Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Private Eye

The satirical English magazine Private Eye was created in the mid-fifties at Shrewsbury School, in England. Four friends, Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Booker and Paul Foot edited a magazine called “The Salopian”, Private Eye’s forerunner, which is still edited today as a biannual magazine talking about the progress and development of the school. When they left Shrewsbury School, Ingrams and Foot went to Oxford, where they met their future collaborators, amongst whom Andrew Osmond and Peter Usborne, who will become the business managers of Private Eye in its early days.

The transition from The Salopian to Private Eye did not occur without any difficulties.
The first major change was obviously the nameAs regards to the origins of the magazine’s name, note that “private eye” is a rather informal expression which means: “a private detective”, i.e. an investigator privately employed to obtain information which is not easily available to the public. 
This expression illustrates the main goal of the magazine, which aims to uncover some unusual pieces of information about politicians or other individuals or groups. One of the collaborators of the magazine at the time of its creation, Andrew Osmond, drew his inspiration from Lord Kitchener’s 1914 recruiting poster: he was initially interested in the pointing finger. However, the noun “Finger” was rejected, which is why he chose “Private Eye”, in the sense of someone who “fingers”, e.g identifies, a suspect.

The increase in the magazine's popularity mainly came from the anecdotes and scandals round the issues. Private Eye’s first editor, Richard Ingrams, had a reputation for taking risks, sometimes considerable ones. The biggest battle he had to face was against the business man Sir James Goldsmith (i.e. Sir James Fishpaste, as the Eye called him) in 1976. The latter was accused of being part of a conspiracy to protect Lord Lucan after he disappeared under suspicion of murdering his children's nanny. Goldsmith tried to destroy the Eye by suing not only the magazine but also the distributors and the wholesalers in an attempt to prevent anyone from selling the paper. Ingrams indemnified all of the recipients of these writs and, by doing so, lost a lot of money. After this affair, a rally of support was organized by the British public to support the booklet.

As the Eye’s editor since 1986, Hislop has become the most sued man in the legal history of Great Britain. 
In 1989 , the magazine editor had to give 600 000 pounds to Sonia Sutcliffe, wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, which led him to deliver one of the best quotes in legal history:  “If that is justice, then I am a banana!”. 

However, the magazine may not be proud of the “MMR affair” (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) in which they had exposed a possible link between MMR and autism, leading to a drop in MMR vaccination. This accusation was seen as dangerous and misleading as later on it was proved that there was absolutely no link between the disease and the deficiency.

Even though there have been some changes since the beginning of their magazine, Private Eye's collaborators keep a conservative mind.

In this digital era, the paper has remained non-digital. Being badly printed on low quality paper is part of its appeal and gives the impression that it is a gossip sheet. But the journalist and magazine publisher Andrew Neil has doubts about the longevity of the magazine if it does not go digital. 
Indeed, it has become increasingly difficult to get a scoop because of the emergence of the Internet.

Private Eye is a satirical magazine which has become part of the great English institutions alongside cricket, proms and the major public schools from which its founders mostly sprang. Its popularity comes from the scandals that it engendered thanks to its anecdotes, rumours, accusations and criticisms about individuals or groups. The Eye's formula has changed very little in half a century, but “is there still a place in this world for something that is trying so hard not to change ?” (BBC Radio 4)

Sources  : private_eye_vintage_documentary_on_the_thorn_in_the_side - -

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