One of the greater things about living in a democracy with a free Press is that you can hold that so called free Press up to the light for proper and thorough scrutiny. The British Press, and we include both sides of the Political coin here, have aligned themselves with the Political Parties of their choice and thus, our daily newspapers are a quagmire of tittle-tattle, scandal, political name calling and, on occasions, all out lying. So it's a blessed relief then that we also have Private Eye magazine. And this week sees that trusted organ reach it's half century of publication.
So to celebrate, let's have a little light reflection....
Private Eye started out purely as a satirical periodical, founded by Christopher Brooker, Andrew Osmond, Richard Ingrams and Willie Rushton. Quickly, however, it also became a source of investigative journalism when the great Paul Foot became involved. Legendary satirist and comedian Peter Cook also became a major contributor both in funding and material. Other early contributors, many who stayed for the course, included Barry Humphries, Gerald Scarfe, Auberon Waugh, John Bird, Barry Fantoni, John Wells, and Sir John Betjeman who wrote the first few 'Nooks And Corners' columns which attacked the ugliness of modern architecture.
The magazine became instantly recognisable for it's notorious 'speech bubble' covers; some, like the infamous Lady Diana memorial edition causing much public offence.
Very quickly the magazine took on the mantle of media scrutineer; picking holes in media broadcasts, highlighting hypocrisy and untrue reportage in the newspapers, hounding tax-evaders, ridiculing media and financial fat-cats, questioning MP's expenses, investigating dodgy deals between politicians and arms dealers or between shady businesses and the police, and generally just being a thorn in the side of the corrupt and the corrupting.
Of course it's not all politics at the Eye; many regular columns investigate a myriad of other social discrepancies; 'Rotten Boroughs' investigates corruption in local councils, 'The Agri Brigade' takes a (metaphorical) scythe to all things farm and farm produce related, 'Signal Failures' looks at the problems and scandals affecting the rail networks, 'Square Basher' covers all things to do with the army, and 'Medicine Balls', possibly the most alarming column in the magazine, investigates the troubles related to the NHS, often relying on whistle-blowers whose information on how badly the NHS is being handled, and how the current Government are desperate to get rid of this unspeakably essential institution, makes for very troubling reading.
But, of course, the magazine is also spectacularly funny! It's constant parodying of the cult of celebrity alone is unrelenting, as indeed are it's attacks on the pretensious('Pseud's Corner') and it's regular 'CommentatorBalls' feature, which spotlights hilarious gaffes by TV pundits.
As you would expect for a publication that doesn't flinch from naming and shaming, the Eye has made many enemies over the years, namely Robert Maxwell who repeatedly sued the magazine for libel(although clearly the Eye was vindicated in the end!), Rupert Murdoch, corrupt MP Johnathan Aitken, Tory MPs Neil Hamilton and Cecil Parkinson, and news reporter Andrew Marr who they revealed was behind a press gagging injunction whilst all the while preaching about freedom of speech.
Private Eye's investigating has often been years ahead of the game, and not without it's own controversy; the Eye was the first to suggest that John Profumo be taken to task over his relationship with Christine Keeler; it was the first to name the Kray twins as London's most feared gangsters( a report which led then editor Peter Cook to leave the country for a short while!); it suggested as far back as 1977 that Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles were more than friends; a month after the Lockerbie bombing, Paul Foot suggested that Libya was NOT responsible for the bombing, and that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was an innocent patsy.
Today, under the editorship of Ian Hislop, the magazine remains as thorough, as ruthless, as funny, and above all, as essential as it did 50 years ago.
We won't end by saying here's to another 50 years, we'll say "Here's to time when we won't need Private Eye because all corruption and political wrong-doing will be a thing of the past!"
Not likely is it?
Happy 50th Lord Gnome!!