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A date with Playdate

April 1, 2020

When Rip It Up celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1987, publisher Murray Cammick suggested that we run a story about New Zealand’s earlier rock magazines. I interviewed Des Dubbelt, then in his 60s, about his time editing Playdate from 1960 to 1972. Dubbelt’s house in West Auckland was full of books and his Bechstein piano had a Bach prelude ready to play; he had a free-flowing garden that was a work of art, and a source of food.

Playdate Rowles dec jan 68 69


Grooving With Moog: New Zealand’s Music Press
By Chris Bourke (Rip It Up, July 1987)

Two things were different about going to a movie in the 1960s. First, you were obliged to stand up for ‘God Save the Queen.’ And at half-time, there were advertisements for Playdate, only 2/- at the Nibble Nook bar.

Owned by Kerridge Odeon, Playdate developed out of their house organ Cinema in 1960. Very similar to Shake! in format and content, its coverage extended to music and other youth topics. Playdate is New Zealand’s most successful young person’s magazine ever. The magazine lasted 12 years, and in its heyday had a circulation of 75,000 copies, with a readership of four or five times that number.

Although Playdate was the idea of Cinema’s editor Sid Bevan, he left shortly after the magazine started, and for most of its life Des Dubbelt (below) was the editor. “I felt that to go anywhere, the magazine had to shed the feel of a handout, it had to have a consumer feel,” he says. Dubbelt describes his employer Sir Robert Kerridge as “a true impresario, not an accountant” – so the magazine was not limited to KO films, but also covered Amalgamated’s releases and television stories, with genuine criticism, not just publicity.

Des Dubbelt by CB

Des Dubbelt, photographed by Chris Bourke, 1987

“Kerridge saw you’ve got to go with the flow. If you’re in show business, it doesn’t make sense to ignore your competition.” The magazine was aimed equally at males and females, though the healthy advertising (some issues nearly reached 200 pages!) was mainly cosmetics and clothes (Slimryte Rolls! Bri-Nylon!) for the young Slenderella. “We followed our own interests a lot,” says Dubbelt. “We thought if it interested us, it would interest our readers. There were no readers’ surveys. We were enthusiasts.”

With Dubbelt at Playdate was Tom McWilliams as assistant editor (later executive chief sub-editor at the Listener), and young reporter Sally (who later worked for the Beatles at Apple in London).

Reflecting the explosion of the decade, music became a major part of the magazine. “It was a natural progression,” says Dubbelt. “The pop films started happening. Cliff Richard and so on, bolstered by personal visits. When the Beatles arrived, it was like the millennium.” Dubbelt remembers taking Gene Pitney to Kerridge’s Pakatoa Island resort for a story, and accompanying Tom Jones to a nightclub after his Town Hall concert – and Tommy Adderley singing ‘It’s Not Unusual’ as Jones entered.

The burgeoning local music scene was covered, particularly the summer package tours. “Mr Lee Grant was mobbed in a way comparable with any visiting big name.” Shows such as C’mon made New Zealanders pop stars. “Any TV show wouldn’t have done it,” says Dubbelt. “Kevan Moore was a brilliant producer – those shows were excellent.”

Playdate Mr Lee Grant cover July 1967019

Mr Lee Grant, Playdate, July 1967

As any magazine should, Playdate’s layout reflects the design of the era. The change from hot metal to offset printing meant some radical layouts were possible: white type on black, photos bled to the edge. “We were dealing with a visual market: movies, fashion, rock, and this technology meant we could look different from the things the Woman’s Weekly were doing. The readers saw this – they didn’t want something that reminded them of their mother’s magazine.”

The innovations of Playdate meant the magazine attracted work from the “young, adventurous” photographers of the day, such as Max Thomson, Rodney Charters, and Roger Donaldson. “We couldn’t have afforded them, but they liked the type of layouts we used, and to see their work well presented.” While they were using Mondrian grid layouts and plenty of white space, Dubbelt and McWilliams looked with envy at overseas magazines – the San Francisco Oracle even had psychedelic inks!

But the times eventually caught up with Playdate. By the early 1970s music and movies had got more permissive, and the magazine could reflect that in its illustrations – to a point. “It was just the way things were going. Take Woodstock. It was a pretty raunchy film, with a permissive attitude towards drugs and lifestyle. Tom and I felt we couldn’t cover the way the rock scene was going.

“That was about the time Rolling Stone came on the scene. They seemed to have no ‘no-nos,’ with star writers such as Hunter Thompson who seemed to be doing all the drugs, too. The youth market had diversified into heavy rock, with the accompanying drug scene, and teenybopper pop. We couldn’t and didn’t want to go into those areas.”

Playdate’s circulation was still healthy when the magazine was sold to the Auckland Star in 1972, but six months later the new owners decided to close the magazine down. Ironically, on the day Rip It Up interviewed Des Dubbelt, the Star’s parent company New Zealand Newspapers announced the closure of their 1980s teen magazine, Dolly.

Update: Murray Cammick has written a lovely tribute to Playdate at AudioCulture.

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