Touch Of Home For West Coast Brits p.11

By: M.L.Stein

Los Angeles-based British Weekly seeks to reach a segment
of the half-million Brits living in the United States sp.

THE HALF-MILLION Brits living in the United States “turn up in some of the strangest places where you would least expect them,” observed Neil Fletcher, whose British Weekly in Los Angeles seeks to reach them.
The 33-year-old publisher of the tabloid recalled that when an expatriate Englishman opened a pub called the Pig’s Ear in the obscure Southern California town of Hemet, “about seventy-five Brits popped up from nowhere to patronize it. The thing about the British is that they can insinuate themselves into the society better than any other group.”
Fletcher said his free tabloid, which has a press run of 37,000, is distributed in all 50 states. But he noted that of the estimated 500,000 British people in the U.S., 300,000 are in Southern California and most of the rest are on the East Coast. His weekly is a touch of home for them. The publisher estimated his readership in California alone at 75,000.
A journalism graduate of Kings College in London, Fletcher bought the paper in 1990 from its former owner, for whom he once worked.
They had a falling out two years earlier, Fletcher recollected, adding: “I was pretty cocky in those days, so I quit and told him I would start my own newspaper and put him out of business.”
Fletcher published the British Review for a few months before the Weekly reached the point of fading from sight, he said.
“When he failed to bring out the paper three weeks in a row, I made him an offer of about a third of what he paid for it and the Weekly was mine,” the young publisher said.
Fletcher merged it with the Review, adopting the British Weekly nameplate.
According to Fletcher, the deal has turned out well for him.
“We’re making a nice profit, mainly because 95% of our advertisers are with us 52 weeks a year,” he stated.
The 16-20 page British Weekly offers a potpourri of news from the United Kingdom, including sports; vacation tips for American travel; London and Los Angeles entertainment reviews; and four to six columnists on subjects ranging from astrology to psychotherapy.
Front page stories in recent issues have included IRA bombings, parliament squabbles and the flap over the sneaked photo of Princess Di working out at a private gym.
The Weekly reproduced the London Sunday Mirror’s cover picture of the Princess of Wales exercising with the caption: “Di’s thighs: One of the pictures that caused an uproar this week.”
A mainstay of British Weekly is the column “Shooting from the Lip” by Alan Darby Drake, whose shots are usually directed at American manners and lifestyles.
Whereas Fletcher is a comparative newcomer to journalism (the Weekly was his first job), the 59-year-old Drake is a well-worn pro, having worked his way up from provincial English weeklies and dailies to London’s Daily Express on city-side and as a foreign correspondent. He also is an author of seven books and a magazine writer.
Now a California resident, Drake peels off one jibe after another at the U.S. scene. He built one piece around the syndicated column “Miss Manners” (Judith Martin), describing her as one “who dresses and talks like a rich character out of a Charles Dickens novel.”
However, the real victim of his scalpel was the studio audience that sat through Miss Manners’ new television show. Drake found the audience “incredibly ignorant ? ignorant even by American standards,” noting that the first question was why human beings use knives and forks.
This was followed by his recital of an episode in an upscale L.A. coffee shop where a woman at the next table began combing and brushing her hair, flicking dandruff onto his pastries.
“Well,” Drake huffed, “this is a classless society, isn’t it? There’s no class to be found anywhere!”
But, in another column, Drake inveighed against “the gap between America’s social and ethnic classes, which today is still is as wide as it ever was in 18th century England.”
Then, tweaking his own compatriots, he suggested that they stand a better chance of joining the more favored class after coming here in jumbo jets in contrast to Haitians, Asians or Africans, “arriving in leaky boats, risking being shot, drowned or turned back in stormy waters ? fleeing political and military disasters caused by Uncle Sam.”
In person, Drake is a genial raconteur, who shrugs off the possibility that some readers may think of him as the proverbial house guest who has overstayed his welcome. He has been in the states for 10 years.
“I’m not anti-American,” he retorted. “People who tell me I should go back where I came from don’t understand criticism or what democracy is all about. Every society can be criticized, but I do think there is more hypocrisy in this country. America lectures other countries about democracy, yet it supports fascist states.”
Then, warming to his topic, he went on: “I also find that, compared to English people, Americans are incredibly rude ? not all of them, but a hard core are extremely rude and mindless and give the country a bad name. Any number of times I’ve had doors slammed in my face when the person knew I was behind them.”
Drake said he gets letters from Americans, “telling me I’m absolutely right ? keep it up.”
“Yeah,” Fletcher cut in, “and I get letters critical of Alan, especially when he came out against the Persian Gulf War.”
Fletcher said he runs the Weekly with a staff of seven writers, a small advertising sales force and some 14 free-lance journalists.
His main distribution outlets are English tea shops, British-style pubs, travel agencies with a heavy British trade and retail shops where English goods are sold. The Weekly has a subscription base of about 5%, Fletcher said.
Advertisers include immigration lawyers, travel agencies, Southern California-based British restaurants and pubs, worldwide moving companies and British import firms.
Fletcher, who came to the states after graduation from college “to see what it was like” and stayed, returns to England once or twice a year to keep abreast of the news there.
He also has a U.K. editor, David Botsford.
British Weekly’s office is in Venice, a funky beach-side community that is probably the most un-Englishlike part of Los Angeles.
“We like it here,” said Fletcher. “It’s just right for us.”
?( British Weekly publisher Neil Fletcher (left) and columnist Alan Darby Drake) [Photo & Caption]

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