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Elizabeth Simpson Award for 1999

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The article below by Sally Pellow about the receipt of the Elizabeth Simpson Award for 1999 appears in the June 2000 issue of the Berkshire Family Historian.

A copy of a letter sent by Elizabeth Simpson to the Editor of the Family Historian is given at the bottom of the page.

The Award itself, a relief engraving in pewter showing an image of a man climbing a tree, will be on display in the Research Centre over the next year.

Baptism of a new magazine, in a new font

Sally Pellow

I am delighted to be able to tell you that your Society magazine has won the Elizabeth Simpson Award for 1999. To quote Paul Blake, Chairman of the Judging Panel, "This year there is a single overall winner. It was the clear and unanimous choice of the judges from the outset. First place in the 1999 Elizabeth Simpson Award goes to the Berkshire Family Historian, the journal of the Berkshire Family History Society under its editor of less than one year, John Gurnett."

The Elizabeth Simpson Award is awarded each year to a magazine or journal linked to family history, which in the opinion of the judges is the best in terms of content and layout. Any journal or magazine can enter, from the smallest of one-name societies this year the Braund Society's magazine, with a circulation of 145, was highly commended - to the larger societies like the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies.

Here in Berkshire we had already been inspired by an article published last year. Roy Stockdill, editor of the Journal of OneName Studies, wrote an article criticising the layout, appearance and content of many of the journals and family history magazines circulated to so many of us. I suspect many of us receive magazines from some societies with little feeling of delight and anticipation; we scan through it quickly to see if there are any articles of direct interest, check the members' interests and then put the magazine on one side. Sometimes that is a matter of the choice of articles in the magazine; sometimes the layout; but as Society members, don't we deserve a magazine that we receive and want to read straight away?

We in Berkshire have always prided ourselves on our articles: if you were to read back through the magazines of the last five or ten years, you would find interesting, well-written and varied articles to appeal to most tastes. But we took on board Roy Stockdill's comments about how magazines look, and resolved to try to move forwards. We formed a committee, and met with some students from the University of Reading's Typography department to see if they had any suggestions about our design. We wanted to be able to produce the magazine still on one Society computer, using readily available software, and so we asked the students to come up with designs that could be turned into templates and used over and over again.

This is the result. We have had the odd teething problem over the year: in the March magazine, you may have noticed, there was a problem at the printers with one part of the layout templates, and the effect was to lose some of our bold face titles. It has proved harder than we thought to find suitable full page photos for each magazine - most photos are landscape format, rather than portrait, and the cover needs a portrait format picture, ideally linked to one of the articles.

We have had a lot of correspondence about the changes; some praising, and some criticising. We are delighted that the changes we have made have stirred people to writing, whatever the comments, because that shows that members do care about the content, layout and format of their magazine - which is what we had believed, and why we had opted for change rather than standing still.

If you would like to see the Award itself, a relief engraving in pewter showing an image of a man climbing a tree, it will be on display in the Research Centre over the next year.

A congratulatory letter from Elizabeth Simpson

The following letter to the Editor appears in the September 2000 issue of the Family Historian

Each year I like to send a congratulatory letter to the winner of the Award and today 1 have just read the June issue of the Berkshire with the piece by Sally Pellow.

First of all then, my congratulations to you and your team on a finely produced magazine which justifiably won this year's award against the high quality of the runners up. 1 had already enjoyed reading them all and agreed with the judging committee and now here is a lovely piece which explains 'how' you won. I had thought when reading it that it was a very polished entrant and I wasn't looking at the content, but the presentation. Thirty years have done a very great deal for publishing in general and I thought how far we had all come from the Gestetner issues of the 1970's. I went out recently to look for a typewriter only to be told that no one buys them any more, it is all computers and their close cousins. I was shown a machine and sat for a whole hour just reading the operating instructions. I found that I could follow it until about page 20 and thereafter I was left totally bewildered - it was a magnificent desk-top-publisher. I realised at once that if you sat someone in front of it who could actually understand how it worked, you could come up with the most fantastic publication, which is exactly what you have all done for Berkshire. It is an enormous credit to you all. I applaud the fact that you have a bunch of people working on the production, not just one Almighty Editor, and that you got together with youngsters at your University Typographical Department and used their young brains and ideas to help you come up with a positive magazine which your members must look forward to receiving. Add to all this the quality of the writing and variety of subject matter which you are able to use and you come up with a real winner.

Please give my congratulations to all concerned and wish them continued success for the future.


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updated 18th July 2000