Considering Playboy magazine was banned in Ireland for over 35 years, one wonders how two homegrown imitation magazines ever got published here in the 1970s.
In the inaugural issue of Man Alive in April 1974, the editor (no name supplied) described their new glossy monthly as, “the first general interest man’s magazine in the international mould, aimed at today’s increasingly sophisticated Irishman in his 20s and 30s. Despite some advance speculation, Man Alive is definitely not, nor will it be, a pornographic magazine…but we see nothing wrong with classic nude poses of a beautiful young Irish girl.”
Conscious of what it could get away with in a church-ruled, heavily-censored state, the photos in Man Alive were, as Kenny Everett would say, ‘in the best possible taste’. Sinead Lonergan, a 22 year-old part-time model, part-time clothes designer, from Enniskerry was their first ‘Girl of the Month’ and probably the first model ever to appear topless in an Irish magazine. Content featuring nudes took up less than 10% of the magazine, the rest was fashion, music, books, food, drink, travel, sport, motoring and politics. Man Alive commissioned respected Irish writers, illustrators and critics who provided plenty of original and interesting Irish content. The first issue, for example, included J.P Donleavy’s account of the events surrounding the Dublin staging of his “Ginger Man” play, a short story by Patrick Boyle illustrated by Jim Fitzpatrick, and a profile on an upcoming young politician – a fully clothed Mary Robinson. By the time issue 4 appeared, the editor (still unnamed), encouraged by the good early sales and feedback, predicted “a broadening of minds…our traditional insularism is being swept aside by the winds of change”. It wasn’t to be though. Man Alive lasted for less than ten issues and folded by 1976.
Executive has a similar tale to tell. It launched in May 1979 and made a profit on the first issue with a print run of 27,000 copies. Working from their offices in South George’s St, editor and joint owner Brian Keogh told the Irish Press: “There are racks and racks of magazines that cater for women but none that cover the majority of men’s interests under one cover, from men’s fashions to motorbiking. That’s the gap we intend to fill. And any men’s leisure magazine which didn’t bother with girls would have to be called hypocritical.” Keogh explained that they bought their nude pictures from an agency in England: “We’d like to use Irish girls, but you know what they say? They say, their boyfriends wouldn’t like it. That’s the sort of attitude we’d like the magazine to change.”
Executive had a higher percentage of nudes and was a little naughtier than Man Alive, but neither magazine showed genitalia or pubic hair. Launched in the year the pope visited Ireland, Executive was mindful of the threat of censorship, and its many critics and opponents – one particular objector regularly posted a bag of flour through their post box! The early 1980s saw it change its name, owners and strategy: New Executive ditched what little Irish content it had and replaced it with more nudes. In 1983 the magazine went bust; twelve years before Playboy got permission to sell in Ireland.
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro