homehomepeopleJim Bailey

Names: Bailey, Jim

Born: 23 October 1919, Johannesburg, South Africa

Died: 29 February 2000

In Summary: Founder of Drum magazine (1950) and The Golden City Post (1955), author, historian, poet and RAF pilot.

The son of the diamond and gold Randlord, Sir Abe Bailey, Jim Bailey was born in Johannesburg in 1919.

Jim Bailey was educated at Winchester and Oxford, and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in September 1939. Bailey fought in several battles during WW2 as a pilot, flying the Defiant, Hurricane and Beaufighter models of aeroplanes.

Bailey wrote poems about his war pilot experiences, which were published in The Poetry of a Fighter Pilot (1993). He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts as an RAF pilot in London in 1945.

Bailey’s more prominent role was as founder of Drum magazine (1951) and The Golden City Post (1955), a newspaper. Bailey came to own Drum almost co-incidentally. The magazine was started as The African Drum in early 1951 by the journalist and broadcaster Robert Crisp with the idea of ‘presenting blacks as noble savages’. One of the people approached for capital was Bailey, who thought the venture sounded interesting. He put up a large portion of the capital (reportedly due to the inheritance that he received from his father). When the magazine’s circulation started dropping, Crisp was forced out of office and Bailey took over. The magazines offices were moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Bailey arranged for an advisory board of prominent Black businessmen and politicians, hired Anthony Sampson as editor, and outlined an editorial policy that would concentrate on crime, sex, sport and pin-up photographs. The title was changed to ‘Drum’. 

Many legends of hard drinking, endless parties, meanness, generosity, wilfulness and even wickedness are usually part of any Bailey biography. Drum journalist, Arthur Maimane, accused Bailey of "practising apartheid by not paying blacks and whites equally… we were told, that we didn't need the same money as whites, that our standards of living were lower so we didn't require as much." Maimane's salary was reputedly the same as the secretary's.

Obed Musi, who literally started his journalistic career as a ‘tea boy’ at the magazine, had a different opinion: "The parties at Bailey's were swinging occasions," he remembers. "Bailey's done a lot to put black journalism on the map and to break down racial barriers. When you walked into Drum you walked into a different world." Two of Drum's editors from the 1950s, Anthony Sampson and Sylvester Stein, have commented about their proprietor that "he had a streak of genius and a tremendous amount of flair and drive" (Sampson); and that although he was a "difficult man and everyone had problems with him", he also "achieved some amazing results" (Stein).

Under Bailey’s vision, Drum went on to become one of the most widely read magazines in Africa, and produced some of the most well known South African journalists and photographers, such as Can Themba, Richard Rive, Es’kia Mphahlele, Peter Magubane and others.

Jim Bailey (together with the South African Associated Newspapers) also owns City Press, a newspaper aimed at the Black reading market.

Bailey also wrote several books from 1958 - 1993, on topics which ranged from history and wartime memoirs to poetry and culture.

Bailey died at the age of 80, on 29 February 2000. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Epstein (whom he married in 1962) and his four children.

Bailey’s published works:

  • National Ambitions (1958)
  • Eskimo Nell (1964)
  • The God-Kings and Titans (1973)
  • The Poetry of a Fighter Pilot (1993)
  • Sailing to Paradise (1993)

Further reading: