Your part in my downfall

Hutton reflects on his unsuccessful stint as editor-in-chief of the Critic, and has determined the readers are to blame


One year ago this week, I went to Tesco in my capacity as Critic sketchwriter to stock up on Pringles. Had anyone told me then that, twelve months later, I would be living out of my car following a forty-nine-day term as the magazine’s editor-in-chief, I would not have believed it.

Since my departure from the editor’s chair just over one hundred days ago, I’ve spent many hours screaming abuse at strangers in the street, sobbing while watching old episodes of Press Gang, and trying to persuade my wife to let me back into the house. This time has not been easy.

Now I want to set out, from my perspective, why this is everyone else’s fault.

When my predecessor collapsed following a spectacularly long lunch on Thursday, July 7, nothing was further from my mind than the possibility that I might succeed him. Some thought otherwise, pointing to the informal “Mutton With Hutton” dinners that I’d held for the magazine’s staff over the previous months, listening to their concerns and promising them better jobs, and to the interview I’d given the Press Gazette setting out the ways I believed The Critic could be better be run. But the reality is that standing for the editorship was a faraway prospect, because I was in Croydon IKEA.

All I had that day, nearly eight miles from Westminster, was a series of messages urging me to pull my finger out and file my bloody sketch.

That’s what I felt compelled to do.

By the time I reached The Critic’s office, supporters had unpacked the “Get On With Hutton” banners and t-shirts from under my desk and, over the next forty-eight minutes, we stood up my campaign.

Horseflesh is not the safe investment that I had been led to believe

The battle for the editorship turned out to be brutal. I was called everything from lanky to gangling. But despite that, my message of a return to conservative magazine editing and of stopping apologising for our misprints resonated with our proprietor, Lord Drax. He was particularly impressed with my pledge that we could outsell The Economist by simply firing all our staff and reprinting old pieces from 1970s editions of Punch.

So it was that I won the job with a clear mandate from my owner to have every household in Britain subscribing to The Critic by December. I was determined to act with maximum speed. I knew this risked mistakes being made, but I planned to blame them on the people who make our podcasts.

Hours after I took the job, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II very selfishly died. It seems that she didn’t give a moment’s thought to the damage this would do to me and my magazine relaunch. Suddenly no one wanted to talk about our cover feature on the future of the Estonian novel.

Although my plans for the magazine were wildly popular, with thousands of readers cancelling their subscriptions in support, brewing in the background there was an issue relating to pension funds, which I had not been made aware of.

At no point during any of my management of The Critic did any member of staff mention to me that it is illegal to take the contents of your company pension fund and place it in an accumulator bet on the afternoon’s results at Haydock Park. But then late one Friday afternoon, I learned that Blenheim Boy had fallen behind in the final furlong and finished eighth.

Readers will not be surprised that, given the impact on events, since leaving office I have spent some time reading the Racing Post. I was shocked by what I discovered.

Astonishingly, it turns out that horseflesh is not the safe investment that I had been led to believe. Only now can I appreciate what a delicate tinderbox I was dealing with when I let a chap in a pub fill out my betting slip. When I ask now why no one warned me, the magazine’s staff simply bleat that I’d dismissed them all and locked them out of the office.

Knowing what I know now, undoubtedly I would have handled things differently. Dandy Maestro is a far better horse on good-to-soft going.

But frankly, I was also pushing water uphill. In recent years, British media thought has become dominated by ideas about readable articles and coherent arguments. In my view, this static approach tends to undervalue the benefits of giving jobs to my mates and banging on about my private obsessions.

I could really use twenty quid

In the medium term, I believed my magazine would have increased circulation. But we were swimming against the tide. There was a concerted effort by international actors to challenge our Plan For Circulation Growth. The IMF (International Magazine Fellowship) commented on the way that many of the articles ended mid-sentence, rather than all our spelling mistakes. It is hard to conclude this was anything but politically motivated. Then there was the intervention from President Biden, who publicly said he’d never heard of us.

Facing the headwinds we did, I could not allow newsagents to keep betting against The Critic.

I was deeply disturbed at having to fire Kwasi Kwarteng. As the magazine’s sketchwriter, he had taken the sketch in a brave new direction that was genuinely transformative, by not even trying to write any jokes. But I reluctantly concluded I had no option but to remove him, and to tell Steve Swinford about it first.

I underestimated the extent to which the “blob of readers” and the non-ex-republican-former-Lib-Dem-anti-freedom-anti-anti-anti-Kwasi-former-Remain-now-hardcore-Brexit establishment would act against me by refusing to buy the magazine.

I’ve lost track of the person who approached me after I left the job to say that he believed my diagnosis of the magazine’s problems was correct, but if he’d like to get in touch, I could really use twenty quid.

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