As its name suggests, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News was founded in 1874 to concentrate predominantly on sport and drama. The ISDN answered the demand for a paper devoted to sport at a time when British middle and upper classes were showing an increasing enthusiasm for all forms of sporting pursuits.
The nation’s sporting elite was fostered largely through a public school and university system and, seeking to capture this market, the magazine positioned itself as a ‘country gentleman’s illustrated newspaper’. It would always give particular attention to equine sports such as horseracing, polo and hunting, but also covered cricket, rugby, rowing, athletics, tennis and indoor sports such as billiards. Each issue usually featured a favoured actress of the day on the cover, as well as scenes and reviews of current stage plays, illustrated by Tony Sarg during the war years.
The Great War ISDN is a fascinating record of how the war affected this world. The magazine’s interest in horses was reflected by articles about hunting in wartime, the commandeering of horses, breaking in mules or the work of the Royal Veterinary Corps. The Officers’ Training Corps of the country’s public schools and universities were featured as were battalions made up from sportsmen. It also took an interest in how women were helping the war effort and reflects their changing roles, with a particular focus on jobs in the countryside, such as the Women’s Land Army or the work of the Army Remount Service.
Photographs and sketches of war-themed plays also proliferate, and its Christmas issues, entitled, ‘Holly Leaves’ was always a festive feast of illustration, with contributions from artists such as Lawson Wood, Harold Earnshaw, William Heath Robinson and E. T. Reed
The ISDN’s sporting bias also makes it a poignant record of the large number of sportsmen who lost their lives during the war, as reported in the weekly feature, the Sportsman’s Roll of Honour.