Spare Rib: we may be old but we are here

Spare Rib 1 photo: Angela Phillips

Spare Rib 1 photo of Suzette and Pip by  Angela Phillips

We (old Spare Ribbers) have done our best to keep this quiet and not to cause a public ‘cat fight’ but now I feel that the facts have to be public. I have no problem at all with the launch of a new feminist magazine. Indeed the more the merrier,  but I think if someone wants to re-launch a magazine that already has a history and a following, then it is necessary to talk to the people who launched it in the first place. You cannot just walk into someone’s house, open their wardrobe and say, “You aren’t wearing these any more I think I will have them”!

Well I might let my daughter do that but certainly nobody else. In this case the clothes were removed by someone that none of us had ever even met or spoken to.

I suggested that Marsha and Rosie send out a press release last week.  They didn’t want to make waves and, at that time still hoped that Charlotte would agree to the very minimal safeguards they wanted to put in place to protect the name and the legacy of Spare Rib.

The facts are these:

Marsha was not informed about the re-launch of Spare Rib  before the first announcement in the Guardian. Charlotte may have intended to talk to her but she didn’t make contact and in fact Marsha was in Australia with her sick mother when she was first informed that the magazine she started (with Rosie) was to be re-launched by someone she had never even met or talked to.

Rosie had been informed (by email)  and had asked Charlotte to talk to Marsha. She was about to go to Africa where she would not be in touch and didn’t have time to discuss it with Marsha before leaving.  Rosie had not said she would be involved with the magazine.

Marsha and Rosie finally got in touch with her after the initial publicity and asked her to do several things including slowing down the launch so that safeguards could be put in place.

She was given plenty of time to do this but has decided not to.

Charlotte acted with no concern at all for the originators of Spare Rib, she has made no effort to find us, or even to credit us for our work (which has appeared widely in the press). She did not organise a meeting for ex-Spare Ribbers or invite us to the meetings she did organise (only those who signed up and paid were invited).

We have kept our concerns quiet and only discussed them amongst ourselves because we wanted to give the re-launch a chance to succeed but there has been a great deal of unease- particularly about reports of some of the material ‘our’ magazine was likely to contain.

Please make sure these facts are circulated widely.
Angela  Phillips

This is  Charlotte’s letter:

“Dear Supporter,
I’m writing to you to update you on important developments with the magazine, which will be made public later this week.

As you’ll know, we had been due to launch the next phase of the membership system by now, and I’m delighted to be able to announce that it will go live next week, and the website will launch later this summer. But the delay has been due to a difficult development which I want to share with you here.

When we formed the idea of relaunching Spare Rib I contacted both the original co-founders, Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott, back in March. I naturally wanted to share with them our plans for the new magazine and member led campaigning movement. Rosie responded very enthusiastically at once, and was entirely supportive. I heard nothing from Marsha, but wrote to her again several times in April she got in touch to say she had only just received my emails. But her initial response was, like Rosie’s, very positive, and we had two constructive meetings.

We made clear that Spare Rib is a member led not-for-profit organisation.

Although our legal team had established that the name Spare Rib had never been trademarked, I naturally wanted to share with them our plans for the new magazine, and was delighted to have their involvement and blessing. However, without warning, two weeks ago they instructed a team of lawyers who have now threatened us with legal action, including an injunction, if we use the name Spare Rib without Marsha and Rosie’s permission. On 3rd June, 20 years after Spare Rib’s closure, Marsha applied to trademark the name, which we only found out through our lawyers.

Our lawyers have advised us that we would have a good chance of success, were we to go to court, but the last thing we want is a protracted legal battle. It would mean suspending all work on the launch, and exhausting precious financial resources on legal fees. Worst of all, it would be an ugly and entirely wrong note on which to be launching. I had hoped to be able to resolve the issue by meeting directly with Rosie and Marsha, to discover their conditions for permission to use the name, as these have never been communicated to us. They have refused to meet with us without lawyers present. The biggest area of conflict has been over our vision for Spare Rib to be more than just a magazine, but also a grass-roots movement. We seem unable to reach an agreement on this issue, and so with great sadness we have concluded that further negotiations would be an unaffordable waste of our funds and our time.

We have therefore decided to rename our organisation. This will enable us to continue with everyone’s fantastic work, and maintain the amazing momentum and spirit of the project, which has gathered pace so wonderfully over recent months. We want our members to be involved in the renaming process, so we are launching a national naming bee via Twitter and our website.


10 thoughts on “Spare Rib: we may be old but we are here

  1. Good to get this perspective on it. Hope there will be more posts from the Old Ribs. I suggest the name for Raven’s new magazine be “Carpetbagging”

    Trouble and Strife has an online archive, btw, doesn’t Spare Rib? Was disappointed a while ago to find the Newspaper Library at Collindale does not have a Spare Rib collection. Do you know any archive that does?

    I had my first review in a nationally distributed magazine published by you in the 1980s.

    1. Hi
      I am not speaking on behalf of anyone really but I do know that there is a plan afoot to digitize Spare Rib at the British Library so with any luck it will be available to everyone soon.

    2. We have a good run of Spare Rib (but not complete) at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. We would be very pleased to hear from anyone with copies in their attic to fill the gaps. We also have Shrew, Red Rag Women’s Voice and other WLM publications (as well Votes for Women and Common Cause from early 1900s)

  2. Legally, I don’t think the founders have a case, as hitherto they have failed to put the appropriate safeguards in place.

    So the only objection can be a moral one. And that’s hardly watertight after so much time has elapsed since the original magazine’s closure.

    You talk about “safeguards” but fail to specify what these might be. Please do enlighten everyone.

    What is clear is that you want “credit” for something you allowed to run out of steam and die a death two decades ago. As if the relaunch wouldn’t have led to plenty of media interest of that nature in any case…

    So much for the sisterhood.

  3. Yes its is a moral objection (see above) and yes we do want credit for our work. Is that really so strange? But thanks for your concern for sisterhood Matthew. Marsha will speak for herself in due course. So far nobody has let her get a word in.

  4. I loved Spare Rib in the 80s and 90s and it was part of my political life and education because I came from a working class background in a northern town and was looking for a different way of life. I don’t see the point of using the title in 2013 as SR was definately of its era, it was a grassroots magazine reflecting the way the womens movement was in that era. Everything has changed and so a new feminist magazine will be different and should have a name reflecting the now not the past.
    In sisterhood

  5. Marsha Rowe was published in the Guardian yesterday:

    Spare Rib was born of grassroots feminism. It’s not a brand

    But as with all articles on feminism and women’s issues on CiF its has just attracted the usual suspects with their cliched anti feminist banalities.

    I think the whole concept of trying to resurrect something is just so daft and apolitical, but hope you can stand up to the trivialisation and consumer led nonsense that this ideas seems to have come out of.

    But one thing is for sure, until there is a mutually supportive public arena where it is possible to discuss feminist issues, campaigns, different analysis or whatever, feminism will just remain what it now is.

    The plaything of funders and diner party dilletantes, with the most radical actio being to “like” something on facebook.

    Come to think of it, if there are plans for revivals, maybe someone would like to reproduce in streaky grey print the wonderful WLW newsletter!

  6. To rephrase the old cliché I fear this is a case of cherche l’homme. You cannot simply exploit a ‘name’ and commodify the ideas of ’70’s feminism into some sort of exclusive member’s club. The ‘homme’ or ‘hommes’ at the marketing company behind this debacle should be hung out to dry. They are the real villains in this mess and another example of NuLabour robots assuming that the rest of the world can be ‘sold’ an empty promise.

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