Putting lads’ mags back on the shelves

This week, the Co-op removed lads’ mags from its shops. Russell McCarthy decided to put them back.

Russell McCarthy

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Topics Free Speech

As of this week, over 4,000 Co-operative stores across the UK have removed lads’ mags such as Nuts and Zoo from their shelves after the magazines refused to use so-called modesty bags to conceal their front pages. The Co-op says it made the decision in order to protect young children following complaints from both staff and customers demanding their removal.


The Co-op store in Store Street.

I visited three Co-op stores in central London to see what would happen if I restored the offending mags to their rightful place on the top shelf. The answer, it seems, is not a lot.


Store Street, Bloomsbury: Zoo magazine still on the shelf over half an hour after it was placed there during the lunchtime rush. It’s almost as if people didn’t care.

I try the same trick at the store in Berwick Street, Soho. Again nobody notices. Omar, the manager, tells me that they had not been told much about the decision by head office. He’s confused by the decision: ‘I’m not sure why (lads’ mags) are considered worse than the Sun. Personally, if I owned a shop, I would like to offer my customers as much choice as possible. Kids can see far worse on the internet and on their phones.’ He stops and gestures to his Soho surroundings. ‘This stuff is everywhere – just look across the street.’


A Soho sex shop

He points to the dozen or so sex shops, porn cinemas and massage parlours visible from the front door. He is right: the content of Nuts, Zoo and Front magazines seems incredibly tame compared to some of the other goods and services on offer within a 100-foot radius. ‘It’s a bit daft, isn’t it?’, I say. He smirks and says ‘No comment’.


Berwick Street, Soho: Helen Flanagan’s first topless photo shoot available (sans modesty bag) on the front page of the Sun. This issue of the Sun had already sold out in the other two Co-ops I visited.


Berwick Street, Soho: My planted magazines remain undisturbed.


Berwick Street Soho: The Sunday Sport eclipsing the Financial Times on the bottom shelf of the news rack.

At the Co-op in The Strand, having placed the mags on the shelf within plain sight of the tills, I went for coffee and returned some time later. Again the mags were undisturbed, apart from the fact that Nuts appears to have been picked up and leafed through by a prospective customer. I ask Pankaj, the manager, if he ever received complaints from staff when they stocked the mags: ‘No staff have ever complained.’ And customers? ‘No, customers have never complained.’ Beyond that he did not wish to comment.

Nuts and Zoo on the shelf at the Co-op store in The Strand.

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Topics Free Speech

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