Private Eye is 50

Over the last 50 years the great and the not-so-good have resented a grubby little publication called Private Eye and not just because their fingers have reproduced the inky headlines from its cheap newsprint pages.

Though it might be messy to handle it has published all the news that’s unfit to print, or more accurately all the news that our great periodicals have thought too litigious, too likely to upset their proprietors or too likely to scare away advertisers to print. Many journalists have filed stories to Private Eye which they could not get their own newspapers to publish.

On the whole Private Eye has got away with publishing potentially libellous copy because it has been served up alongside with, but disassociated from satire. It could therefore be dismissed, by the impecunious greats, as being taken with a pinch of salt.

Of the greats who had the cash to fight, many sensibly kept their heads down, and ignored the story until it went away. But some took the magazine on. That is when they discovered in what low esteem they were held in the Public Eye, as readers gave generously to legal fighting funds.

Private Eye has published and promoted the work of more than 90
artists, including Yachting Monthly’s Nick Newman. Many of them started their careers at the magazine, including Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, William Rushton, Barry Fantoni, Michael Heath, John Kent and Ed McLachlan.

From 18 October until the 8 January the Victoria & Albert Museum in London will hold an exhibition celebrating 50 years of Private Eye.This display will explore the wealth of artistic talent that the magazine has fostered by showing the original artwork for some of the finest and funniest Private Eye cartoons.The illustrations will be shown in thematic sections on politics, royalty and social observation. They are richly varied in style and tone and take the form of single cartoons with captions, long-running strips and caricatures.

Ian Hislop, Editor of Private Eye, has chosen 50 of the best of the trademark front covers, one from every year the magazine has been published. The front covers will be arranged in a timeline, offering a graphic satirical history of the news over five decades.

Visually, Private Eye is renowned for its low-fi aesthetic. The cut-and-paste production technique and overall look have changed little in over 50 years, despite the switch from cowgum to computers and letraset to the internet.

Private Eye: the first 50 years will evoke the atmosphere of the magazine’s Soho office, with a recreation of the editor’s paper-strewn desk. There will also be seldom-seen ephemera from the magazine’s past campaigns and court cases, as well as a life-sized cut out of Tony Blair, a stuffed dog, a flying Robert Maxwell and a giant inflatable banana.

Ian Hislop said: ‘At last. Private Eye makes an art of itself.’ (continued on page 94)