That’s a pretty good rule of thumb. And it is also Byron Jackson’s approach. Byron, who runs a c-store in Burry Port, South Wales, with his wife Nadette, emailed me with a bit of a saga. He writes: “We (rightly or wrongly) restrict the sale of the only two top-shelf magazines we stock to those over 18 years of age.” Sounds like a good policy to me.

Then a woman came into the store to berate him over the sale by a member of staff of the new weekly called Nuts to her 13-year-old son. “Note,” writes Byron, “that we ‘sold it’, he did not ‘buy it’. And she further baffled me by saying that she was most upset because he was accompanied by her eight-year-old son when he made the purchase – she was apparently outside in the car watching all this.”

He adds that he refrained from pointing out to her that, by her logic, she should be refused the sale of alcohol, tobacco etc. if she were accompanied by a minor. What a good point. He informed the customer that Nuts was not an age-restricted product. She insisted that it was and then added a couple of porkies, saying that she had spoken both to the police and to John Menzies, the wholesaler. Byron also spoke to Menzies, who were of the opinion that there were no age restrictions on Nuts. And he called his trading standards officer who agreed with him and Menzies.

Researching this, I learn from my files (the ‘Porn’ file sits, quite slim and prim, between the fattish ‘Pensions’ file and the v. fat ‘Post Offices’ file) that there is little in the way of legislation regarding what are commonly referred to as ‘top shelf’ titles. Magazine content is covered by the Obscene Publications Act, but you are not going to have had any hard core stuff delivered by the likes of Menzies or any other of the big wholesalers for that matter.

The ‘top shelf’ approach just amounts to a set of guidelines issued by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN). It suggests that ‘adult’ magazines should be stocked out of the reach of children and sold only to those over the age of 18. There is furthermore no real definition of what constitutes an adult magazine. But if the title is ‘editorially led’, says the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA), ie contains news stories, features, celeb interviews, reviews and so on, then it is not top shelf.

If it’s very high on pictorial content of what I would call the ‘rudie-nudie’ type, and has very few words except for risqué ones, then it could be classified as adult. Nuts does not fall into this category according to the PPA which says if a magazine does qualify as top shelf then the publisher will tell the wholesaler who will tell the retailer, and the Home Office is happy with that. It is also up to the retailer to use common sense regarding his/her target market, which I believe Byron has done.

I rang WH Smith to see if they concurred with John Menzies and a spokeswoman there said she thought Nuts was just a men’s lifestyle weekly and that WH Smith took its guide from the Magazine Distribution Book, published by Emap, which is issued every quarter and gives guidance on what to stock where. Emap’s spokeswoman also said that Nuts fell into the men’s lifestyle category.

I finally spoke to David Daniel, corporate affairs manager at NFRN, who agreed with the others. He says that the only time you have to be careful is when a magazine has a cover mount, such as a free CD, which may in itself be age-restricted, but this should be pointed out to you by your supplier. “The public should perhaps be guardian of their children’s morals,” he tactfully suggests. “Retailers are easy targets.” I also tried to speak to Nuts itself, published by IPC, but so far no one has responded to my email message.