The Times Literary Supplement, or TLS as it affectionately known, was first published on Friday, January 17, 1902. Hailed as 'the greatest literary journal in the English tongue', it has catalogued almost every major event and literary publication since its inception. The sheer quantity of work that this weekly publication has produced is astonishing, its 100 year history giving rise to over 5000 editions, with a combined total of 250 million words contained within them.
The original eight page TLS consisted of sections for literature, science, art, drama, music, notes, a list of new books and reprints, and chess. In common with its parent publication for the first 72 years of its life carried only unsigned articles, a practice which lead many leading lights of the literary world as Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh to submit reviews and critiques anonymously, which lead to as much backstabbing as it did backslapping. All payment was performed on a pro rata basis, originally of £3 per column (or £160 at todays prices ).
The TLS doesn't merely restrict itself to book reviews, and it often publishes articles which deal with anything that the books themselves deal with, a practice which began when 'Lit Supp' as it was originally shortened to. Many articles on subjects as arcane as violin construction, and the history of pointer dogs were included, but others were written by some of the great social reformers of the time. One of the most popular features was the long running correspondence section of the TLS having been described as 'the school notice board of the civilised world.' which has seen articles on topics as diverse as PG Wodehouse’s wartime broadcasts, to the real height of Napoleon, which was apparently determined as just under 5'5", and errors in Tolstoy translations
The decision to spin the book review section of the paper off from the main body of The Times was made in September 1896 by the then manager of the Times, Charles Frederic Moberly Bell in a meeting with the 'editor-to-be' for this new magazine, H. D. Traill. The pair cited pressure from the increasing coverage of the ongoing parliamentary debates, which was taking up more and more space, as their reasons, whereas in actuality the decision was probably more influenced by increasing their revenue, after the recent Parnell Affair which had cost the paper £25,000 (equivalent to £13 million in todays prices).
This first spin-off, entitled Literature was a cash-burning monstrosity, and it was decided in 1901 that it was to be sold to John Morgan Richards, the proprietor of The Academy, who publish it under the name The Academy and Literature. In its place The Times Literary Supplement was born, and offices were set up in Printing House Square. This new magazine, edited by James Thursfield, had a wider focus that than the original incacarnation, and after consultation with the then editor of The Times, George Earle Buckle, the new eight page publication was inserted as a free supplement once a week.
Thursfield stepped down as editor very early on in the life of the publication, to be succeeded by Bruce Richmond who lasted until 1937, despite his assertions that the supplement was introduced only as a stopgap measure which would be subsumed back into the main paper. It is widely claimed that it was under Richmonds 35 year reign that the TLS gained its reputation for its calm, impersonal, objective view of the world.
The TLS treasured its seperacy from The Times, a which was secured by Moberly Bell’s successor, Reggie Nicholson in 1914, and the publication, now owned by Lord Northcliffe was sold for a penny a copy. Despite the new owners pro-Imperialism, the TLS was relatively neutral, but by the late 1930's under the stewardship of D. L. Murray, a distinctly anti-socialist stance was taken, which almost went to the point of being a dalliance with Benito Mussolinis ideals. Northcliffe was also guilty of attempting to shut the TLS down in 1922 as he saw it as excessively arty and intellectual, and so decreed that a piece should be published on the 30th March declaring that the title would cease to be published in two weeks time. However due to poor communications between departments the announcement was never made, the distracted Northcliffe never reissued the decree, and then died the following August.
The war years marked a resurgence in the supplements fortunes under D.L.Murray's editorial tenure, despite many of its competitors going to the wall. Due to a shortage of paper the daily newspapers were restricted as to what the could fit into their issues, and one of the first casualties were book reviews, meaning that publishers only outlet to public was the TLS. Combined with the increase in the number of people reading whilst whiling away the hours in an air-raid shelter, and the revised format and increased capacity, now 40 pages, brought the paper to a new audience. Throughout the Second World War there were a number of pieces outlining the authors views for 'a better world than the one that is currently being blown to pieces', even in the face of the harsh censorship laws in place at the time.
Murray retired shortly after the end of the war in 1945, giving him the dubious honour of being the shortest editorial run since James Thursfield. He was replaced by a caretaker editor, Stanley Morison, who believed that the TLS should follow whatever line The Times itself took, and that a more scholarly bent should be taken when reviewing, to make the publication of greater practical use to publishers and librarians. Paper rationing meant that almost all unnecessary white space was removed, alongside the majority of the pictures and poetry, giving the TLS a forbidding look. Most of Morrison's tenure was spent look for his replacement, which culminated in a bidding war between The Times and The Observer for the services of Alan Pryce-Jones who took over in 1948.
Pryce-Jones' editorship marked a new injection of vigour into the ailing veins of the TLS, with a real openness to new literary talent being seen, and the introduction of middles’, centre page pieces provinding an oversight into importance topics in world events. Pryce-Jones choice of reviewers was even more eclectic than any his predecessors, even including displaced royalty, and his insistance on breaking up what he saw as the 'cartels' of reviewers who traditionally dealt with specific topic areas was seen as introducing some entertaining spats between rival schools of reviewers.
If his predecessors reign was marked by the diversity of reviewers, Arthur Crooks' takeover in 1959, saw a definite shrewdness in his appointments particiularly to the post of Deputy Editor, as well as a more sustained scholarly arguments which were pursued not only in individual issues but for week after week in articles, reviews and letters: on subjects as diverse as the Vietnam war, the rise of sociology, pop culture, pornography, and censorship. Classified job advertisements, primarily for librarian's positions also started to appear. The arrival of the Beat movements was met with considerable sympathy in reviews, and William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg even submitted reviews and articles for publication.
Crooks' was intensely loyal to the tradition of anonymity, a practice which was coming under an increasing amount of fire, and the death knell sounded when John Gross took over as editor in 1974, a practice which has been upheld by his successors Jeremy Treglown who held the position between 1981 and 1990 and kicked off the concept of a database correlating all of the old anonymous reviews to their authors, and current editor, Ferdinand Mount.