Who would have thought that a small market town 150 miles away from London could become the heart of British 8-bit games magazine publishing for almost ten years? Now, you can find out something of how it happened first-hand, as a fascinating ‘time capsule’ from the late 20th century has materialised and taken its rightful place alongside displays going back thousands of years in a Shropshire museum.
Aliens over Ludlow – the Newsfield Decade is a small, but extremely interesting, exhibit currently on show at Ludlow Museum, that documents with photos, original artwork and, naturally, magazines, key elements of the all-too-short but blazing history of one of the British home computer revolution’s most prominent publishers – Newsfield, a company which had its origins literally just around the corner from the exhibit’s venue, Ludlow Museum. And they had one hell of a ride.
Newsfield Publications Ltd was founded by Roger Kean, Franco Frey and Oliver Frey in 1983. Based in the top three floors of number 1-2 King Street, Ludlow, Newsfield published a number of hugely popular computer game magazines from the mid-1980s to early-1990s, which at one time were everywhere to be found in British newsagents.
In the 1980s, the Newsfield offices, which were then above Victoria Wine, “…were a hub of games playing and reviewing, a journalistic endeavour that produced hundreds of thousands of words every month across 4 or 5 magazines, with all the design, layout and technical production carried out on the middle floor.” They even recruited keen young games reviewers from Ludlow School!
Their top magazines were, most memorably, Zzap!64 (dedicated to the Commodore 64 and launched in May, 1985 as the sister magazine to Crash, it later incorporated Amiga game news and reviews), Crash (launched in 1983 as a software catalogue, it evolved into one of the top mags covering the Sinclair ZX Spectrum) and the short-lived but fun Amtix! (for Amstrad CPC gamers, launched in November 1985 but only running for 18 issues).
This line-up was later supplemented by a number of interesting but rather less successful magazines covering role-playing games, film, horror and youth culture. Faced with financial difficulties at a time when the home computer and magazine market was changing, the company sadly went bankrupt towards the end of 1991.
The end of the company didn’t spell the immediate end for some of their magazines though. Another magazine publisher, Europress, continued to publish Newsfield’s flagship publications, Zzap!64 and Crash, for a further six months before the former was relaunched as Commodore Force and the latter sold to rival publisher EMAP and merged with Sinclair User.
Thankfully, Oliver Frey and Roger Kean are still active in the retro gaming/computing community, writing, creating art and publishing their work. They have also provided the exhibit at Ludlow Museum from their own archives of those heady days. Some of their former staffers also pop up from time to time on the many Facebook pages and groups that now serve that community.
Our editor, Stuart Williams, has recently been able to visit the Ludlow Buttercross Museum, housed in a beautiful historic building which faces down Broad Street, right in the centre of town. He was given a friendly and helpful welcome by museum assistants Helen Jones and Monty Lowe, and immediately discovered some fascinating insights into the story of an undeniable gamers publishing legend, amidst the bronze age spears, the fossils and the WW1 militaria which also feature at this great little showcase for local history.
Aliens over Ludlow is a small but remarkable exhibit, which reveals a great deal of inside information about an exciting time in games-related publishing which is sadly no more, and is very much worth a visit if you’re thinking of a day out to this lovely little town.
Apart from Newsfield, the rest of the museum is well worth a look round and there’s not only a great speciality market nearby (follow this link for market details) but even a castle! All this and plenty of antique and bookstores, cafes, restaurants, even a flea market, not to mention pubs, all make for a great day out for all the family.
Museum opening hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday (all year) 10am-4pm. Admission is free. Telephone 01584 878 697. You can also email Helen Jones firstname.lastname@example.org and Monty Lowe email@example.com
The museum itself does have disabled access, via a wheelchair lift in the open area immediately below the Buttercross (with step-free access to this from the alley off King Street at the rear), which is important as otherwise a narrow, steep staircase needs to be climbed via the main entrance at the rear – watch out for the A-sign outside the door.
There is, however, due to the location, no on-site parking, so we recommend you consult the relevant website before planning your visit: http://www.ludlow.org.uk/parking.html
Meet the artist and the author
In conjunction with the Newsfield exhibit, there’s also a special opportunity to meet Oliver Frey and Roger Kean at 11.30am on Saturday 22 April 2017 at a special signing of Roger’s book about Oliver’s work, The Fantasy Art of Oliver Frey (Extended Edition). This won’t just interest games fans – Oliver has a great track record in science fiction, fantasy and other book cover work etc as well, as you will discover on his website (see below). The signing venue is the Castle Bookshop, 5 Castle Street (Market Square), Ludlow. See: http://www.castlebookshopludlow.co.uk/
For more information about the art of Oliver Frey, and more stuff to buy, including art and books, see his website: http://oliverfreyart.com/
For more details of Ludlow Museum at the Buttercross, check out their web page: https://www.shropshire.gov.uk/museums/ludlow-museum/
Newsfield pictures used courtesy Roger Kean/Oliver Frey. There are many more to see in the exhibit shown. Other pictures by Stuart Williams.