Jane Mullins was nine when she began her working life as a baby-sitter. Once a little older and “in between sleep and school”, she took on work as an agent for a mail order company, and on Saturdays sold shoes in her home town, Stockport, which she calls “a small, ugly town in the north of England.”
Conceived on a rubbish dump, the love child of a clever, kind Jewish woman and a bigamist alcoholic Irishman, Mullins, now Raphaely, was born two years before the start of World War 2.
She writes in her autobiography Jane Raphaely: Unedited that, during the war years, “we suffered cold, hunger, fear and air raids”.
Not having it was certainly reason enough for money to become a driving force in her life – “What concentrated my mind was money,” she writes – and her lifelong interest in the bottom line.
Raphaely is the chairman of the successful media company Associated Magazines, which she founded and which publishes inspirational women’s magazines, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan.
Besides childhood poverty, there are other reasons for her success, and in many ways this memoir, like some self-help books, is an attempt at offering a recipe and understanding of success.
There are the delightful Agnew sisters with whom she occasionally boarded and who taught her manners, school work and how to speak “properly”.
There is the awful, grim-faced aunt who motivated her in other ways. And, it was because of her aunt’s bullying that Raphaely learnt how to cope in difficult situations. Then there is the post-war British Labour government which offered education opportunities to poor children. Her optimistic mother gave gentle guidance and support. Finally, her own sharp intelligence, wit, boundless energy and courage are admirable.
Raphaely’s early life makes for a fascinating story, and knowing it helps understand this magazine and publishing doyenne. But it was once she’d escaped Stockport that her life took on the pace of a rollicking adventure.
She obtained a degree, and met South African Michael Raphaely at the London School of Economics before leaving the UK to study in the US, thanks to a grant. There she landed a role on a reality TV show.
It was love that took her to Cape Town. Under Table Mountain and during a dark and difficult political time, she became the founding editor of a magazine publishing phenomenon, Fairlady. This woman’s magazine was launched by Nasionale Pers in March 1965, and very soon became one of the most-read magazines in South Africa.
It’s clear that she got a thrill working in the belly of the beast, defying with “a smile and a wave” the Afrikaner nationalists for whom and with whom she worked.
With a baby on her hip or in the crib, good child care and supportive friends, this feisty woman repeatedly took on the Publications Control Board when it banned “the complaining and campaigning” in issues of her magazines.
At the risk of feeling completely inadequate once you’ve read it, Jane Raphaely: Unedited is fascinating for anybody who is interested in women’s magazines, the business of media and the story of a dynamic woman.