This Monday we take to the skies with Andy Morris, editor of High Life, the British Airways inflight magazine. It has been a fixture on BA flights since 1967, and paved the way for the entire genre of free, onboard magazines.
Where are you today?
At publisher Cedar’s offices on The Strand in London, next to the Savoy hotel and almost as fancy. When I’m not there, I’m most likely in Peckham Rye park with my wife Amy and our 20-month old twin boys.
What was the first magazine you remember enjoying?
Throughout the late nineties, I used to buy discount magazines from Chelmsford market in Essex on Saturday mornings—remaindered copies of Dazed, i-D, The Face, Q, DJ, Arena and Jockey Slut for 50p each. For me, they represented everything that was exciting, individual and thrilling about independent adult life in printed form. Since then, I remember the Scott King ‘Cher Guevara’ cover for Sleazenation stopping me in my tracks as a student in 2001.
My dream as a young music writer was to work for Mojo (thanks initially to a Stax covermount CD) and I remember how much my work experience in their offices and being taught by Keith Cameron at City University meant to me. Anyone working in magazines in the past decade who doesn’t say that New York magazine changed their approach to editorial design is in denial – I remember my friend Peter Robbins showing me the ‘Approval Matrix’ for the first time around 2005 and it blowing my mind.
Finally, I will always have British GQ in my heart—they gave me my first chance at a full time job and I worked there for ten years in print and digital, having started as the world’s worst design intern.
Tell us about your first holiday.
I remember being five years old in the Canary Islands in 34 degree heat and telling my parents I would really like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for lunch. There were lots of weeks in the Lake District spent tearing around an adventure trail at Langdale with my brother and eating rum and raisin ice cream in the drizzle.
But for me the really transformative childhood and teenage trips were to America and Canada. First Florida for Disney, then I was lucky enough to go to places like Banff, Jasper, Cape Cod, Washington, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. The best by far was South Dakota—there was a motorbike rally happening in Sturgis nearby and everywhere was filled with polite Harley Davidson riders touring the sights and getting too close to the local buffalo.
What has been your worst holiday experience?
A miserable weekend break spent in a tiny one room Airbnb in Paris where the owner single-handedly ruined the trip by being unable to let my wife or I check in, check out, go to bed or have a shower. A reminder that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is—and not all hosts have your best interests at heart.
Are you a beach holiday or city break person?
The appeal of lying on a beach with a book and a selection of magazines freshly bought from the airport—never a phone because I’m weak—sounds like heaven. My best ever beach holiday is a tie: Forte Village in Sardinia with my wife was pretty sensational for the people watching, pasta and pristine sand—but doing drunken Elton John karaoke at the Body Holiday in St Lucia with my brother has its merits.
What is your magazine’s approach to travel?
Inflight titles need to be surprisingly good—the most common reaction I get when I tell people about my role is the phrase “I love High Life, it’s actually a really good magazine.” What I think marks us out is our sense of personality—in the age of Instagram, Yelp and Tripadvisor, the only way to get people’s attention is to give them a vibrant, sensory depiction of what’s possible worldwide and why they specifically might find it fun.
We also use big name photographers and irreverent journalists to try and keep things as bright, bold and British as possible.
Which holiday/trip from your magazine would you most like to experience?
I don’t think I’d be doing my job properly if I didn’t want to experience everything that’s in each issue. But in short: being taught to cook by a Barcelona grandma, going on a metaphysical tour of New York with Timothy ‘Speed’ Levitz, hanging out with Dave Grohl at the Chairman’s Lodge in LA, paragliding in Oman. The feature that one of our writers, Ianthe Butt, just filed to me from Singapore made me completely rethink my approach to the city.
Which magazine(s) should people be taking away with them this summer?
The Oxford American – the magazine is so expertly crafted, it brings me an immense amount of pleasure. I’m excited by Tyler The Creator on the new cover of US GQ Style—mainly because it was shot by Matthieu Venot, whose work I love on Subjectmatterart.com.
Also, personally I’m excited to see what happens next with Rolling Stone under Jason Fine—their relaunch issue was a real statement of intent. You can’t argue with a Cardi B/Offset cover, Big Boi’s BBQ songs and Johnny Depp’s best interview in years inside a single issue.
High Life was one of the first inflight magazines. How has the magazine changed over the years to remain fresh?
This summer, High Life celebrated 45 years of working with British Airways. From looking through the archives, there have always been big name writers (AA Gill, Jilly Cooper, Terry Wogan) and bold cover choices (Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, Michael Palin).
The editors who proceeded me all had the same vision—William Davis, Mark Jones and Kerry Smith—all wanted the title to showcase BA, but also stand on its own merits, bring joy to readers and frankly be anything but boring stories about other people’s holidays. In terms of keeping it fresh, my work with our designer Craig Baxter is to commission a variety of different writers, make bolder use of typography and offer different subject matter with a sense of place. We never forget we’re competing against not only 1000 hours of inflight entertainment but the limitless distraction of Wi-Fi.
What’s the balance between BA-related content and general content? How do you balance the two?
Without question, this is unapologetically a British Airways magazine and our central aim is to celebrate the airline’s routes and service onboard. But thanks to Cedar’s decades of working with BA, they are a great client to collaborate with. They approve every piece of content but such is the breath of BA’s route network, that we have considerable amount of freedom on how to cover a destination.
What do you look for in your cover stars?
They either have to represent global travellers or a particular British outlook: ideally both. Anthony Joshua was perfect for us as he’s not only one of the most talented boxers in the world right now, he’s also one of the most handsome and charming. I am personally proud of the cover stars that follow their own path and tour internationally (St Vincent, Kacey Musgraves, Christine & The Queens), those who represent a pioneering spirit (Buzz Aldrin, Sir Ranulph Fiennes) and the best of British (Riz Ahmed, Mo Farah, Karen Elson)
Where will you be taking a break this year?
I have just come back from a brilliant weekend at the Royal Crescent in Bath. As a knackered parent, if you find somewhere where the staff are kind and generous to your kids, it makes the world of difference. Next we’re off to France on a driving holiday with the boys—it’ll be an adventure I’m sure.