When I heard last week that Frank Magazine had announced its own demise — “regret to announce the death of Frank Magazine Atlantic … September 14, 2022″ — then disappeared off social media while its last editor disappeared from inquiring journalists, I confess I felt… nothing.

Which surprised me.

I had once been a fan.

When Frank first showed up on local newsstands 35 years ago, it was a publication unlike any seen here before. And not just in Nova Scotia. The closest equivalent was the British political satirical magazine Private Eye, on which it was loosely based.

That probably shouldn’t have been surprising.

David Bentley is the British ex-pat journalist behind the original Frank.

He was also — it’s worth acknowledging — the conceiver-in-chief of today’s allnovascotia.com and its still-growing collection of allsomewhere.com business news websites, the late lamented Halifax Daily News and its prequel Bedford-Sackville Weekly News, not to forget some of his more forgettable adventures like Who’s News, “a local Toronto People thing” that failed to find traction among Torontonians and Fleur, a controlled circulation fashion tabloid that lasted just a few issues back in the early 1970s.

Bentley, in short, is that rare thing — a journalist who was also an entrepreneur and committed to being good at both.

Frank, to be frank, was a fortuitous accident.

A little history. Bentley had been one of several British journalists lured to Nova Scotia in the 1960s to work for Graham Dennis’s Halifax Chronicle HeraldDenis was enamoured of all things Brit.

In 1977, Bentley, his wife and another couple decided to launch their own little paper, The Bedford Sackville Weekly News. It began publishing daily two years later. Knowing that Dennis could squish their fledgling daily simply by launching an advertising price war the little paper couldn’t win, Bentley approached Dennis directly to assure him their new paper had no ambitions beyond Bedford-Sackville. Dennis obligingly left them alone.

Whatever Bentley’s original intentions — “we eventually realized we just couldn’t crack it by sticking with Sackville,” Bentley insisted to me back in the mid-1990s — The Halifax Daily News set up shop on Barrington Street in 1981 and began competing directly for Herald readers.

When I reminded him of those assurances during a 1994 interview, Bentley turned sheepish. “How can I explain it?” he asked, then changed the subject.

But the fact is that, out of the whole cloth of his journalistic-entrepreneurial ambitions, Bentley had created the Daily News — then one of very few modern daily newspaper startups created by journalists in North America — and made it a success, albeit a modest success and one soon in need of an infusion of capital Bentley didn’t have to take it to the next level.

That was one reason why Bentley sold his newspaper to Newfoundland industrialist Harry Steele in 1984.

What to do as his next act? Bentley was only 41 and still fascinated by the business of publishing. But his options were limited by a non-compete clause in the deal to sell the Daily News. He couldn’t launch a competing publication and he couldn’t solicit advertising.

Frank became his answer. Not advertising. No competition. At least not in the conventional sense.

It’s worth remembering that Bentley’s track record as a boots-on-the-ground journalist prior to Frank was superb. He’d been the Herald’s on-scene correspondent during a bitter but iconic 13-month Canso fishermen’s strike in the early 1970s, giving him what he would later call “a catbird seat to see Nova Scotia patronage politics close up.”

He then convinced two other top-flight journalists — Lyndon Watkins, another British ex-patriate who’d been the Globe and Mail’s Atlantic correspondent, and Dulcie Conrad, a veteran political reporter — to become his partners in Frank, a fortnightly gossip sheet that billed itself as “Frank by name, Frank by nature.”

Thanks to all the insider political, business, and society sources the three “Franks” had collectively built up over their years of reporting — and the fact they were not dependent on advertisers — they were able to publish the most incendiary stories, consequences be damned. (Mostly. More on that later.)

No one bought Frank for its sloppy layout and frequent typos. They bought it — or, more likely, read it, often furtively in the supermarket checkout line — to get the news they couldn’t find anywhere else and for the kind of stories that “took the piss out of the powerful.” Frank became must reading for those interested in what the powerful were really up to and anxious reading for those in power who worried when they might end up “Franked.”

Frank was a much-needed antidote to the anodyne journalism that passed for real reporting in Nova Scotia in those days. According to one estimate from the day — my guess is unaudited — nearly 100,000 people bought, borrowed, and begged a copy of each biweekly issue to discover the dirt on what its then-Ottawa editor called Canada’s “equestrian classes.”

Readers got more than the price of admission. Stories about Brian Mulroney’s drinking habits, Peter Mansbridge’s marital woes, Pierre Trudeau’s “love child,” details of banned proceedings from the trials of the Canadian serial killer couple Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

Closer to home, Frank was first to publish important scoops about former Nova Scotia Liberal Premier Gerald Regan’s sexual assaults and Tory Premier John Buchanan’s secret trust funds. Not to forget regular gossipy real estate-envy features like “Whose House” that focused on where and how the wealthy lived.

Frank’s unlikely success begat unlikely success, including an on-again, off-again Ottawa Frank that was, and then was not, affiliated.

If you’re looking for a marker for the beginning of the demise of that Frank, however, you could do worse than start with a February 2000 Nova Scotia court decision that awarded former Nova Scotia senior civil servant Gordon Earle $60,000 after he had been defamed in a story in Frank written by Bentley himself.

The story claimed that Earle, then a deputy minister, was about to be fired for being a “disappointment” in his job. Earle, in fact, had decided to take early retirement and could have stayed on as a deputy minister if he’d chosen.

It was sloppy reporting — Bentley didn’t contact Earle before running it — but the judgment also felt like the establishment’s revenge for close to 15 years of Frank scoops and scandal-mongering.

Although Bentley claimed at the time that Frank would go on — “Frank may have been shot but it hasn’t been assassinated” — Bentley and Watkins transferred ownership to one of their reporters for one dollar later that same year. (Conrad had previously turned her shares over to Bentley and Watkins.)

That was the start of a slow spiral that escalated downward with each new owner over the next two decades.

The nadir came around 2010 when the paper was sold to a super-litigious (“shurely not,” as Frank might have put it) Cape Breton pharmacy wholesaler named Parker Rudderham, for whom it seemed little more than an odd vanity project. Soon after, four of the magazine’s five editorial staffers were fired or quit in protest over the firing of a female reporter who’d questioned a magazine column on sexism.

You can read about its decline and rightful fall in my colleague Tim Bousquet’s piece, “The vile racism and mysogyny that was Frank Magazine.

By the end, Frank had given up afflicting the comfortable. It became instead that boorish old uncle at family gatherings, the one always saying stupid, mean, inappropriate, racist, misogynist things to anyone and everyone for no good reason.

I used to buy and read every issue but, as time went on and Frank got less and less interesting and more and more offensive, I simply stopped even glancing at it on the supermarket shelf, or following it online.

By the end, I didn’t give a damn that it was gone. And that’s a sad obituary for any publication.

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Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. I agree with your and Tim’s take; it was a sorry, protracted, painful slide for FRANK, whose original tenure arguably went a long way to puncturing the smug faces of the NS establishment. No one will mourn the loss of the crap they dished out for the past decade and more.

  2. How can one forget the usage of ‘Welsh windbag’ to describe a well known resident of metro who was of Welsh birth ? It was available at HRM libraries but did not see a copy last time I visited Alderney library.