting to write programmes. Other than that my wife keeps me on the straight and narrow (handily being an ex-gp) but I still manage far too much real ale - who doesn't? I try to keep up with techno stuff through El Reg and keep an eye out for names from the past so, having seen you doing the Felix obit I couldn't help but comment. I assume all is going well with you and yours?
All the statements from people working at Dennis have been to the effect that he wanted them to carry on, and one of the things the company will be continuing to do is to fund the forest, according to the chief exec, James Tye (who started out on Windows Magazine, back in the 90s, before the launch of PC Pro):
I never met him, but I was a friend of a relative of his as a teenager - and spent a few evenings being lectured by his brother on life, business the sixties and everything.
An anecdote - Bill Gates, Felix Dennis, and Alan Sugar playing trumpet, drums and whatever at '80's IT conference. "Do you know what we have here? The world's richest fucking rock band"
I think John's got his cronology a bit muddled in some places:-
Ziff-Davis arrived in the UK 90/91 (I worked on the launch of PC Mag UK, but for the life of me can't put a precise date on it.) Computer Buyer, (Dennis' response to Spliff-Davis) was '91, as Nigel has said.
PC Pro (which I worked on as Tech Editor) was launched November '94 and Maxim was in '95. John was definately still around at Dennis around this time as we used to pass in the corridors regularly.
The Reg didn't arrive until '96. I vaguely recall that John and I both left Dennis around the same time.
On the rare occasions in 94/95 that Felix was in the Dennis offices he was always quite affable with me. His nominal office was right next to PC Pro's and I'd run into him probably more often than most as I had a habit of hanging out in the corridor, smoking and editting copy next to the stairs. He quite surprised me by actually knowing my name when we met for the first time in said corridor.
On the subject of PC Pro, as mentioned by Anon IV and Nigel: James Tye was Deputy Editor at the launch of PC Pro and it gave him his first real leg-up at Dennis, so I suspect he looks on it perhaps more fondly than he might otherwise.
I spent a lot of money on that magazine as a spotty teen (though most of my mag money went to Future: Commodore Format and Edge; and EMAP: Mean Machines Sega, Sega Magazine (I've got the entire collection!)). For some reason I preferred Buyer it to Computer Shopper. Maybe it was because it was slightly smaller or I thought the cover discs (remember those!) were better. The John Diamond columns were a bonus. I always wondered why Dennis had two very similar magazines.
I heard Felix on R4's Loose Ends a couple of years ago, being interviewed about his poetry. He said he didn't care what the critics thought because he was selling loads of books.
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