HAPPY Birthday Cosmo! Cosmopolitan Magazine, the British version, is 30 this year. It's been part of our lives for so long that it's hard for a lot of people to remember what life was like before it. Grim.

Apart from the brilliant mould-breaking Nova - which flourished and died before its time - women's magazines of the time were dire. Even those supposedly aimed at young women were solidly middle-aged. They were full of knitting patterns "Look like a real girl", beauty tips "For the demure at heart", and recipes "Stewed fruit and egg custards".

Those are real headlines from a real magazine - Woman's Mirror, 1966 . The most daring part was the Tampax ad. And that was one of the liveliest magazines...

So when Cosmo came swinging in with sex on the brain - and just about everywhere else as well - it was such a relief. No longer did we have to pretend we were sweet single girls going home alone to embroider pillow cases for our bottom drawers. We had sex lives and could admit it.

Cosmo even gave us our first male centrefold - Germaine Greer's boyfriend, no less, I seem to remember, though posed rather coyly, which was a bit of a cop-out.

But liberating though it was, Cosmo's great breakthrough wasn't really to do with sex. That might have drawn the attention and the headlines but the real message was much more subversive.

Cosmo encouraged us to be independent. Men were the light relief in our lives, not the be-all and end-all. Cosmo coaxed, cajoled and shamed us into making more of our lives - pushing ahead with careers, taking up hobbies, planning adventures, reading, learning, thinking for ourselves. Above all, it made us want to be financially independent.

In many ways - though she would have been horrified to realise it - Cosmo often sounded just like my old headmistress. They both encouraged us to aim higher, try harder, go further, put more into life to get more out of it. Neither of them wanted us to be sitting waiting for Mr Right.

It's just that Cosmo did it with a swirl of sex, naughty knickers and plenty of lippy - which made it a lot more fun. There's a whole generation of forty and fiftysomethings who were nudged a little further into independence because of Cosmo.

Gradually, the rest of the world caught up with Cosmo girl. What had seemed daring and adventurous became the norm. And, sad to say, Cosmo had to try harder, to be more outrageous and often got silly on the way. Original Cosmo girls became irritated, gave up on it and moved on.

But now Cosmo is 30 Will she start to grow up, settle down, become more sensible?

Maybe. Then again...

COSMO'S founder - the incredible Helen Gurley Brown - is now 80 years old. She still wears mini skirts and green fishnets. Fine. Great in fact.

But the bad news is that she still works out with weights for an hour a day.


I know we're all staying younger, longer, but at least we'd hoped that once we got to 80 we'd be allowed to skip the gym and instead stuff ourselves silly with chocolate.

So much for the consolations of old age. Cosmo Girls don't fade away - they just try harder.

NATIONAL Savings have just spent a few million pounds on changing their image and their name and launching a new ad campaign featuring a horse chestnut.

This is at the time when interest rates are at their lowest and your chances of winning a premium bond prize are more remote than they've ever been in their 46-year history.

Maybe the conkers are there to tell us we'd be nuts to invest in them.

REPORTING on the wedding of Joan Collins and her much younger groom, BBC Arts Correspondent Rosie Millard told us that at 68, Joan Collins still looks good naked.

How does she know?

Gosh, the things BBC Arts Correspondents must have to do.

GREAT news that the National Portrait Gallery is considering an outpost in Durham, though irritating that the spokesman, or maybe the national newspapers, managed to make it seem like major missionary work.

The NPG is one of the most fascinating galleries in Britain. Not just because of the painting itself, but because all its subjects are real people. Whether you're looking at Henry VIII or Barbara Cartland, Samuel Pepys or Sid Weighell, it's compulsive viewing.

The tentative plan is, I think, to house some of the 20thCcentury paintings and photographs in Durham. Let's give it all the encouragement we can - it would be a real treat.

Published: 20/02/02