Listen to this article
For those picking up a copy of the first-ever edition of Weekend FT in May 1985, the travel advice was clear, if curiously put. Going to eastern Europe, the paper informed its readers, was a bit like eating spinach. “You know that visiting it is going to do you good but you really wonder if it is as nasty as it looks.”
If you did insist on going ahead with a short trip to the communist eastern bloc, it seemed to say, then Budapest was the “least eastern bloc” choice, a city where, “you can eat well and late, watch TV with ads, hear pop music and shop”. After all, if you had wanted communism “red in tooth and claw”, you’d probably have headed straight for East Berlin. There was also sound advice for those considering a visit to Moscow, capital of the communist world. “Russians have a fearful preoccupation with keeping things under control — showing individuality simply disturbs them.”
Suspicion appeared to run both ways. According to the article, tour operators that organised trips from the UK to the Soviet Union reported little in the way of repeat traffic. Britons heading east preferred the wilds of Transylvania, especially those travelling with the Saga tour company.
According to JDF Jones, the first Weekend FT editor, these pages were aimed at the FT reader “with his pullover on”. There was more fashion advice available inside — for both sexes — but the section’s focus was less on what to wear and more on personal finance. The didactic air of much of the first edition may have cloaked some tentativeness: after almost a century of authoritative business and political coverage, this was the first time the Financial Times had put so much effort into advising business readers on what to do when they weren’t doing business. That Saturday a slender column on the right of the front page did its best to trumpet a paper now “divided into two sections — the news, feature and statistical content of the daily newspaper, followed by the Weekend FT”.
Inside, a new column, “Finance and the female”, regretted the fact that in the 1980s, with 58 per cent of all married women working, “the financial lives of women remain different from men’s” and vowed to take on fiscal inequalities between the sexes. Home cookery was featured but restaurant reviews weren’t, perhaps reflecting the view, reported in Mintel’s 1985 “British Lifestyles” survey, that “within the lifestyle of British people eating out is a non-essential item in the budget”.
According to a feature that May, interest in south-of-France property had taken a sudden upward swing: “Most agents agree that the market overreacted when the Socialists got in [in 1981].” Meanwhile, advertisements on the property pages for riverside apartments in an up-and-coming part of east London known as Docklands held out the promise of a new kind of city living. “Only eight views like this remaining across the Thames to Greenwich,” it boasted. Prices for one- and two-bedroom flats here started at £67,500.
The first editions of Weekend FT strived to be up-to-date technologically. The car telephone was deemed “great fun but so expensive” (between £1,250 and £2,000). “One day, say the enthusiasts, we will all have a mobile phone”. A column called “High-tech home” warily appraised a novel bit of kit that was already a vital part of Americans’ social lives: the telephone answering machine. “If it is someone you want to talk to, you answer the telephone quick — if it is an old bore, a pressing creditor or the office you let them record their message.” The Weekend FT was up and running.
Ten years on, the FT and the weekend were old acquaintances. Gone was the occasional awkwardness about debating topics such as “The return of the Blonde”. In the age of “casual Friday” the paper wore its weekend clothes comfortably, even ostentatiously (one article looked straight-faced at the market for buying houses with flagpoles). And, on the back of a recession in the early 1990s, it seemed preoccupied by one theme above all: quality of life.
The focus was still largely British, so this was mainly to do with houses. Columnists bemoaned overcrowded cities (“No wonder those city-dwellers who can afford it are fleeing, invading the countryside”), while property ads offered up pages of second homes in Suffolk and sporting estates in Scotland. The quest for a rural bolt-hole wasn’t confined only to the UK, though, as developers offered luxury houses in Umbria and Tuscany and the chance to “create a dream in Rural Italy”, which seemed to have overtaken the south of France in FT circles.
Even the Style pages speculated on this trend. In a disquisition on floral frocks, the writer found it “hard to escape the notion that [the British] are not convinced about city dwelling in the way other nations are. Those who cannot afford a second home in the country either compromise in leafy suburbia or transform the interiors of their inner-city flats and houses into an upstairs-downstairs hybrid of country cottage and country house.”
A love of luxury was also becoming part of our busy lives. The previous year had seen the launch of How To Spend It, the FT’s first colour supplement, and in a Weekend FT article in May 1995 the boss of one Japanese company reckoned he had the answer to the appeal of this rapidly internationalising business. “As industrialisation becomes more pronounced and products and lifestyles more uniform, there is a need for luxury goods to enhance the quality of our lives,” he suggested.
The article also argued that, whereas in the 1980s luxury products were prized above all as status symbols, the 1990s luxury consumer was interested in the “intrinsic worth” of a product.
Weekend FT’s search for authenticity was inexhaustible, as correspondents alternately celebrated the existence of cookery lessons in the unassuming Shropshire town of Ludlow (“The English are becoming a nation of cooks”) and bemoaned the dearth of real British boozers in the face of “nouveau pubs”: “You know the sort: candles on the table, bad modern art on the walls, a wider selection of wines than beers and impenetrable menus scrawled on vast blackboards.”
The wide-eyed tone of the early editions was still found in the technology columns though. “If you have an email address, anyone anywhere in the world can send you a message. It will be waiting for you the next time you log in. You can reply with equal ease . . . it is like being able to stick a note on a refrigerator door anywhere in the world.”
Halfway through the first decade of the 21st century, even FT technology writers were on email and, with the internet’s growth, the search for the good life went wider than ever. In fact, for some it wasn’t enough to find a work-life balance, when you could indulge your passions and earn a living from it.
Weekend FT, now a four-section package that included a weekly magazine, reported on vanguard tribes such as the “pro-tirers”, who packed in being investment bankers and corporate lawyers to fulfil their dreams of becoming farmers, deli owners, restaurateurs or artisan food producers. “Seeing a chef eat one of our oysters and pronounce it the best they’ve ever eaten is more rewarding than completing any merger or acquisition,” said Ben, one who had swapped contract law for supplying shellfish to London’s top restaurants.
Idealists such as Ben were also proving commercially astute. Foodie culture had produced a gap in the market that was being filled, while people talked of “optimum crust texture” and “food miles” as if communicating in a new language. The Weekend FT also took on a more international flavour, reflecting the fact that, in a rapidly globalising economy, the FT now had European, US and Asian editions as well as a worldwide website.
Tyler Brûlé’s Fast Lane column was a weekly dispatch from this increasingly joined-up planet (his favourite cities at the time: Tokyo and Copenhagen); while property pages reported on the number of people moving to Las Vegas for “jobs, leisure and lifestyle”, and carried small ads on buying second homes in eastern Europe.
Air travellers who returned to the skies after the attack on New York’s twin towers in 2001 were taking trips to places such as Dubai and Thailand; while travel writers became aware of the environmental toll of increased long-haul flights.
Conscientious travel was a theme developed when a tsunami wiped out resorts in Southeast Asia, taking lives and livelihoods with it. Reflecting on the tragedy, the FT’s travel editor wrote: “For travellers, the issues are more simple than they are for policy makers and survivors. If you love travelling to these countries, jump on a plane and travel there again.”
Though the past decade has seen market meltdown and prolonged recession, it has also witnessed a big expansion of the group known as “high-net worth individuals”: those with more than $1m in liquid assets. During this time the Weekend FT has increased its coverage of culture, lifestyle, luxury, property and personal finance in a package that regularly runs to seven sections.
Looking back to 1985, what else has changed? Well, communist East Berlin is now just Berlin, and its nightlife and arts scene has turned it into one of the most popular weekend destinations for those snapping up budget airline fares (flights and accommodation booked online, rather than with a travel agent) that have transformed European travel.
Earlier this year, an apartment in the Docklands development advertised in the first edition of the Weekend FT sold for £400,000 — an increase of 493 per cent on the 1985 asking price. Today, in London, £67,500 might buy you a flat above a shop in Dagenham, the borough with the city’s lowest property prices.
As for the writers of the “High-tech home” column? They were right about those mobile phones.
Neil O’Sullivan is deputy editor of FT Life & Arts. To view an e-paper version of the first Weekend FT, go to the online version of this story at ft.com/weekend30
Hotlist 1985 v 2015
1985: Obsession, Calvin Klein
2015: Tom Ford Noir (for men)
1985: Sally Field wears Holly Harp
2015: Julianne Moore wears Chanel Couture
1985: £6.95 (£18.90 today)
2015: £125 (minimum)
The Prada bag
1985: £250 (£680 today)
1985: British Telecom Robin
answering machine, £99.99 (£272 today)
2015: Apple Watch, from £299
Creative director of Chanel
1985: Karl Lagerfeld
2015: Karl Lagerfeld
Travelling in style
1985: Seat 1A, on British Airways Concorde
2015: The Residence private suite for two, onboard Etihad’s Airbus A380
1985: Ryanair: London to Waterford
2015: La Compagnie launches business-class only flights, London to New York
Big at the box office
1985: Back to the Future, $381.1m ($842m today)
2015 (so far): Furious 7, $1.49bn
On the bestsellers list
1. Mountbatten: The Official Biography, Philip Ziegler
2. In Search of the Trojan War, Michael Wood
3. Hold the Dream, Barbara Taylor Bradford
4. The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend
5. Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 1985,
1. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
2. Deliciously Ella: Awesome ingredients, incredible food that you and your body will love, Ella Woodward
3. A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
4. Get the Glow: Delicious and Easy Recipes That Will Nourish You from the Inside Out, Madeleine Shaw
5. Without a Trace, Lesley Pearse
1. Brothers in Arms, Dire Straits
2. No Jacket Required, Phil Collins
3. Like A Virgin, Madonna
4. Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
5. Songs from the Big Chair, Tears for Fears
2015 (so far):
1. In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith
2. X, Ed Sheeran
3. Wanted on Voyage, George Ezra
4. 1989, Taylor Swift
5. Chasing Yesterday, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Sources: Box Office Mojo; The Bookseller magazine; © Official Charts Company
1985-2015: in numbers
Price of Weekend FT
1985: 35p, 2 sections (95p*)
2015: £3, minimum of 5 sections
Cheapest return flight London-Dublin
1985: £209 (£569)
Four-bedroom villa with a pool in Tourettes, Côte d’Azur
1985: £250,000 (£680,000)
Number of Britons travelling overseas
UK spending on eating out
1985 £6.8bn (£18.5bn)
UK consumer spending on fashion
1985: £13.2bn (£35.9bn)
2015: £55bn (forecast)
Price of art
May 1985: Francis Bacon’s “Landscape Near Malabata” achieves highest price for living British painter, Sotheby’s New York, $517,000, ($1.14m)
May 2015: Picasso’s “ Les Femmes d’Alger” achieves highest price for a painting at auction, Christie’s, $179.4m
Sources: FT; Mintel’s British Lifestyles, 1986; Clothing Retailing, 2014. Eating Out Review 2015.*Prices in brackets give equivalent amount adjusted for inflation
Get alerts on Financial Times when a new story is published