The Idler is a company devoted to helping people to lead more fulfilled lives. We publish a quarterly magazine and a series of guide books, produce quirky online courses, run live events and sell books and gifts.
Back in 1991, bored to tears by his job, 23 year old journalist Tom Hodgkinson lay on his bed and dreamed of starting a magazine called The Idler. He’d found the title in a collection of essays by Dr Johnson, himself a constitutionally indolent man. How to live, that was the question. How to be free in a world of jobs and debt? And curse this alarm clock.
Tom was fortunately sacked from his job and started to sign on. He wandered across the road to where his old friend, designer and writer Gavin Pretor-Pinney lived. Gavin could get things done. He was the kind of person who could help Tom to realise this dream. And he did. In August 1993, the pair produced issue one of the Idler. It had the sub-title “literature for loafers”. Dr Johnson was the cover star and there was an interview with magic mushroom guru Terence McKenna. Contributors included a young journalist called Louis Theroux.
The magazine has since enjoyed a number of incarnations. In the nineties it was published by the Guardian newspaper, then by Ebury publishing. Tom published the Idler as an annual collection of essays until 2014, then relaunched the mag as a quarterly journal in 2016.
The Idler Academy
The Idler Academy, founded at a festival in 2010, is the Idler’s educational offshoot. It is a school which offers online and real-world courses in the classical liberal arts and practical skills. From 2011 to 2015 we ran a small bookshop and café in Notting Hill.
The Idler Academy teaches philosophy, astronomy, calligraphy, music, business skills, English grammar, ukulele, public speaking, singing, drawing, self-defence and other subjects. Here you can educate yourself in the ideas of Plato or learn the ukulele, in convivial surroundings with like-minded and interesting people.
Founders Tom and his partner Victoria Hull had always been festival-goers, and in 2008 they were invited by the founders of the Secret Garden Party to run a series of literary talks. They were given a yurt and built a medieval garden in the shade of a lime tree. They put on talks from Crass’s Penny Rimbaud, QI’s John Mitchinson, poet Clare Pollard and radical economist Andrew Simms. To their surprise the revellers loved to debate, listen and talk. Four charming young men asked if they could play a gig on our stage. They played a folky set of hoedown numbers. As they left Tom asked their name. “We’re called Mumford & Sons,” they said.
In 2010 the pair ran a talk tent at the Port Eliot Festival which they called The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment. The first event was a lesson in how to sew on a button properly, and this was followed by classes in Latin, grammar and natural history with interludes of medieval music. Their tent was packedTom and Victoria enjoyed themselves so much they they decided to open a full time Idler Academy in London, a convivial place where people could go to learn and to meet people. They took out a five year lease on a shop in a quiet corner of Notting Hill, stocked it with educational books and started to advertise lessons in ukulele, philosophy, sewing, idling, carpentry and Latin. The people came.
From the outset, Tom and Victoria were deluged by emails from overseas idlers complaining that they were missing the fun and could please we open an Idler Academy in Boise, Idaho? The idea of running two or more Idler Academies seemed like too much work. But was there another way of taking their teaching to a wider audience? An American friend told them about new developments in online courses. So Tom and Victoria employed a filmmaker to produce a video version of the Idler’s course in Ancient philosophy. When 120 units shifted in the first 24 hours, they knew they were on to something.
The Idler Academy now offers seventeen online courses and has sold over 2000 copies to over 20 countries. In 2016 we plan to grow this side of the business.
In September 2014 the Idler was joined by former city investor and fund manager Christian Dangerfield, who is bringing his commercial experience to take the idling message to a global audience.
Tom Hodgkinson, Founder
Tom was born in 1968 and was educated at Westminster School and Jesus College, Cambridge. He founded the Idler in 1993 and went on to join the Guardian newspaper as a columnist and head of editorial development. He and partner Gavin Pretor-Pinney then set up their a creative consultancy and undertook editorial and advertising projects for Channel 4, Sony Playstation, Paramount Comedy Channel, John Brown Publishing, Mother ad agency and many more.
In 2002 Tom quit the commercial world and retired to a farmhouse on the coast of North Devon to write books. His first book How to be Idle was a global best-seller and was followed by How to be Free, The Idle Parent and Brave Old World. He has also co-written The Book of Idle Pleasures (with Dan Kieran) and The Ukulele Handbook (with Gavin Pretor-Pinney). He has published a number of pamphlets including his own We Want Everyone, an attack on Facebook, and Dr Matthew Green’s history of the London coffeehouse. Most notably Tom asked old school grammarian Nevile Gwynne to write a grammar guide for his children. Tom published the resulting book, Gwynne’s Grammar, in an edition of 100. It caught the eye of Random House who brought out a commercial edition. This astonished everyone by spending five months in the Sunday Times top ten. The follow-up, Gwynne’s Latin, was also a top ten best-seller.
In 2014 Tom returned to London to launch develop the Idler Academy both in the real world and online. In 2016 we relaunched the Idler as a print quarterly.
Victoria Hull, Programming Director
Victoria Hull was educated at St Paul’s School and St Andrews. Following stints as a teacher and a TV researcher, she created The Clerkenwell Literary Festival in 1997. She mixed established names with new fresh talent and the festival attracted young and urban crowds. In 2002 she moved to a farmhouse in North Devon and spent the next few years raising a family and learning the arts of country living and household management. In 2011 she launched the Idler Academy and now lives in London.
Alice Smith, Art Director
Alice Smith has been art director for the Idler since 2009. She is responsible for the various illustrations, decorations and borders that you will see on our site.
Cathleen Mair, Online and Events Manager