Tony Elliott, who started the Time Out global publishing empire in his mother’s London kitchen in 1968 with a capital investment of 70 pounds and a simple idea — tell people where they can see the right movie or band, or find a haircut or a falafel — died on July 16 in London.
The cause was lung cancer, his wife, Jane Elliott, confirmed. He was 73.
From its first issue in 1968 — a single poster-size sheet, folded four times, that functioned as a guide to the local counterculture — Mr. Elliott’s creation grew into a worldwide enterprise, with businesses in 327 cities and 58 countries, including close to 50 city magazines and six food and cultural markets. Its websites draw 63 million unique visitors per month, said Julio Bruno, chief executive officer of Time Out Group.
“His thing was, ‘I had one idea, but it was a good one,’” Ms. Elliott said.
Mr. Elliott, who left college to start the business, was an accidental tycoon whose idea arrived at the ripe moment when the cultural map was shifting too quickly for the established news media to keep up, and people not in the know needed guidance from those who were.
“If you were in the in crowd you knew,” Ms. Elliott said. “If you weren’t, that’s what Tony provided.”
Through the hippie era to punk to the cyberculture, the magazines championed fringe theater, cheap eats, family activities and occasional politics. They were also among the first in the mainstream press to cover gay life, and an early column, Meet the Fuzz, listed upcoming demonstrations and political activities.
Mr. Elliott felt the magazine should be part of the world it covered; the first office was in the basement of the home of Pink Floyd’s keyboard player, Rick Wright, Ms. Elliott said.
As the magazine expanded to other cities, starting with Time Out New York in 1995, it maintained the voice of a local insider, anticipating the internet deluge of information that was just around the corner.
“It was the last hurrah of that need,” said Cyndi Stivers, the first editor of Time Out New York, who helped start some of Time Out’s other city magazines. “You didn’t have the internet in your pocket, and there was not much on the web yet. When we launched, people were grateful.”
The magazines started the careers of mostly young writers, some of whom got old with Time Out. “Stephin Merritt wrote ‘69 Love Songs’ when he was our copy editor,” Ms. Stivers said, referring to the leader of the band Magnetic Fields.
Anthony Michael Manton Elliott was born on Jan. 7, 1947, in Redding, England, to Alan and Dr. Katherine Elliott. His father was managing director of a food distribution company; his mother was assistant medical director of the CIBA Foundation. The family moved to London during his second year.
He attended Stowe School, then went on to Keele University in the Midlands city of Keele, north of London, where he edited a student arts magazine called Unit, which ran features and interviews with Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Returning to London during a school break, he found that the local listings in the mainstream and alternative press were thin guides to all that was going on in Swinging London. He felt he could do better.
“In 1968 he came into the Black Dwarf, a radical magazine I was editing, and said he loved the paper, and why don’t we have a supplement that is essentially listings?” said Tariq Ali, a writer and historian who became a columnist at Time Out. “I burst out laughing.”
His original name for the magazine, abandoned days before it went to press, was Where It’s At. Instead, Mr. Elliott borrowed the name Time Out from a Dave Brubeck album. The initial print run of 5,000 copies rolled off a press owned by the local Communist Party.
He was 21.
A pause here to consider Mr. Elliott’s one idea, which seems obvious now. At the time, most publications’ event listings were simply rewritten news releases, presented dutifully. Mr. Elliott and his founding partner, Bob Harris, licensed his staff to be opinionated, funny and idiosyncratic. He demanded absolute consistency of format, typeface and style, “but you could say whatever you wanted,” Ms. Stivers said.
The London magazine grew. In the early ’80s, a large part of its staff left in a dispute over pay, forming a rival publication called City Limits, which lasted until 1991.
He married Janet Street-Porter, a journalist, in 1975, divorcing amicably two years later. He met his second wife, Jane, at the design company that created Time Out’s covers; they married in 1989. Their oldest son, Rufus, 32, is a “producer and fixer in the media industry,” Ms. Elliott said. Their twins, Bruce and Lawrence, 29, are a teacher and singer songwriter, respectively.
The three sons survive him, as does a younger sister, Rose Elliott.
Once Time Out New York had shown that Mr. Elliott’s idea could work elsewhere, the seat-of-the-pants days were over. City life was gentrifying, and recommendations for what had been cultural adventures came to resemble tips for consumption.
Mr. Ali remembered running into his old friend and joking that he had become too rich. “He said, ‘Do you think I’m a sellout?’ He was half-jesting, but half wondering what I thought of him now.”
Mr. Elliott tried backing magazines dedicated to the environment and to digital culture, but neither got off the ground.
In 2002, a grand old man of publishing, he lamented the sameness of new publications compared to the creative anarchy of the late 1960s, and the modern “cycle of building magazines round Prada and Levi’s ads.”
Eight years later, he sold most of the company to a private equity fund called Oakley Capital, remaining active as a board member.
Mr. Elliott poured his energies instead into British cultural institutions, including rebuilding the Roundhouse arts center in London and serving on the board of Somerset House, a creative community that emphasizes the work of emerging artists.
In 2017, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE.
“He packed a lot into his short life,” Ms. Elliott said. And he packed a lot of that life into the pages of Time Out.