Nuts vs. Zoo

SCRIPT

Part 3

IN THE SUMMER OF 2004, THE BATTLE BETWEEN BRITAIN'S FIRST-EVER WEEKLY MEN'S MAGAZINES, NUTS AND ZOO, WAS TURNING INCREASINGLY BIZARRE. NUTS RACED WHACKY CARS, ZOO PETTED WONKY ANIMALS. NUTS SIZED UP A GIANT MAN, ZOO NOSED A GIANT SEAL. NUTS HELD A BALDIE QUIZ, ZOO DID A BEARD CONTEST, NEXT TO RASPUTIN'S PENIS IN A JAR.

Phil Hilton
But the main thrust was win, beat Zoo, we don't care, keep it going.

Paul Merrill
There was a fierce battle going on, there was a big rivalry. It was playing itself out in a very high profile way.

Nuts vs. Zoo

IN JULY 2004, ZOO HAD NARROWED THE GAP TO JUST 30,000 COPIES. IN A BID TO SEIZE THE LEAD THEY ROLLED OUT A NEW WEAPON - RAUNCHY SEX ADVICE.

Jodie Marsh
Guess who's got a new job as Zoo's resident sexpert. I reveal all in the free uncut pull out this week.

DILEMMAS SUCH AS "I SHAGGED A FAT LESBIAN" WERE DIAGNOSED IN ZOO. NOW SEX STORIES ONCE HIDDEN IN TOP SHELF MAGS WERE NOW TRADED OVER HIGH STREET COUNTERS. THE CONTEST NOW SHIFTED FROM QUALITY TO QUANTITY, AS NUTS STEADILY INCREASED THE NUMBER OF PHOTOS OF BARE BREASTS TO KEEP PACE WITH THE OUTRAGEOUS TACTICS OF IT'S RIVAL.

Paul Merrill
Nuts abandoned their no-nipple policy about week eight or nine, and suddenly we had nipples springing up on various pages out of nowhere.

THE NUTS DREAM OF A MAGAZINE FOR FATHERS-AND-SONS FELL VICTIM TO A CIRCULATION BATTLE THAT TURNED INTO A PERSONAL WAR BETWEEN FORMER COLLEAGUES.

Nuts vs. Zoo

Phil Hilton
I prided myself on having no pride about taking anything I saw anywhere that was working, doing better and bigger than the other guys did.

Paul Merrill
One week we did a coming next week page that said "next week 20 hottest TV babes" and then of course in next week Nuts did "25 hottest TV babes". Which was exactly what I would have done in the s ame circumstances. So the following week we decided to ditch our coming next week pages.

Nuts vs. Zoo

BUT THE HIGH RISK TACTIC OF SNATCHING COVER IDEAS BACKFIRED ON JUNE 4, WHEN NUTS AND ZOO HIT THE STANDS WITH THE SAME SOAPSTAR, JENNIFER ELLISON, ON THE FRONT.TO AVOID SUCH EMBARRASSMENT, NUTS AND ZOO DOUBLED THEIR EFFORTS TO BUY EXCLUSIVE PICTURES FOR THEIR COVERS, AND SO SPARKED A BIDDING WAR FOR BRITAIN'S PAGE THREE GIRLS.

Paul Merrill
Zoo and Nuts suddenly came along big rivals, outbidding each other for sets of photos and suddenly their income was tripled or quadrupled overnight.

THE NUTS ZOO WAR POWERED THE OTHERWISE INEXPLICABLE RISE OF ONE OF 2004'S BIGGEST CELEBRITIES. ABI TITMUSS, LOYAL GIRLFRIEND OF A SHAMED TV STAR, HAD THE RIGHT UNTHREATENING SEX APPEAL NUTS AND ZOO WERE FIGHTING OVER.

Paul Merrill
If you take someone like Abi Titmuss, she was commanding something like twenty, thirty thousand pounds a day for shooting for Zoo and for Nuts.

THE ZOO-NUTS WAR WAS MAKING PAGE 3 GIRLS RICHER AND GLOSSIER. BUT PHIL HILTON HAD ALREADY LEARNT THE LESSON - WHEN A WOMAN BECAME TOO GLAMOROUS AND SUCCESSFUL, SHE BECAME INTIMIDATING TO READERS.

Phil Hilton
She's got an amazing figure an incredible blonde look. There is nothing wrong with this girl, she looks almost too extraordinary.

Nuts vs. Zoo

NOW NUTS AND ZOO HAD REACHED NEW TERRITORY TO FIGHT OVER - AFTER FAMOUS WOMEN, THEN GLAMOUR MODELS, CAME THE ORDINARY GIRLS.

Phil Hilton
What came across to me about what the young guys wanted was really very natural girls - the pretty, really the ideal girlfriend. What they wanted was someone they believed they could bump into on the bus and yet looked very pretty and lovely and nice.

HOLLYWOOD STARS PROMOTED THEMSELVES AND GLAMOUR MODELS COULD BE HIRED BY THE HOUR - BUT HOW COULD NICE GIRLS BE LURED TO APPEAR IN NUTS? PHIL HILTON LAUNCHED A HUNT FOR NICENESS, AND CAME UP WITH SIMPLE IDEA - A BEAUTY CONTEST ON THE BEACH.

Phil Hilton
The Newquay beach babe competition was gigantic actually. The event became huge.

Nuts vs. Zoo

BY OFFERING TO CROWN GIRLS AT A NEWQUAY, PHIL HILTON HAD FOUND A WAY TO RECRUIT A SCARCE COMMODITY, PRETTY, UNTHREATENING WOMEN WHO LOOKED LIKE GIRLFRIEND MATERIAL. BUT THE CORONATION WAS NOT THE MAIN EVENT. THE CONTEST'S REAL PURPOSE WAS TO GET THE PICTURES PHIL HILTON HAD FOUND ATTRACTED BRITISH MEN MOST OF ALL - PHOTOS TAKEN BY NICE GIRLS, OF THEMSELVES, IN SEXUALLY PROVOCATIVE POSES.

Phil Hilton
What for us was really exciting though were the entrants so we were much more interested in the journey in reality as a magazine than we were in the destination. So we wanted the pictures that the girls who wanted to take part sent to us. Then we'd run all the girls who were going and the pictures that they'd taken of themselves were really exciting.

NUTS HAD IDENTIFIED A PECULIAR TASTE OF BRITISH MEN - AN APETITE FOR HOMELY, UNTHREATENING GIRLS WHO'D STRIP AT ANY OPPORTUNITY. EDITORS NOW RACED TO FIND VARIATIONS ON THE THEME. ZOO LAUNCHED "STREET STRIP CHALLENGE", IN WHICH 'ORDINARY' GIRLS SEEMED MORE THAN WILLING TO TAKE THEIR CLOTHES OFF IN THE OFFICE OF THE MAGAZINE.

Nuts vs. Zoo

Paul Merrill
Hey guys are we all right to do strip search? The girls in Zoo are very accessible. They're the sort of girl you might live next door to, they are girls who are just very much on the same level as the reader and I think that is really really important when you see a cover of Zoo you want to imagine you might have a chance with that girl. That given the right opportunity, have a few beers pluck up courage, that she might say yes to coming back to your place.

ONCE AGAIN, PAUL MERRILL HAD A RADICAL TAKE ON BRITISH MEN WANTED. NUTS THOUGHT THEY LONGED FOR A NICE GIRLFRIEND - ZOO THOUGHT THEY WANTED A ONE NIGHT STAND. WHILE BOARDROOM BIGWIGS TRIED TO FIGURE OUT WHAT MEN WANTED FROM WOMEN, TAPPING INTO WHAT WOMEN WERE UP FOR SPARKED THE NEXT REVOLUTION IN BRITISH MEN'S MAGAZINES. STARTLING INSIGHTS INTO FEMALE SEXUALITY IN THE NOUGHTIES WERE TO BE WON, WHEN THE NUTS-ZOO WAR REACHED IT'S FINAL FRONTIER CYBERSPACE.

Nuts vs. Zoo

Phil Hilton
This is the Nuts website, this really transformed the way the guys could communicate with me and with each other. So we got things like assess my breasts. People were able to take pictures like that with their mobile phone. Hundreds of women were uploading the breasts every day just to see how they'd rate.

BRITISH WOMEN RUSHED TO THE LADS' SITE SIMPLY TO GET FEEDBACK ON THEIR NAKED BREASTS. THE USER-GENERATED TECHNOLOGY OF THE NOUGHTIES, HAD CREATED A NEW FORUM FOR SEX EXCHANGE - COMMERCIALISED NOT BY PORN MERCHANTS, BUT BY BRITAIN BIGGEST PUBLISHING CORPORATION. NOW PHIL HILTON TOOK GIRLS FROM CYBERSPACE AND USED THEM TO INCREASE THE NIPPLE COUNT IN NUTS.

Nuts vs. Zoo

Phil Hilton
We were able to take the best of these shots and use them in the magazine.

IN JULY 2004, AMATEUR BUSTS HELPED PUSH NUT'S NIPPLE COUNT BEYOND ZOO'S FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Phil Hilton
I was often asked were there too many nipples in Nuts. The reply was there are exactly the right amount of nipples for the particular target audience we were going for, and we asked and we knew where the edges were, if it was too rude, they wouldn't buy it anymore. It had to be just rude enough.

Nuts vs. Zoo

THE RUDENESS OF THE NUTS-ZOO WAR WAS A REFLECTION OF SEX IN ANOTHER CULTURAL PHENOMENA - REALITY TV SHOWS. THE RIVAL EDITORS FOUND THAT MEN OFTEN WATCHED SERIES SUCH AS BIG BROTHER AS COMPROMISE VIEWING WITH WOMEN IN THEIR HOUSEHOLDS, BUT WHILE WATCHING, THEY BECAME SEXUALLY INTERESTED IN THE HOUSEMATES INSIDE. SIGNING UP THE EPITOME OF THE NICE GIRL - WHO WAS ALSO WILLING TO STRIP OFF - COULD SELL VAST NUMBERS OF MAGAZINES.

Phil Hilton
You'd get a huge peak from putting someone on in a very timely fashion, immediately after they'd come out of the Big Brother house. There they were on the cover of the magazine. Guys were just flooding down to the newsagent. It was just pure joy.

Nuts vs. Zoo

WHEN A CONTESTANT NAMED ORLAITH MACALLISTER LEFT THE BIG BROTHER HOUSE, A BIDDING WAR TO FEATURE HER NAKED BREASTS IN NUTS AND ZOO ENDED IN A FRENZY.

Paul Merrill
She was an Irish girl, very sexy, had been in the house a long time, she came out, we thought we will get this, no matter what it costs, we will get this cover, so we bid 40,00 they bid 42,000 43 and we bid 45 and finally we got it, got it for 45,00. And we were kind of celebrating, yes, we finally outbid Nuts, and then we thought but we have spent 45000 on one single cover, which you know it sold really well. It just showed Nuts had an unbelievable amount of money to spend, but that was just one small victory in a very big war.

Phil Hilton
The war was very very tight at that time, so we were ahead, but the gap some weeks was small and occasionally they would catch us and overtake us. No one was interested in losing, we needed to win the weekly men's mag war.

Nuts vs. Zoo

PHIL HILTON CAME UP WITH A DASTARDLY PLAN. HE EYED MICHELLE MARSH AND LUCY PINDER - ZOO'S TOP SELLING COVER GIRLS.

Phil Hilton
A whisper came to me from our guy that went to all the shoots. The man who spent all his time with Lucy and Michelle suggested they might not be adverse to some kind of exclusive deal.

UP TO NOW, BRITISH GLAMOUR MODELS HAD BEEN HIRED BY THE HOUR. PHIL HILTON GAMBLED THAT IF HE COULD COME UP WITH A CONTRACT, THAT KEPT THE BEST MODELS FROM THE PAGES OF HIS RIVAL, HE COULD STRIKE A BLOW AGAINST ZOO WEEKLY.

Nuts vs. Zoo

Phil Hilton
So we seized on this opportunity and started pumping some figures into a calculator, alarmingly large figures.

WHEN PHIL HILTON GOT THE GIRLS TO SIGN, HE PUBLISHED THE PICTURES IN NUTS FOR PAUL MERRILL TO SEE. NOW THE MEN IN NUTS TOWER HAD THE TOP GLAMOUR GIRLS TO THEMSELVES, SALES WENT THROUGH THE ROOF.

Phil Hilton
We went through 300,000 in a week as I remember. That was extraordinary.

Eric Fuller
Those figures came out in August 2004.

Paul Merrill
There was a big gap between Zoo and Nuts, it was 90,000 or something, which was frankly embarrassing.

Eric Fuller
We were selling about 50 per cent more than they were selling, and I think that was pretty definitive.

PHIL HILTON HAD HIS VICTORY OVER PAUL MERRILL, THE MAN WHO HAD STOLEN THE MAGIC WHEN HE HAD DEFECTED FROM NUTS TOWER TO LAUNCH ZOO MAGAZINE. NOW THE PUBLISHER WAS GOING TO MAKE SURE NO ONE WOULD FORGET NUTS' WINNING CIRCULATION NUMBER.

Eric Fuller
We actually had some special champagne bottled for the Nuts staff... Chateaux Kings Reach Tower champagne with the number actually printed on the label.

IT LOOKED LIKE THE WAR WAS WON. SEXY COVERS HAD BROUGHT NUTS VICTORY - HELPED ON BY A CHANGE IN SHOPPING HABITS.

Phil Hilton
Our single biggest retail area were supermarkets. There had been a slight social change and the days when it was just the ladies doing the shopping and the guys in the pub had gone. So a lot of guys moving through supermarkets, buying Nuts and Zoo.

BUT THE HEAT OF THE NUTS-ZOO BATTLE HAD MELTED AWAY THE FOUNDING IDEALS OF A NICE, GENERAL INTEREST MAGAZINE FOR MEN. THE LADS WEEKLIES WERE FLAUNTED ACROSS HIGH-STREET FRONT COUNTERS. BUT TO SOME, THEY LOOKED TOO HOT TO HANDLE. A WAKE UP CALL WAS ABOUT TO COME FROM ONE NEWSAGENT WHO'D FALLEN FOR NUTS MONKEY BUSINESS WHEN IT HAD BEEN LAUNCHED AS A DAD-FRIENDLY MAGAZINE.

Hamdy Shahein
Well if you look at Nuts January 2005, it's really turning quite a lot. It's oral sex in there, 50 tips with different ordinary girls. for example here, 'If you shoot too quick, stop before you feel you're about to come', the other one is 'I really like it when a man teases with their tongue'. I mean it's just too much.

Nuts vs. Zoo

THIS NEWSAGENT WAS NOT TO BE MESSED WITH. HAMDY SHAHEIN HAD A BASEMENT OF PORNOGRAPHY FOISTED ON HIS SHOP SINCE THE 1990S. HE'D TAKEN MAGAZINE DISTRIBUTORS TO COURT FOR HIS RIGHT TO RUN A PORN FREE NEWSAGENT, AND WON.

Hamdy Shahein
In my situation it's well known all over the country to the wholesaler, I don't want pornography.

THE ANTI-PORN NEWAGENT HAD WELCOMED THE LAD'S WEEKLIES - NOW HE FELT THEY'D MUTATED INTO TOP SHELF PORN, BUT WERE BEING SOLD ALONGSIDE THE MARS BARS. AND WORST YET - HE FEARED THERE WAS NOTHING TO STOP NUTS AND ZOO BEING PUT NEXT TO KIDDIES COMICS. TIME WAS RIGHT FOR THE ANTI PORN NEWSAGENT TO STRIKE AT THE SINS OF THE FLESH IN NUTS AND ZOO.

Nuts vs. Zoo Hamdy Shahein
I decided to take a stand with this magazine. I spoke to my MP Diane Abbot. She has children herself.

THE NEWSAGENT NOW SPARKED A CHAIN OF EVENTS TO BRING ON BRITAIN'S FIRST BOUT OF LITERARY CENSORSHIP FOR A GENERATION. BY FEBRUARY 2006, HE'D CONVINCED DIANE ABBOT TO RAISE AN EARLY DAY MOTION - A PETITION SIGNED BY 157 MPS. THIS WAS REAL POLITICAL PRESSURE, ESPECIALLY ON THE SUPERMARKETS, WHOSE AISLES WERE NOW STOCKED WITH SEXY LAD MAG COVERS.

Nuts vs. Zoo

Hamdy Shahein
The solution was very, very simple. I decided this is just an A4 envelope. You just cut it like this (sound of cutting) and replace the magazine inside there. If it is a thicker magazine, you just use a bigger envelope and that's all it is. And it shows here. Nuts. This is where I used to replace it right on the top shelf and this and for example any retailer that wants to sell Nuts and Zoo this is where they should be placed, obviously away from the children.

Phil Hilton
They'd achieved enough publicity for the campaign to start threatening our position with our retailers. The biggest shiver went down was our biggest retail outlet - the supermarkets The minute it threatened the commercial operation then things got very serious.

PHIL HILTON WAS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE IN APRIL 2006, WHEN SUPERMARKETS ANNOUNCED THEY'D TAKE UP MR SHAHEIN'S MODESTY COVERS. THE CO-OP AND SAINSBURY SAID THEY'D LET INDIVIDUAL BRANCH MANAGERS TRIAL SHELVES THAT HID LADS MAGS BEHIND SPECIAL SCREENS. IT WAS AN AMAZING VICTORY - NUTS & ZOO HAD TAKEN WHAT CAMPAIGNERS FEARED WAS PORNOGRAPHY FROM THE TOP SHELF TO THE FRONT COUNTERS - AND NOW IT COULD BE HIDDEN AWAY AGAIN. THE IDEA OF CENSORED SHELVING HAD SPREAD FROM MR HAMDY'S SHOP TO THE NATION'S BIGGEST RETAILERS. BUT HAMDY SHAHEIN WASN'T FINISHED WITH NUTS AND ZOO YET - HE HEADED BACK TO PARLIAMENT, WHERE HIS CAMPAIGN STIRRED AN EVEN MORE DETERMINED POLITICIAN TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE LADS MAGS. HER NAME WAS CLAIRE CURTIS THOMAS. AND WHAT THE MP SAW MADE HER VOW TO STOP THE RISE OF NUTS AND ZOO.

Nuts vs. Zoo

BBC News
So-called lads mags should be banished to the top shelf according to a labour MP who wants the law changed. Clair Curtis Thomas wants a independent regulator to restrict the display of some magazines to keep them away from children.

Clair Curtis Thomas
Sensible adults haven't looked at this material and if they did I think like me they would be absolutely appalled by the content. It sends the wrong sort of messages out to very young people.

Eric Fuller
It reminds me really, of when Claire Short wanted to ban page three in the Sun. Everybody said, "oh come on Claire, lighten up. You know, there's really no damage being done here."

Nuts vs. Zoo

BUT PRIVATELY, FEARED GRIPPED THE MEN IN NUTS TOWER. TO TAKE ON CLAIRE CURTIS THOMAS IN A CENSORSHIP WAR, MIGHT MAKE BIG RETAILERS DUMP NUTS MAGAZINE, SIMPLY TO AVOID CONTROVERSY.

Phil Hilton
It would have been on the one hand fantastic to come out fighting on a libertarian basis arguing for our right to free speech but on the other hand we had very conservative, very large retailers playing a big role in our business.

Nuts vs. Zoo

THE NEW LAW WOULD MAKE LADS MAGAZINES AS HARD TO BUY AS HARD LIQUOR. IF THAT HAPPENED, NUTS AND ZOO WOULD BE BADLY HIT. EDITOR PHIL HILTON WAS ABOUT TO FIGHT THE LAW - AND NO ONE WAS BETTING HE'D WIN.

END PART 3

CLICK FOR PREVIOUS PARTCLICK TO GO BACK TO THE MENUCLICK FOR NEXT PART

NEXT