Femi Akintunde-Johnson, one of the founders of FAME WEEKLY, Nigeria’s well-known but defunct celebrity journal, writes the untold story of the magazine’s rise and fall
FAME: UNTOLD STORIES OF ITS RISE AND FALL is an absorbing account of friendship, business relationship, ambition and determination. It is also a story of youthful hope, the Nigerian media and a lost dream. This work is undeniably deep; a thought-provoking and interesting narrative that captures and documents an era of courage and sprightly adventures. For those old enough to remember the glitz and glamour in the entertainment circle of the 1990s, this is the book. In serious countries, this is actually what journalism and journalists do to help society aside reporting local and global news and events.
So, for stepping back and documenting a personal view of the FAME days, the actors, the politics, the magazine’s unforgettable moments and the lessons from its rise and fall, Femi Akintunde-Johnson, the author, remains a shining example. FAME: UNTOLD STORIES OF ITS RISE AND FALL is therefore an impetus for more writings by journalists about life, events and the newsroom. The book also says a few things about the boardroom where most journalists have been accused of below average performance. Unsurprisingly, apart from power tussle and the persistent conflicts that were clearly irresolvable among the principal actors in the magazine’s short lifetime, finance which is an integral part of the boardroom, was a major cause of FAME’s failure.
The author begins by providing perspectives on how it all began. According to him, “on July 6, 1991, three friends with growing reputation in reporting entertainment, society and the arts combined forces with some of their colleagues, and younger associates and Gbam!…Fame Weekly was born. The magazine created storms and also weathered a series of storms. Many people didn’t believe the combination of the three founding journalists would last more than six months. And were surprised it lasted almost six years before it collapsed in a gale of accusations and counter-accusations…mostly about finance and power struggle”.
There may be other reasons for writing the book but it is important to note that the author comes clean on his mission under ‘About the book”. He is also unequivocal about his resolve and commitment to providing insight, shedding light and retelling the stories and the lessons from the tragedy of FAME. “In this book, I have traced my movements all the way from The Punch Newspapers– highlighting a few significant events: the making of popular tags— “Elegant Stallion” and “RMD” and my first almost catastrophic encounter with Shina Peters. Then, on to my short tour at Climax Magazine…and to Fame from the dream stage, to the upheavals that would later define the experiences of three young, bright Nigerian journalists and entrepreneurs, locked in a colourful and turbulent partnership. Many of the unspoken FAME stories are told in as candid, deliberate and as honest as one can possibly be while sidestepping needless emotionalism and sensationalism”.
FAME WEEKLY actually took off on a promising note. Femi Akintunde-Johnson and his friends, the other two principal partners, started out by consciously planning all the necessary strategies and details for success. Clearly, the author, who writes well, also had the good fortune of being in the company of resourceful friends and founding partners like Kunle Bakare, a brilliant writer and manager of men, and Mayor Akinpelu, another good newsman and a networker. So, the group had its work unmistakably cut out for it at the early stages of the partnership, and the author acknowledges that fact. Therefore, their organizational skills, dedication and thirst for success, were the major drivers and reasons they succeeded in living their dreams for some years before the inevitable breakup.
In FAME: UNTOLD STORIES OF ITS RISE AND FALL, the author writes about his personal achievements and triumphs. He also recalls how his journalism career started, the excitement of covering the ever-bubbly entertainment beat as a reporter in those good old days and his unforgettable encounters with other founders of the magazine. It is a book of intrigues and lessons. He also writes about the benefits and opportunities that come with diligence, training, resourcefulness and seriousness.
In this book, the author pushes the boundaries and reports details of unequal business partnership and the founders distressing experience under a highhanded publisher who brooked no opposition.
For those who were too young at the time to understand the business of celebrity news reporting and tabloid journalism, this is an opportunity to read the history of FAME’s boisterous and sensational writing that stood out back in the day. The journal was also an awards company that worked round the clock to create visibility for up-and-coming artistes. And as a major stakeholder in the entertainment industry, FAME WEEKLY consciously engendered credibility and fairness in its music and movie awards.
However, the FAME narrative remains unfinished because it is the story of only one of the gladiators and it reads like a single story. According to Robert Evans, the great American actor and producer, “there are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth”. Who knows, in the near future, Bakare and Akinpelu may also write their own stories from their different points of view as active participants. That, for the reader, would be great and gladdening because a second institutional biography on the same subject may serve as a verification board. Another view from the two founders may also put final closure on FAME…, a dream that was aborted midway. So, in the minds of some people, FAME: UNTOLD STORIES OF ITS RISE AND FALL remains a single story and it is already clear that the work will not escape all the hazards associated with a single story. The book will also attract reviewers’ attention with regard to blurry and low-quality photos that appear bland generally.
In spite of its single-story status and poor images, FAME: …is a good effort because it informs, entertains, inspires and evokes memories from the past. This is not just an ordinary story; it is the interesting account of one of Nigeria’s most respected and audacious celebrity journals that came with a lot of promise. Those who worked at the magazine should be proud of Akintunde-Johnson’s power of recall, his presentation format, the narrative of the circumstances under which they operated, his short notes on some of his colleagues across departments and his nostalgic feeling and reference to a lost dream.
The book is undoubtedly, remarkable.
This article was first published in Alice, the in-flight magazine of Air Peace.