A by-word for B-grade celebrities in bikinis and coarse blokey humour, Ralph magazine breathed its last VB-scented breath last week.

ACP took a look at circulation figures plunging further than the necklines on the title’s heavily air-brushed photo shoots and decided the July issue of the 13-year-old magazine would be the last. The masthead will continue, in online form, probably restricted to screen savers of women with unfeasibly large boobs that will be downloaded by office juniors the length and breadth of the land.

Ralph was ACP’s response to Britain’s mid-1990s glut of wildly successful lads’ mags, such as Loaded. It was launched in 1997 under editor Geoff Seddon, whose experience as a motoring writer shows in the early editions, which were as much about hotted-up cars as they were about near-naked girls.

It was under Mark Dapin, now a feature writer for Fairfax, that the magazine assumed its readers could actually read. Dapin interspersed the T&A shots with longer features that said more than “[insert this month’s model name here] has always thought about doing it with a girl”.

Despite its oafish image, Ralph was often surprisingly politically correct. While News Limited’s blue-collar tabloids assisted John Howard’s demonisation of asylum seekers, Ralph ran a testosterone-laden feature on the living hell Afghans were escaping, humanising boat people in a language its readers could understand. Jokes about race and sexual preference were banned in the style guide, despite earlier attempts by ACP management to get Dapin to produce a magazine that was politically incorrect simply to get attention.

The magazine also gave Aussie blokes something girls here have long had in titles such as Dolly and Cleo — sex advice. Its first advice columnist “Yvonne Firman” says she was surprised at the “incredibly raw and naïve” letters she received.

“Teen mags had been giving girls answers for years — and making us toughen up,” she said. “Men had no such resource. All they had to fall back on were the crass humour and brute mythology that gush from the mouths of other men. Yvonne was trying to tell guys it’s OK to be nice to women.” She was later replaced by a porn actress as the magazine coarsened to match the more downmarket titles such as Zoo, which were eating into its readership.

And Ralph’s attempts to match the cheaper, coarser Zoo for the building-site-toilet market were always doomed to fail. As former editor Dapin said: “Lads’ mags don’t sell to lads, they sell to middle-class boys living out lad fantasies.”

If the magazine has aimed itself more at the white-collar than the blue, maybe there would be an issue on the news shelves come August.

In the end, though, Aussie blokes will just have to go back to “humour and brute mythology” when they can’t satisfy their girlfriend. Crikey will have to re-invent the Dickhead of the Year Award so often won by Kyle Sandilands, and the army of workers who airbrush the blemishes from the likes of Mercedes Corby (dear God, what on earth were they thinking?) will have to look for somewhere else to practise their Photoshop skills.

* Jason Mountney was Ralph’s gadget reviewer for most of the past decade. He also worked as a sub-editor early in the magazine’s existence. You know, when it was good.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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