Oi Polloi

Interview: Neil and Mark from Proper Magazine

Published: Fri Aug 21 2015

Stockport's very own Proper Magazine has just reached its 17th issue. To celebrate this momentous occasion in print, I snagged founding fathers Neil Summers and Mark Smith to talk about the magazine’s origins, You’ve Been Framed and Joe Bloggs shell suits…  

It seems like you lot have got fingers in all sorts of pies. What have you lot been up to lately?

Neil: Personally I've been working on a brand new series for BBC1 with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall that involves looking in people's bins/fridges in the Prestwich area of Manchester. It'll be hitting our screens this October and will hopefully make everyone think twice before they put something in the wrong bin or buy something from Primark/KFC.

Mark: I've spent most of 2015 changing nappies, learning how to box and occasionally writing words about stuff I like. I've also been sorting my garden out. Oh, you should see it, Sam. 

For those who don’t know, what is Proper Magazine? And how would you describe it in one word?

Neil: It's that thing that you've been looking for all your life and the one word I'd use to describe it has to be 'arcobaleno' which is Italian for rainbow and has very little to do with the magazine but I just really like the sound of it. Actually it means 'temporary arc' so maybe there is something there.

Mark: It's the quintessential post-casual publication which gets better with every bite.

What’s in the latest issue?

Neil: Words, pictures and a free sachet of pot-pourri for the first 500 people to buy it.

Mark: We've actually listed some of the ingredients in the first few pages. But to answer in a grown up fashion for once, it's got a very vague title of 'Armchair Athletes'. It's about sportswear you'd wear while watching 24 Hours in A and E.

I’ve noticed Oi Polloi’s very own Josh Rothery has somehow blagged himself onto some of the covers. Is he a good model to work with, or does he just storm off to his trailer complaining about the fact no-one has taken the skin off his grapes and separated out the red Smarties into a bowl?

Neil: He was a bloody nightmare Sam, how the crew didn't attack him is beyond me. I had to go and have ten minutes alone after he asked me to blow on his minestrone.

Mark: Funnily enough, he did ask me to peel the skin off his grapes. Then he undid his belt. He didn't really. He and his good lady were a genuine delight.

There’s a bit of a Nuts in May theme in there. What other films (or television plays) are you lot into? Have you seen anything good lately?

Neil: I genuinely love T.O.W.I.E., it's pure argument porn and everyone's face is proper mash up. I watched Seventies NY gang documentary Rubble Kings the other day and that was decent.

Mark: I spent four hours sitting on a Virgin with Steve of Oi Polloi recently. You can insert your own mucky punchline. But on those journeys he recommended a documentary I really should have seen before now. It's called Century of Self and it's about propaganda, PR and government snides. I also watched Ted 2 last night and laughed roughly 3.5 times, which is a decent return. Other than that, I'll never tire of Partridge. Human Remains with Rob Brydon and Julia Davies is genuinely the funniest comedy series I've ever seen. I'm glad hardly anyone else seems to remember it.

Let’s take a trip back in time now. How did you two meet?

Neil: It involved confusion over a glue-stick/asthma inhaler but Mark doesn't like me to talk about it

Mark: Au contraire, I always find it ironic that we bonded over a Pritt-Stick. We've stuck together ever since. Neil had long hair back then. He also tied an onion to his belt, which was the style at the time. We could write a book about some of the mad shit that went on when we were there. It was like school but we were paid a cool £12.5k P.A. to be there.

What led you to start Proper? And what year was that?

Neil: We both worked at a company that was about to implode so around 2002 we set up propertop.com and reviewed music and nights out and lots of daft stuff. We also spent a lot of time talking about coats and trainers to clued up people on message-boards so it kind of made sense to combine the two.

Mark: I'd also been doing a Stockport County fanzine but they started being not very good at football, so I lost interest, as did the readership. Proper eventually appeared to fill that void for me, but propertop was a blog before blogs really and aside from Swine Magazine, nobody was really writing about stuff we were interested in online.

An informative extract from Issue 4

Back then it was a more basic fanzine sort-of-thing. I know there are some old issues of Proper knocking around on the Oi Polloi bookshelves, but I don’t think I’ve seen issue #1. What was in it? Was it just a simple stapled-together thing? How many copies did you print?

Neil: Due to the very strong medication I'm on I have no way of answering this question. *Looks at Mark*

Mark:  I don't have a copy for reference but if I remember rightly we did about 100 of them. A reissue with a different cover (thanks Huw) doubled that figure. I've seen them go for a lot more money than they should on eBay.

How has Proper changed since then?

Neil: We've got rid of the wordsearch.

Mark: I sometimes wish we could rub out issues 1-9. Buy them all and throw them in the bin. But I'm often reminded they're part of what we used to be and it's good for people to see how the whole thing has evolved. Plus, we've always said we wanted to improve issue by issue, so now we're at number 17 it stands to reason that the early ones don't compare.

Did you think it'd reach issue 17?

Neil: To be honest I thought by issue ten we'd have been bought out by some big rich man in London so I'm actually kind of devastated that we're at issue 17.

Mark: I'm a dreamer, so I envisaged myself sitting behind a huge desk with one of those posh coffee machines and a massive telly on the wall. If I'm not at that stage by issue 20, I'm fairly sure someone will pay with their life.

Out of all the things you’ve done for Proper so far, what are you most proud of?

Neil: That my love for Mark still grows stronger with each new day.

Mark: *blushes* I enjoyed the two spoof magazines we did for LVC a great deal. We're always up for mad little projects like that. But genuinely, the new issue is the best we've done by a mile. We've stepped out of our comfort zone a bit and instead of just writing stuff we've got involved in coming up with other creative stuff. We're pleased with how it's come together and we're looking forward to doing more.

The cover of Issue 3, as found in the Oi Polloi library

What’s the hardest thing about running a magazine?

Neil: Deciding on the spine quote.

Mark: I'm easily distracted.

Proper has been going for a while now. What have you learnt on this journey of discovery?

Neil: That 50% of PR firms are run on some kind of Wizard of Oz type basis and the other half actually know what they're talking about.

Mark: On the subject of PR firms, please, if you're reading this, we live in Stockport. It's 2 hours on a train from London and over £80 each. So unless you give us loads of notice and £200 (train fare x 2 + 40 quid spare for emergencies) then we won't be able to come to your event. We appreciate you thinking of us, but not everyone lives in London. A few bottles of beer out of a bin won't change that. To the good PR people who don't try and sell us breast pads, My Little Pony sandals or really boring leather goods, keep on keeping on. You're alright. It's the others who need to have a word with themselves.

No idea where this answer came from by the way. We've learned loads. It's just Neil mentioning PR companies that got me going. I'll be alright in a minute, can I have a glass of water please?

Neil, you used to work on You’ve Been Framed. Have you got any good stories from your time there? Did you ever meet Jonathan Wilkes? What’s funnier… a baby with an upturned bowl of food on its head, or a grandma falling over at a wedding?

Neil: I opened a door for Jonathan back in 2004, crazy times. I think he said something like, “Thanks,” or, “Cheers.” Honestly, you couldn't make it up.  I once spent a week making a music package featuring people on fire which was sadly rejected on grounds of taste and decency. 

Grandma doing one into the trifle is miles, miles better than any porridge covered baby. I know, I'm a professional.

Mark: I liked it when Neil worked at Granada and I could go and have my dinner with him. I was in the queue behind Ken Barlow once. Hearing him utter the words, “Quiche please,” will live long in my memory.

Mark, you used to work here at Oi Polloi. Have you got any funny stories from your time here?

Mark: I signed a golden handcuffs deal when I departed so I'm legally bound to remain tight-lipped until the year 2050. I'd love to write a book about Oi Polloi one day though.

What other magazines do you lot read?

Neil: I actually can't read, my mum is writing this all down for me.

Mark: I don't buy any magazines anymore. Not ones you get in WH Smith anyway. I still buy loads of poncey fashion ones that cost almost as much as a ticket to London, but I read stuff online mostly now.

I see you’ve branched out into the world of mugs. When can we expect a full line of Proper homeware?

Neil: We're talking to the linen napkin people and hope to be in at least 40 branches of Home Bargains by the second quarter of 2016.

Mark: We're working on the summer set of mugs right now, plus a special edition. Don't tell anyone though.

You also run the insanely popular ‘Proper Facts’. Have you uncovered any new facts lately you can share with us?

Neil: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall used to be in English jazz funk band Shakatak.

Being menswear media moguls, you two have your fingers firmly clasping the bleeding edge of fashion… what’s going to be a key trend for the Autumn/Winter season?

Neil: Cabourn is turning my head a lot again at the mo’ and the new adi Spezial stuff is great too, one shoe in particular has proper blown my mind.

Mark: I'm going to start wearing a gold hoop earring and a cigarette behind my ear. Hopefully it'll catch on. It's a timeless look… in Stockport.

What is the best item of clothing you’ve ever worn?

Neil: I once had a doss around in Zandra Rhodes' studio and got to wear one of Freddie Mercury's white silk gown type things so I'll say that.

Mark: I am rarely without a pair of Nike Lava Dome on my feet. They're an all-year-round shoe which are outdoorsy enough to stand up to a forest floor, yet sporty enough to wear while out on my space hopper. If you're listening, Nike, you can use that endorsement if you bring them back. Which you should.

And what’s the worst item of clothing you’ve ever worn?

Neil: I've blocked it all out but I've deffo worn some bad shite in my time.

Mark: There are too many awful items to mention. When I was 11 I convinced my Dad to lend me a fiver to get my hair cut. I promptly went straight to the hairdressers and instead of getting my hair cut, I got my ear pierced.

Around the same time I could be spotted bouncing around the mean streets of South Central Stockport in a pair of SPX and a Joe Bloggs shell suit. And those bright green socks that looked like they were made out of lurid flannels. I was basically a mash-up of Mr Motivator and Su Pollard.

Proper Magazine Issue 17 is available now.

Photo at the top courtesy of Michael 'Mike' Sallabank.