The Bystander launched on 9 December 1903 as a sibling paper to The Graphic, which for some years had been running a column of light notes and gossip under the same title. With a slogan that ran, “Everything About Everybody Everywhere”, The Bystander would deliver an irreverent mix of society gossip and satire blended with the latest on travel destinations (including a special Riviera Number each year), motoring, aviation, fashion, nightlife, royalty, sport, politics and theatre.
Like The Tatler’s Eve and Phrynette of The Sketch, The Bystander had its own female columnist, Blanche (Olivia Maitland Davidson, who also was the voice of Eve). Witty, urbane and not a little rebellious, The Bystander was a maverick among the illustrated magazines, expressing occasionally strident views on politics, but always with a tongue-in-cheek edge. Its lively tone and humour struck a chord with soldiers during the war. When the magazine began to publish Bruce Bairnsfather’s cartoons of trench life, it was a move that was to seal its popularity.
The magazine attracted numerous other well-known artists, including Edward Tennyson Reed, Alfred Leete, Helen McKie and the silhouettist, Captain H. L. Oakley, as well as writers such as Saki (H.H. Monro). It also actively encouraged soldier amateur artists to send in their work for publication.The Bystander’s editor during this time was Vivian Carter, who joined the Inns of Court Rifles. In 1916, Carter was fined after publishing a cartoon drawn by an officer showing a drunken soldier from the ranks. He was dismissed when an officer at a recruiting rally felt misrepresented by the comments made in The Bystander to accompany a photograph of him.
Carter’s dismissal seems short-sighted, considering it was under his editorship that the magazine discovered Bairnsfather, arguably the most morale-boosting artist of the war. The editor’s baton was passed on to the magazine’s art editor, A. Spenser Allberry.