Steven Lynch plots the 24-year life of Wisden Cricket Monthly
Wisden Cricket Monthly, first published in June 1979, was the brainchild of its first editor, David Frith, who had previously edited The Cricketer as well. At first the magazine operated under licence from John Wisden & Co., which later bought a controlling interest. From its inaugural issue WCM sought to maintain a less Establishment-minded stance than The Cricketer, its main rival, and also confined itself largely to international and first-class cricket, reasoning that it was difficult to do justice to the vast amount of club and school cricket played.
The first Editorial Board, comprising those expected to be regular contributors, was well chosen. It included two current players - David Gower, who had made his Test debut only the previous year, and Bob Willis - who would go on to captain England, as well as Ted Dexter, who already had, and the former England offspinner Jim Laker, a familiar face on TV at the time. There was also the incomparable John Arlott, then the unmistakable radio Voice of Cricket, who contributed a thoughtful essay each month. Photographs came from Patrick Eagar, who remains the leader in his field today. Later recruits to the Editorial Board included Matthew Engel, now the editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, another future England captain in Mike Atherton, the BBC radio commentator Jonathan Agnew, and the popular Guardian columnist Frank Keating.
From the beginning WCM included a regular colour section - previous cricket magazines had been almost exclusively monochrome - to showcase Eagar's photos, and also undertook regular campaigns aimed at improving the game. For around a decade before technological aids to assist umpires were finally introduced Frith ceaselessly championed their use, feeling that it undermined the umpires, and the game, if millions of TV viewers could instantly see that a run-out decision was incorrect. WCM also instigated the practice of crediting those run-outs to the players involved, by including their names on the scorecard (eg Botham run out Lillee/Marsh).
The magazine also had a strong historical flavour, fuelled by Frith's interest in old cricket and cricketers. Among the best-remembered features from the magazine's early days are the evocative diaries of players of long ago.
After 17 years at the helm Frith was replaced as editor in 1996 by Tim de Lisle, who dragged the magazine's working practices up to date. Out went pages designed by people kneeling on the floor brandishing gluepots, spatulas and somewhat sticky scissors, and in came computerised page make-up, and - with the help of some welcome extra funding - more editorial staff, including a dedicated designer, leading to a more professional approach all round. Eventually the magazine, which had been something of a cottage industry operating out of a series of small offices in Guildford - the pokiest of which was only ever used again as Santa's Grotto one Christmas - moved into London, to be co-published by John Brown Ltd, a leading player in the contract-publishing market. The improvements soon paid off: in 1999 WCM was voted Best Specialist Magazine by the British Society of Magazine Editors.
When Tim de Lisle and Steven Lynch - who started with WCM at the end of 1985, and is now the editor of Wisden Cricinfo - moved over to Wisden's new online venture at the end of 2000, the magazine's new editor was Stephen Fay, from the Independent on Sunday. With a largely new team under him, he continued to develop the magazine, but profitability remained elusive.
Eventually Wisden came to an agreement with the owners of The Cricketer for the two magazines to merge, to create one magazine melding the best bits of both. The last issue of WCM came out in September 2003, which happened to coincide with Stephen Fay's 65th birthday and his retirement. The new, combined magazine The Wisden Cricketer, edited by Fay's former deputy John Stern, first appeared in October 2003.