In Notting Hill, where Tennant chose to live long before it became a byword for gentrification, there was “hardly a restaurant or delicatessen to be found,” but there were writers. Lots of them. She hung out with a gang of sci-fi scribes, including Michael Moorcock, John Sladek, and John Clute. She dragged home the brilliant young travel writer Bruce Chatwin to chat about nomads. She ran into the young director Stephen Frears who suggested she hire Julien Rothenstein as her art director. Duly hired, Rothenstein brought an anarchic, irreverent quality to the design that matched the writing. The covers used oversize fonts reminiscent of Soviet graphic design. The color palate was primarily black and red. Random pictures, sometimes involving nudity, had the ribald silliness of Monty Python, then in the midst of transforming British comedy.
As for fulfilling condition number two, raising the money was more complicated. Tennant hatched a truly bananas plan, to sneak into her family pile in Scotland and steal compromising photographs of Princess Margaret on her half-brother’s notorious island, Mustique. The idea was to sell them to the voracious British tabloids in return for seed money for the magazine. Paging through the photo albums she found what she wanted. “I thrust Princess Margaret—there’s no time to see if she’s actually naked, but the picture gives at first glance that impression—into my shirt, open-necked on this fine summer’s day,” she writes. “Roddy Llewellyn [Margaret’s lover] comes into my bosom, too.”
But Tennant couldn’t go through with it. In the end, small donations and a generous £3,000 from a budding writer did the trick, and Bananas was born. Can a magazine that reached 3,000 readers at its peak be said to be a hit? Does it even matter? Bananas was an incubator for some of the most exciting reading of the decade, even as it rocked from one financial crisis to another. Ballard wrote for every issue. Angela Carter was close behind. Here’s Tennant’s evocative tale of meeting her for the first time:
We sat upstairs, in the room on the first floor, and as we discussed who we hate most amongst contemporary writers, she slid to the floor, I soon joined her; we seemed to move, like crabs, towards and away from each other. I felt myself in the presence of a fairy, who might transform the very ordinary room into a Japanese temple… I expected talk of transmogrification from human to wolf, but ‘How much do you think he made from his last book,’ says Angela of Ian McEwan, a fellow writer in Clapham.