The Idler is a literary and philosophical magazine edited by Tom Hodgkinson.
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. For three years it was published by the Guardian newspaper, then for a year by the publishers of Manchester United magazine. Following a fallow year, the pair produced a bi-annual book version of the magazine independently. Then they found at home at Ebury publishing for three years, after which Gav left to write a book about clouds. Tom continued to publish the Idler as an annual collection of essays.
In September 2014, the Idler launched as an online magazine.
The Idler Academy
The Idler Academy is the Idler’s educational offshoot. It is a school based in London which offers online and real-world courses in the classical liberal arts and practical skills. During the day our London HQ operates as a calm, quiet bookshop selling beautiful, useful and unusual books and gifts. We serve Monmouth coffee, tea and cake, and there is an enclosed medieval garden to retreat to. We teach 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.
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 packed.
Tom 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 beyond Notting Hill? 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.
In September 2014 the Idler was joined by former hedge fund manager Christian Dangerfield, who is bringing his commercial experience to take the idling message to a global audience.
The Principal Idlers
Tom Hodgkinson, Editorial Director
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 quit to run 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 the Idler as an online publication and to develop the Idler Academy both in the real world and online.
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.
Christian Dangerfield, Commercial Director
Christian Dangerfield is an old friend of Tom and Victoria. He has more than 20 years of experience investing in Asian markets and companies and has extensive knowledge of the retail and education sectors. He has lived in Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul and is the founder of Trigpoint Partners. He joined the Idler as Commercial Director in September 2014.
Julian Mash, Manager
Julian Mash is manager of the Idler Academy’s headquarters in Notting Hill and author of Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood. He previously worked at Daunt Books and managed the Travel Bookshop. Julian is also a DJ and musician.
Roberta McCaughan, Operations Manager
Roberta McCaughan is operations manager at the Idler Academy. She previously worked in production at the Port Eliot festival and as a manager for Yurtel.
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.