TO celebrate its half-century, Luke Rix-Standing take a scroll through some of the most arresting cover images of this iconic urban mag.

ANYONE who has visited a major world city - in particular, London - is likely to have seen a copy of Time Out magazine. A listings bible, it has everything from comedy gigs and events to interviews.

And this year, Time Out turns 50. The magazine, which is now beloved the world over, has been through a host of iterations to get to where it is today.

Through the early years, it was intensely political: "The problem with Time Out," Mick Jagger once told an editor, "you have to cross a picket line to get to the music listings". But the magazine mellowed with age, morphing into a lifestyle handbook for events, restaurants and nightlife.

The cover was the heart and soul of each edition, and the team treated it like an advertising hoarding. Time Out founder Tony Elliott - who made the first issue at his kitchen table - would turn down requests from his marketing department by saying: "We don't need to market it, it's right there on the news stand!"

So, here is a look back at some of the most influential covers from the magazine over the past half-century.

1. Time Out #1

When Time Out launched in 1968, it was a passion project for the 21 year-old Elliott - a student at Keele University. His eight-page pamphlet was printed on folded-over sheets of A2, and produced once every three weeks.

Its slightly esoteric first cover was snipped by Elliott from a publicity shot from the Museum of Contemporary Arts. We're not quite sure what it is, but, to be honest, we're not sure he was either.

2. Andy Warhol - a major coup

In 1971, Time Out featured an interview with Andy Warhol, and slapped this classic pastiche on the cover. It was a flagship moment for the fledgling magazine - just three years old and scoring exclusives with the king of pop art. Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson would soon be snapped up too, while Elton John and Monty Python went on to guest edit.

The early Seventies also saw the creation of Time Out's news section - and the hiring of its first actual journalists. Their editorials were progressive, provocative, and laced with political radicalism.

A catalogue of edgy stories saw two Time Out writers arrested by officers from the Special Branch after interviewing a GCHQ whistle-blower. This kind of incident led to intense police scrutiny, but that's the kind of publicity money can't buy.

3. What happens when we die?

Time Out was an alternative publication with underground credentials and few competitors, so through the early days it didn't care much for editorial structure. Take this cover from February 1975: The featured story started life as a light-hearted piece on what happens to you in London when you expire, but morphed into an essay on the Victorian relationship with death.

The covers themselves were often more spontaneous still: "The budgets were minimal and the deadlines tight," recalls Design Director Pearce Marchbank. "I had about two days from the original discussion with the editors to the delivery of the artwork, so often we worked through the night."

The feet in this image belong to photographer Roger Perry's girlfriend, and the label displays Marchbank's actual London address at the time.

4. Embracing pop culture

If some covers evolved organically, others were a labour of love. Without even the most rudimentary digital imaging, the team manually recreated the Space Invaders arcade game on a giant piece of board, which they carefully coated with little bits of print to create this 1980 centrepiece. Marchbank remembers only too well: "It was a hell of a lot of work."

It is perhaps fitting that the decade began with Space Invaders - as the following year saw a re-launch that aimed the magazine squarely at lifestyle and leisure. Gone were the interviews with whistle-blowers, the snooping investigative reporters, and the dogged left-wing editorials. In their place came nightlife, consumer culture, and social trends.

5. Drugs, drinking, and the swingin' nineties

Given its focus on London's murky underbelly, it's no surprise that this 1994 offering was the foremost of several editions devoted to the capital's narcotics scene. Researched to the highest professional standards, it was, quipped Art Director Jeremy Leslie, "the only time I've managed to claim drugs on expenses".

By this time the magazine's political radicalism had all but vanished, but in the era of Cool Britannia the ever avant-garde Time Out had its finger on the pulse. Culture was more popular than ever, and most of the major writers were deeply embedded in their fields. "Whatever industry contact you needed," says ex-Editor Dominic Wells, "they would not only know them, they would have been out drinking with them until four in the morning."

Gone was the late-Eighties gloom, and the Time Out office flourished in a state of organised chaos. "There were tonnes of smokers," recalls Wells, "and we'd often get drinks in if people were working late."

6. Time Out International

Time Out will forever be associated with London, but since the Nineties it has successfully spread editions around the world.

The magazine now releases editions in 39 foreign capitals and major cities, including Miami, Tel Aviv, Melbourne and Shanghai. New York was the first port of call - 1995 saw the launch of TONY, an acronym that will not have gone unnoticed by Time Out's founder.

A collage of colour fronted a recent copy of Time Out Hong Kong, using post-it notes to list '50 things we love about Hong Kong'. Examples read 'freedom', 'nightlife', and 'dim sum'.

7. Time Out goes free

In 2012 Time Out used this typically innuendo-laden cover to announce that it would, for the first time, be handed out for free. Management insisted the decision had nothing to do with declining revenues - "it's the right place at the right time" - but the magazine's paid circulation was declining.

If the internet changed how content was communicated, mobile phones changed the content itself. "Once people could change plans with a call, Londoners became more fickle," says Laura Lee Davies, London Editor across the new millennium. "They didn't need to think ahead, and people were too busy to read something that cost more than £3 every week, let alone do half the things it told them about."

8. Lisbon's LGBT crow

Sex sells, and Time Out knew it. The 'Weird Sex' edition of 1996 eschewed the merely risque for the almost pornographic with a sex doll-inspired cover (sub-heading: 'Are you missing out?'), and sold out almost instantly. A 1986 cover revelled in Soho sleaze - 'the strange secrets of London's black mile' - while a 2014 cover featured a sausage and bun with three simple words: The sex issue.

With sex came sexuality: In 1979, Time Out became the first non-gay publication to devote their cover to LGBT issues, emblazoning an edition with the iconic pink triangle. "The Agitpop pages were essential reading for political activists," recalled Peter Tatchell, "and the news pages gave the best coverage of the new Gay Liberation Front."

An attractive Time Out Lisbon cover in 2016 celebrated the city's gay scene with a crow - the symbol of Lisbon - engulfed by the colours of the rainbow flag.

9. Try not to stare...

Part-magazine part-art installation, a classic New York cover from 2016 exemplified Time Out's grand tradition of experimental, stylised visuals.

The abstract image was designed to symbolise 'the secret side' of New York City - though it's probably not one to marvel at too long if you value your relationship with your eyes.

Other startling covers have featured a cut-out Elvis Presley mask; Frank Zappa's face constructed entirely out of a musical score; and the London skyline transformed into a skull-like visage, with the moon and the face of Big Ben for eyes.