Toilet Reading: Zoo

Tagline: ‘Britain’s Only Men’s Weekly!’

Price: £1.99

Who is this magazine for? The idea of gender-based magazines is a strange one, when you think about it. In these post-feminist times, there aren’t many areas of life that cheerfully segregate on the basis of chromosome ownership. The only everyday example I can think of is toilet assignment. Even that’s a distinction that can’t be very important, given the rule is frequently broken by nightclubs that boast of their questionably pretentious decor and a lower than average sick-to-carpet ratio. I’m also unaware of anybody who insists on having a separate room in their house with a stick-man picture on the door, fitted with a urinal and one of those automated air fresheners that mysteriously puff out scent (usually as I walk in, which may be an indication of my base-level aroma).

The heyday of Nuts, FHM and their ilk was in the late 90s. This was, lest we forget, a heady time where popular culture finally gave voice to the fact it wanted no scrubs, and made it extremely clear that if you wanna be my lover, you’ve gotta get with my friends.

Maybe it’s because of this barrier breaking that lad mags came about in the first place – feeding a desire from men to claim back a space that is theirs and theirs alone. Zoo was for those scrubs hanging out the right hand side of their best friend’s ride, scared men who needed somewhere to hide from all this sass. And when people get scared, they tend to find comfort in the familiar notes of their childhood. In the case of your common or garden man, that’s football, scabs, toys and, casting the psyche right back to the start, those lovely, reassuring breasts.

You know those terrible, lowest-common denominator birthday cards that you pick up and think, ‘who could possibly be so generic to happily buy or receive this folded sneer?’ Zoo is written for those people. Perhaps they’re in cahoots with Cards Galore.

What did you get for your £1.99? I’ve no wish to disparage the mag’s contributors, who spray adjectives like ‘stunner’ and ‘foxy’ around with a practiced tabloid hand, but I suspect that a majority of Zoo’s readers would be genuinely surprised to be told the purpose of those strange symbols that occasionally adorn the double-page spreads of women, cars, women, large dogs and women. By the way, rather brilliantly, Zoo’s offices are based in a place called Academic House.

The magazine is split in to four sections. ‘Upfront’, cunningly titled to allude to those lovely breasts, contains a ragbag of stuff that is, well, in the front half of the magazine. The second section, ‘Features’, is the journalistic meat in the sandwich, devoting no fewer than four pages to analysing the big issues of the day – specifically, the story of a bloke who got a Victoria Cross in Afghanistan, and some pictures of rich dogs on Instagram. The third, ‘Sport’, covers the hardy perennials of football, F1 and racing, nicely warming us up for the final section, ‘Girls’. There’s no editor’s column at the front of the mag and that’s a shame, because I’d have enjoyed reading whatever Father Jack had to say.

Dubai quarry

I’ve been to Dubai. There were definitely a lot less scree on the floor. Perhaps this is where the Qatar World Cup will be held.

Features: We know what we’re here for, so let’s just get straight on with ‘Girls’ shall we? Actually, let’s save ourselves, because Upfront kicks us off with some words from Billie Faiers, who is caught in Dubai for some spontaneous bikini shots. Billie is a bona fide star, having been in TOWIE (like HIV and AIDS, initials offer some protection from contemplating the full horror of TOWIE). Her star quality dominates the photos too, to the extent it makes the landscape around her not look like a Dubai beach, but more like the goods entrance of a working slate quarry.


Claudia Romani

A huge open goal miss on an ‘early bath’ pun opportunity here.

A few pages on are some lovely pictures of Claudia Romani sunning herself on a boat. She’s an Italian model-turned-football referee apparently, albeit one who has ‘yet to take charge of a professional match’. This seems like a generous characterization of her job to me. After all, by that definition, I’m also a football referee. So is Stephen Hawking. So is a lettuce.


Could still have done a better job than Phil Dowd.


Referee or not, Ms. Romani is definitely a girl. As is Ms. Faiers. So why aren’t they featured in the ‘Girls’ section? To find out, we need to head to the section in question.

‘Girls’ also has two features on women. But – and this is absolutely crucial – in their pictures they are not wearing their bikini tops. Hallelujah! Actual naked breasts! To be honest though, I feel that Zoo is getting the section names all wrong here. Why don’t they just call this section ‘Breasts’?

The only credible theory is that Zoo won’t class you as a ‘girl’ unless you prove it to them by baring at least some of your sexual organs. This could be seen as being deeply misogynistic, and even rather sinister on Zoo’s part. But think of it this way. Maybe they’ve had some crushing disappointments at photo shoots in the past. Maybe they’ve brought in the beautiful, blonde, 19-year old Mary, taken some very tasteful photos of her in a nice skirt and attractive blouse, only to find out later that when FHM got her in for a follow-up session ‘she’ revealed she was in fact the impeccably manicured Trent, a fish haulier from Podunk, Minnesota.

They felt cheated, and vowed never to take those hussies on trust again.

One thing I did learn from Zoo is that if you are a woman wearing not many clothes in a magazine shoot, you are only permitted one of three different facial expressions:

  • The ‘you’ve just me told me the thing I stepped in was the barbeque sauce you dropped when you came in from the pub.’
  • The ‘this look will get me that part as the new bitchy one in Eastenders.’
  • The ‘are we finished yet?’

Adverts: There aren’t many adverts in Zoo. There’s a double page of premium rate phone lines, which offer far more distressing thumbnails than you’d see in your average edition of Shooting Gazette or Heat (‘Best Sex Ever with GRANNIES’). Interestingly there are few gay chat lines in there as well, perhaps indicating that it’s not just the writers of Zoo who protesteth a little too much.

Much weirder is the ad for Zoo’s own ‘No Strings’ app, which is a full page devoted to a website for ‘finding cheeky nights of fun with girls who are looking for a little satisfaction.’ Pretty creepy whichever way you slice it, but then, I suppose it depends on what a little satisfaction means. Perhaps there are hundreds of women on there just waiting for a man to pop round with some TUC crackers, some Sainsbury’s pate and bottle of Blossom Hill, before indulging in a good competitive game of Uno.

Letters page: Zoo takes a different approach on the letters page, getting readers to send in jokes instead. This is actually a pretty good idea, given that the traditional letters page format relies on readers responding to previous articles. There are only so many ‘Waaaay, look at the tits on that,’ missives you could legitimately print every single week.

Here’s one: ‘Our local bin men must hate reversing their truck. But at least they bleep out all the swearing.’

Just on a tangent, apparently Jason Manford reads a lot of Zoo.

Rating: 4/10

Zoo fulfills a service. Some men have always needed to gawp at unattainable women while at the same time having enough distractions to help them forget their unattainability. It is very hard to imagine that need ever completely going away. Though sometimes, in my wilder moments, I dream of a freely accessible global technology that would allow me to access all the nudity that humanity has ever conceived of, while simultaneously looking at the football results and ordering a chicken biryani.

Until that happens, it’s hard to imagine Zoo going bust. Oh.

I waited a long time to use that bust joke.

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