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Private Eye

Private Eye is a fortnightly British satirical magazine, edited by Ian Hislop. Since its first publication in 1961, Private Eye has been a prominent critic of public figures deemed incompetent, inefficient or corrupt, and has become a self-styled "thorn in the side" of the British establishment, though it also receives much criticism and ire, both for its style and for its willingness to print defamatory and controversial stories. This was reflected in its once prominent libel lawsuits, for which it became notorious. As the UK's best-selling current affairs magazine, such is its long-term popularity and significance that many jokes and cultural miscellanea from its pages have entered popular culture.


The forerunner of Private Eye was a school magazine edited by Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Booker and Paul Foot at Shrewsbury School in the mid-1950s (The Wallopian). After National Service Ingrams and Foot went to the University of Oxford, where they met their future collaborators Peter Usborne, Andrew Osmond, John Wells and Danae Brook, among others.

The magazine proper began when Peter Usborne learned of a new printing process, photo-litho offset, which meant that anybody with a typewriter and Letraset could design a magazine. The magazine was initially funded by Osmond and was launched in 1961. It was named when Andrew Osmond looked for ideas in the famous recruiting poster of Lord Kitchener (an image of Kitchener pointing with the caption "Wants You") and, in particular, the pointing finger. After the name "Finger" was rejected, Osmond suggested "Private Eye", in the sense of someone who "fingers" a suspect. The magazine was initially edited by Christopher Booker and designed by Willie Rushton, who also drew cartoons for it. Its later editor Richard Ingrams was then pursuing a career as an actor, sharing the editorship with Booker on his return around issue 10 and taking over fully only on issue 40. At first the Eye was merely a vehicle for silly jokes, an extension of the original school magazine, and an alternative to Punch. However, according to Booker, it simply got "caught up in the rage for satire".

After the magazine's initial success, more funding was provided by Nicholas Luard and Peter Cook, who ran The Establishment satire club, and Private Eye became a fully professional publication.

Other people essential to the development of the magazine were Auberon Waugh, Claud Cockburn (who had run a pre-war scandal sheet, The Week), Barry Fantoni, Gerald Scarfe, Tony Rushton, Patrick Marnham and Candida Betjeman. Christopher Logue was another long-time contributor, providing a fortnightly column of "True Stories" featuring cuttings from the national press. The gossip columnist Nigel Dempster wrote extensively for the magazine before he fell out with the editor and other writers, and Paul Foot wrote on politics, local government and corruption.

Ingrams continued as the magazine's editor until 1986, and was succeeded by Ian Hislop. Ingrams is still Chairman of the holding company.

Nature of the magazine

Private Eye is often accused of specialising in scurrilous gossip and scandal about the misdeeds of the powerful and famous, and has been the recipient of numerous libel writs. These have included three issued by Sir James Goldsmith and several by Robert Maxwell, one of which resulted in costs and reported damages of £225,000 and attacks on the magazine through the publication of a book, Malice in Wonderland, and a magazine, Not Private Eye published by Maxwell. But its defenders point out that it frequently carries news that the mainstream press is frightened to use for fear of legal reprisals, or that is of minority interest. The Eye will often print a story when hard evidence is lacking but there is an overwhelming consensus that the story is true. It is also thought that the Eye avoids breaking stories of politicians' extramarital activities on moral grounds, but it will freely comment on such matters when they are unearthed elsewhere.

Unearthing scandals and breaking news

Many of the contributors to Private Eye are public figures or specialists in their field who write anonymously, often under humorous pseudonyms. Stories often originate from writers for more mainstream publications who cannot get their stories published by their employers.

The magazine frequently breaks news stories before any other outlet. It was the first outlet to name the Kray twins as the gang leaders terrorising the London underworld in the 1960s. This only occurred as the then editor Richard Ingrams was on holiday and proprietor Peter Cook standing in for him thought it too good an opportunity to miss.

A financial column at the back of the magazine ("In the City", written by Michael Gillard) has contributed to a wide city and business readership as a large number of financial scandals and unethical business practices and personalities were first exposed there.

Running in-jokes

The magazine has a number of running in-jokes and convoluted references, often comprehensible only to those who have read the magazine for many years. These in-jokes may consist of referring to controversies or legal ambiguities in a subtle euphemistic code, such as replacing "drunk" with "tired and emotional", or using the phrase "Ugandan discussions" to denote illicit sexual exploits, or they may consist of more obvious parodies utilising easily-recognisable stereotypes, such as the lampooning of any Conservative MP viewed to be particularly old-fashioned and bigoted as "Sir Bufton Tufton", or a variation thereof. Terms such as "Ugandan discussions" have fallen in to disuse as their hidden meanings have become better known (see Euphemism Treadmill). The first half of the issue, containing reporting and investigative journalism, tends to include these in-jokes in a more subtle manner, so as to maintain journalistic integrity, while the second half, more geared around unrestrained parody and cutting humour, tends to present itself in a more confrontational way.

Layout and style

Private Eye has lagged behind other magazines in adopting various typesetting and printing technologies. At the start it was laid out with scissors and paste, lending an amateurish look to the pages, and for some years after layout tools became available the magazine retained this technique to maintain its look. Today the magazine is still predominantly in black and white (though the cover and some cartoons inside appear in colour) and there is more text and less white space than is normal for a modern magazine. The former "Colour Section" was ironically named, since it was printed in black and white like the rest of the magazine: only the content was colourful.

Special Editions

The magazine has published a series of independent special editions dedicated solely to news reporting of particular current events, such as government inadequacy over the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, the conviction in January 2001 of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing (Lockerbie: the flight from justice, May/June 2001), or the MMR vaccine (The MMR: A Special Report, subtitled: "The story so far: a comprehensive review of the MMR vaccination/autism controversy" 2002).

Another special issue was published in September 2004 to mark the death of long-time staff member Paul Foot.

Regular sections

Factual columns

  • "Ad Nauseam" – the excesses, plagiarism and creative failings of the advertising industry.
  • "Called to Ordure" – reporting from recent committee appearances by regulators or otherwise senior civil servants.
  • "Curse of Gnome" An irregular column in which targets of the Eye who have responded in return are mocked when they suffer a severe misfortune.
  • "Doing The Rounds" – medical news and coverage of the National Health Service, written by the general practitioner (and sometime comedian) Dr Phil Hammond.
  • "Down On The Farm"agricultural issues.
  • "Down On The Fishfarm" – issues relating to fish-farming.
  • "Eye TV" – analysis of television programmes and news/criticism of the UK television industry. (ITV is a British TV channel).
  • "Funny Old World" – supposedly genuine news stories from around the world; compiled by Victor Lewis-Smith. Continued an earlier column, Christopher Logue's True Stories.
  • "Hackwatch" – a column whose main theme highlights the inconsistency and inaccuracy in reporting by high-paid journalists.
  • "High Principals" – examining further and higher education issues and spotlighting individuals who might have acted in their own best interest or those of family, friends and associates, rather than in the interest of the wider academic community.
  • "HP Sauce" – covering politics and politicians. ("HP" refers to Houses of Parliament, as well as being an actual brand of sauce.)
  • "In The Back" – in-depth investigative journalism, often taking the side of the downtrodden. This section was until 2004 overseen by the late Paul Foot under whose tenure it was known as Footnotes. It often features stories on potential miscarriages of justice and stories on other embarrassing establishment misdeeds. In the Back was first used in 1999, when Paul Foot suffered an aortic aneurysm and had to spend six months in hospital and the Footnotes name was completely dropped in 2004.
  • "In The City" – analysis of financial and city affairs and people.
  • "Letter From..." – column purporting to be written by a resident of a particular country highlighting the political or social situation there, the name coming from Alistair Cooke's Letter from America.
  • "Levelling the Playing Fields" – chronicling what it sees as the public sector's bid to sell off as much of its remaining recreational green space as possible to supermarkets or housing development.
  • "Literary Review" – book reviews and news from the world of publishing and bookselling. The masthead from the magazine of the same name, formerly edited by Auberon Waugh (aka, Abraham Wargs, "The Voice of Himself"), is lifted for this section.
  • "Man/Woman in the Eye" – usually detailing the past exploits of someone recently appointed into a government advisory role and why these exploits make their appointment unsuitable or contradictory.
  • "Music and Musicians" – gossip on the artistic and political intrigues behind the scenes in the world of classical music. Written by "Lunchtime O'Boulez" (Lunchtime O'Booze has been the resident Private Eye journalist since the earliest days; Pierre Boulez, French avant garde composer and conductor, was a controversial choice as Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the early 1970s, a time still remembered by many as a Dark Age of British music-making). In an earlier incarnation, the column published scurrilous and unfounded gossip about the London Symphony Orchestra, which resulted in a significant libel pay-out.
  • "News" (previously called "The Colour Section") – effectively the stories the magazine is most proud of that week or thinks most important, placed at its front.
  • "Nooks & Corners"architectural criticism. This is one of the magazine's most famous sections. It was originally titled "Nooks & Corners of the New Barbarism", a reference to the architectural movement known as New Brutalism. The column was founded by John Betjeman, and is currently written by architectural historian Gavin Stamp using the name 'Piloti'.
  • "Rotten Boroughs" – a column reporting on dubious practice in local government. The name of the column is a play on the term 'rotten borough'. This section is written by a number of regionally specialist reporters, none of whom is credited, and is edited by Tim Minogue.
  • "Signal Failures" – covering railway issues. The author name 'Dr B. Ching' refers to Dr Richard Beeching who wielded the Beeching Axe, a report that led to widespread cuts to the British railway network in the 1960s.
  • "Street of Shame" – covering journalism, newspapers and other press stories. The term 'Street of Shame' refers to Fleet Street. Usually largely written by Francis Wheen and Adam Macqueen.
  • "Under The Microscope" – looking at issues related to the scientific field.
  • "Wikipedia Whispers" – reporting cases of personalities apparently editing their own Wikipedia entries to make them more favourable. It also claimed that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales personally took down the entry for controversial lawyer Giovanni di Stefano, done, it said, in response to legal threats from de Stefano over claims made in the profile.

The magazine also features periodic 'news' columns such as "Library News", "Libel News", "Charity News" and others, detailing recent happenings in those circles. These follow predictable formats: library news usually chronicles local councils' bids to close libraries; libel news usually highlights what it sees as unjust libel judgements; while charity news usually questions the financial propriety of particular charities.

Satirical columns

  • "Court Circular" – a parody of The Daily Telegraph and The Times' Court Circular sections which detail the activities of the Royal Family: for example, "HRH Prince Harry attended the opening of a bottle of vodka at Slappers Niteclub in Kensington."
  • "Diary" – a parody of the weekly 'diary' column which appears in The Spectator magazine, written by Craig Brown in the style of the chosen celebrity.

Newspaper parodies

The latter half of the magazine is taken up with parodies of newspapers; the layout and style of writing mirrors newspapers, which serve as vehicles for parody and satire of current events, plus spoof adverts. Where further content is implied, but omitted, this is said to continue on page 94.

  • Lunchtime O'Booze has been the Eye's resident journalist since the early days. The name is a comment on journalists' traditional fondness for alcohol, their prandial habits, the suspicion that they get their stories by hanging around the pub and talking to people they meet there and, by implication, the amount of reliance which might be placed upon their reports.
  • Glenda Slagg – brash, libidinous and self-contradictory female reporter based on Jean Rook and Lynda Lee-Potter. Every sentence from Slagg ends with an onslaught of punctuation made up of repeated "?" and "!" signs, and often features intermittent commentary from the 'editor' such as "you've done this already, get on with it" or, ultimately, "you're fired". Successive paragraphs in the column will frequently express contradictory opinions of the same person.
  • Sally Jockstrap – a fictional sports columnist who is incapable of correctly reporting any sporting facts. Her articles are usually a mishmash of references with several sports, along the lines of "there was drama at Twickenham as Michael Schumacher double faulted to give Arsenal victory". Said to be inspired by Lynne Truss.
  • Dave Spart – ultra-left wing activist (always of a ridiculous-sounding collective or magazine - sometimes the New Spartsman or the Indescribably Sparty – frequently based in Neasden) who is given free rein to express his views. These always begin "Once again ...", before attempting to lambast the subject of his anger for allegedly constant misconduct, prejudice or general wrongdoing. This very rarely gets further than a few words before it breaks down into a fragmented litany of "sickening... totally sickening... worse than Hitler..." and so on, before being abruptly curtailed by the inevitable "continued on page 94". Since he must take the alternative view on any subject, he often ends up contradicting himself and getting stuck in logical circles, frequently stopping with "Er..." but continuing anyway.
  • Poetry Corner – trite obituaries of the recently deceased in the form of poems from the fictional teenage poet E. J. Thribb (17½). The poems (nearly) always have a heading "In Memoriam..." and usually begin "So. Farewell then".
  • A Doctor Writes – the fictional "A. Doctor" or "Dr Thomas Utterfraud" parodies newspaper articles on topical medical conditions, particularly those by Dr Thomas Stuttaford.
  • Polly Filler – a vapid and self-centred female "lifestyle" columnist, whose irrelevant personal escapades and gossip serve solely to fill column inches. She complains bitterly about the workload of the modern woman whilst passing all parental responsibility on to "the au pair", who always comes from a less-advanced country, is paid a pittance, and fails to understand the workings of some mundane aspect of "lifestyle" life. Her name is derived from Polyfilla, a DIY product used to fill holes and cracks in plaster. Polly's sister Penny Dreadful makes an occasional appearance. Like several Private Eye regulars, Polly is based upon more than one female columnist who can be difficult to identify, but Jane Moore of The Sun, whose remarks are often echoed by Polly or commented on elsewhere in the magazine, is a major source. Additionally, the column is a sly dig (as opposed to the more usual Eye bludgeoning with a blunt instrument) at the Murdoch empire in general and Sky Television in particular, as Polly's husband, "the useless Simon", is usually mentioned as being in front of the television (wasting time) watching exotic sports on obscure satellite television channels (a News Corporation speciality).
  • Toy-town News or Nursery Times – a newspaper based on the mythology of children's stories. For example, Royal butler Paul Burrell was satirised as the "Knave of Hearts" who was "lent" tarts "for safe keeping", rather than stealing them as in the rhyme. Nigel Dempster is referred to as "Humpty Dumpster".
  • Ye Daily Tudorgraph – a newspaper written in mock-Tudor language, set in that time-period, and clearly a parody of the Daily Telegraph. It usually suggests that former Daily Telegraph editor Bill Deedes was a young boy at the time.
  • The Has-Beano – a pastiche of Britain's long-running Beano children's comic, used to satirise The Spectator and Boris Johnson (who features as the lead character, Boris the Menace).
  • Obvious headline – the trite and banal stories about celebrities' antics that receive extensive reporting in the national press are often rewritten as an anonymous headline, such as "SHOCK NEWS: MAN HAS SEX WITH SECRETARY". This is usually "EXCLUSIVE TO ALL NEWSPAPERS".
  • Official Apology or Product Recall – spoofs the official apologies and product recall notices that newspapers are mandated to print. For example, the subject might be the English national football team.
  • Gnomemart – the Christmas special edition of Private Eye includes a double page of spoof adverts for useless mail-order gadgets, usually endorsed by topical celebrities, as being capable of playing topical songs or TV theme tunes.
  • Mary Ann Bighead – a satire of the former The Times columnist and assistant editor Mary Ann Sieghart. Bighead is lampooned as being pretentious, ignorant, and boastful of her two children Brainella (3) and Intelligencia (7), her high standard of living, her travels (mainly to developing countries where she patronises the locals) and the fact that she can speak so many languages (including Swahili, Tagalog and 13th Century Mongolian).
  • Pop Scene by Maureen Cleavage – originally a micky-take on press coverage of the music business and Maureen Cleave, who had a "pop" column on the Evening Standard. At the time (early to mid-1960s), popular culture was starting to be taken more seriously by the heavier newspapers; some claim that the Eye gang considered this approach to be pretentious, and ripe for ridicule, although others counter-argue that the Eye was in fact covering popular culture before some of the more serious newspapers did. Cleave was supposedly a close friend of John Lennon, indeed she is often credited with bringing the notorious "more popular than Jesus" remark to public notice. Her style was similar to the gushing and uncritical content which now typifies "Bizarre" in The Sun and the "3am Girls" in the Daily Mirror. This section provided an outlet for satirical comment on the activities of popular musicians of the time. Their antics were usually attributed to "The Turds pop group" (fictional) and their charismatic leader "Spiggy Topes". "The Turds" and "Topes" were originally based on The Beatles and a thinly disguised John Lennon, but the names became applied to any rock star or band whose excesses featured in the popular press (Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols, for example). This section first appeared in issue Number 69 in August 1964.
  • Neasden United FC, playing in the wonderfully depressingly and surreally named North Circular Relegation League, is a football club from Neasden, North London often used to satirize the state of British football in general with the manager "ashen-faced supremo Ron Knee, 59" possibly from Ron Atkinson and their only two fans "Sid and Doris Bonkers" playing on the idea of tiny devoted mindless fanbases of unsuccessful football clubs. In this case, spectacularly unsuccessful, as they invariably lose by a double-figure margin and if they score it is "one boot", flying off the foot of their ageing striker Baldy Pevsner, who usually chips in with several own goals. The reports are written by "E. I. Addio", a punning reference to popular football chanting. Neasden results are reported under the headline "late score". Their opponents are usually far-fetched, such as Taleban United who have featured on more than one occasion.
  • Police log - Neasden Central Police Station – a fictional police station log, satirising current police policies that are met with general contempt and/or disdain. Ordinary police activities are ignored, with police attention limited to 'counter-terrorism' and obsessive political correctness and pointless bureaucracy. Examples may include an incident in which an elderly woman is attacked by a gang of youths, and is arrested (and unfortunately dies of "natural causes" in police custody) for infringing on their right to terrorise OAPs, or the officers who arrest themselves for ordering a Full English, in direct contravention of the Celtic Minority (Non-Discriminatory Breakfast Provision) Regulations 2006.
  • In the hot metal era, The Guardian was first lampooned as The Grauniad for its typographical errors. The Eye continues to use the name, and the word has entered the language.
  • From The Messageboards – introduced in 2008, this is a spoof of various public messageboards, in particular the Five Live news boards of the BBC.


The magazine contains a variety of regular "spots", consisting of small amusing examples of different aspects of everyday life, generally taken from everyday life themselves and sent in by readers, such as "Colemanballs", gaffes by sports commentators with less than adequate command of the English language, "Dumb Britain", particularly shocking examples of lacking in knowledge taken from British quiz shows or "Let's Parlez Francais" a section which mocks recent political events, mainly within Europe, by creating an imaginary transcript (mainly consisting of the persons central to the event) in Franglais, usually ending with a reference to 'Kilometres' Kington.

Prime Minister parodies

An almost constant fixture in Private Eye is a weekly full page parody of the Prime Minister of the day. The style of the page is always the same, and sums up the fundamental characteristics of the Prime Minister involved, as well as his cabinet, in combination with biting satire of current events. Occasionally, defunct Prime Ministerial parodies resurface (e.g. Dear Bill, on the death of Denis Thatcher).


  • The cover, with its famous speech bubble, putting ironic or humorous comments into the mouths of the famous in response to topical events.
  • Letters – readers' letters section which frequently includes letters from the famous and powerful, often so that the Eye can print an apology and thereby avoid litigation. Some people use the page as a voice to express disgust at a recent Eye article and, infamously (or jokingly), end by saying they will cancel their subscription. This section also prints the lookalikes and occasionally prints the embarrassing picture of Andrew Neil (see: recurring in-jokes).
  • Crossword – a cryptic prize crossword, notable for its vulgarity. In the early 1970s the crossword was set by the Labour MP Tom Driberg, under the pseudonym of "Tiresias" (supposedly "a distinguished academic churchman"). It is currently set by Eddie James under the name "Cyclops". The crossword frequently contains offensive language and references (both in the clues and the solutions), and a knowledge of the magazine's in-jokes and slang is necessary to solve it. The prize for the first correct solution opened, £100, is unusually high for a crossword and attracts many entrants.
  • Classified – adverts from readers. Years ago people with odd sexual tastes would make contact with others via Private Eye's personal ads, using code words (using the names of motor cycles to describe various sexual acts, for example). However, nowadays the classified adverts usually consist of people selling wine or websites, or conspiracy theorists promoting their ideas. Includes the "Eye Need" adverts in which people beg for money. Spike Milligan once placed an ad that ran: "Spike Milligan would like to meet a rich, well-insured widow – intention: murder" and reported receiving several dozen replies.
  • Old Testament parody – a spoof of the Old Testament, applying Bibilical language and imagery particularly reminiscent of the King James Bible to current affairs in the Middle East.

Defunct sections

Apart from the former Prime Minister parodies mentioned above, several sections are no longer printed. These include:

  • Auberon Waugh's Diary; Waugh wrote a regular diary for the magazine, usually combining real events from his own life with fictional flights of fancy (i.e. pretending he had been to parties with the Queen), from the early 1970s until 1985. It was generally written in the persona of an ultra-right-wing country gentleman, a subtle exaggeration of his own personality. He described it as the world's first example of journalism specifically dedicated to telling lies.
  • London Calling – a round-up of news, especially of the most barking loony left variety, during the days of the GLC. This column was retired when the GLC was abolished.
  • Sally Deedes – genuine consumer journalism column, often exposing spectacularly corrupt or improper goods, services and/or dealings. Sally Deedes (author unknown) was the origin of the Eye's first-ever libel victory in the mid-1990s; column was quietly ditched a few years later.
  • Illustrated London News – a digest of news and scandal from the metropolis, parodying (and using the masthead of) the defunct gazette of the same name. Usually written by the radical pioneer journalist Claud Cockburn. Later replaced (c.1984) with -
  • Grovel – a 'society' column, featuring gossip, scandal and scuttlebutt about the rich and famous, and probably the most-sued section in the whole magazine. The character and style of Grovel (a clearly tired and emotional man with a monocle, top hat and cigarette holder) was based on former GLE (Greatest Living Englishman), Nigel Dempster, lampooned as 'Nigel Pratt-Dumpster'. Grovel was replaced in about 1996 with –
  • Hallo! – the 'heart-warming column' purportedly written by The Marquesa, practically identical in content but with a new prose style parodying the breathless and gushing format established by magazines such as Hello, in which celebrities showed reporters around their lovely houses, etc. Hallo! itself disappeared in about 2000.
  • Thomas, The Privatised Tank Engine – a parody of Rev. W. Awdry's Railway Series, by Incledon Clark published at the time of the debate over railway privatisation in 1993-4. The criticisms of the privatised railway that was being created turned out to be prescient to an astonishing degree.
  • Wimmin – a regular 1980s section featuring quotes from feminist writing deemed to be ridiculous (similar to Pseuds Corner).


Private Eye is also home to many of Britain's most highly regarded humorous cartoonists. As well as many one-off cartoons, the magazine features several comic strips:

  • Bores (defunct) – Michael Heath
  • Yobs and YobettesTony Husband Satirising yob (Chav) culture (or lack thereof)
  • SupermodelsNeil Kerber satirising their lifestyle – the characters are infeasibly thin
  • The Commuters (defunct) – Grizelda - follows the efforts of two commuters to get a train to work.
  • It's Grim Up North London – Knife & Packer satire about Islington trendies
  • Young British Artists – Birch: a spoof of artists such as "Tracey" (Emin) and "Damien" (Hirst).
  • Off Your Trolley (defunct) – Reeve & Way: set in an NHS hospital
  • Apparently – Mike Barfield
  • The Premiersh*tsPaul Wood (cartoonist): about the state of professional football and footballers
  • CelebCharles Peattie and Mark Warren
  • Snipcock & TweedNick Newman - two book publishers
  • The Directors – Dredge & Rigg – comments on the excesses of boardroom fat cats
  • The Cloggies (defunct) – Bill Tidy: an everyday story of clog-dancing folk
  • Hom Sap (defunct) – Austin
  • Scenes you seldom seeBarry Fantoni
  • Battle for Britain (defunct) – a satire of British politics (1983-1987) in terms of World War II
  • EUphemisms – features a European Union (EU) official making a statement, with the caption giving what it means in real terms, generally depicting the EU in a negative light. An example: a French Minister (indicated by the French Flag behind him) declaring "The Euro is not a failure" with the caption reading "I'm using the word "not" in its loosest possible sense".
  • Barry McKenzie (defunct) – was a very popular strip in the mid-1960s detailing the adventures of an expatriate Aussie at large in Earl's Court and elsewhere, written by Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage) and drawn by Nicholas Garland, later a political cartoonist in the heavyweight dailies.
  • Dave Snooty – a recent addition to the magazine. Drawn in the style of The Beano, it parodies David Cameron as "Dave Snooty" (a reference to the Beano character "Lord Snooty") who ends up involved in all kinds of public schoolboy-type antics (often involving members of his shadow cabinet).
  • The Broon-ites – a pastiche of Scottish cartoon strip The Broons, featuring Gordon Brown and his close associates. The speechbubbles are written in broad Scots dialect.
  • Global Warming: The Plus Side – a satire of the effects of global warming, suggesting mock "positive" impacts of the phenomena, such as bus-sized marrows in village vegetable competitions, vastly decreased fossil prices due to melting permafrost, and the profligaration of British citrus orchards.
  • Meet the Clintstones – The Prehistoric First Family – drawn in the style of The Flintstones, this is a parody of Bill and Hillary Clinton during the United States presidential election, 2008.

Additionally, currently, and in the past, it has used the work of Ralph Steadman, Wally Fawkes, Timothy Birdsall, Martin Honeysett, Willie Rushton, Gerald Scarfe, Bill Tidy, Robert Thompson, Ken Pyne, Geoff Thompson, "Jerodo", Ed McLauchlan, "Pearsall", Kevin Woodcock, Brian Bagnall and Kathryn Lamb.

Frequent targets for parody and satire

While the magazine in general reports corruption, self-interest and incompetence from a broad range of industries and lines of work, and has therefore over the years made targets of thousands of public figures, in practice certain people and entities receive a particularly large amount of coverage in the magazine's pages. While Prime Ministers and senior politicians make the most natural targets, being the most visible public figures, Private Eye often also aims its wrath at journalists, newspapers and particularly prominent or interesting businessmen. It is the habit of the magazine to attach nicknames, usually offensive and often very crude, to these people, and often to create surreal and extensive alternate personifications of them, which usually take the form of parody newspaper articles in the second half of the magazine.

Other media and merchandise

Private Eye has from time to time produced various spin-offs from the magazine:

Criticism and controversy

Overall, criticism of the Eye should perhaps be viewed in the light of a remark made to the editors by the director and satirist Jonathan Miller: "When are you lot going to develop a point of view?" Miller once described the Eye's editorial conference as like watching naked, anti-Semitic public schoolboys in a changing room, flicking wet towels at defenceless victims. However, (as per the remark by Jonathan Miller) the magazine is something of a moving target, which always maintains a fog of irony, making it hard to discern if it is being serious or joking in intent. This even applies to readers' letters, which might be published because they make a valid point, or because the editor believes that the writer is so misguided as to be ridiculous. Many such letters are from irate readers who claim they are so disgusted with a particular article or cartoon in a previous issue that they announce the cancellation of their subscription. However, some letters of complaint are spoofs themselves, intended to lampoon other readers who have written in to complain.

"Public-school racism"

The cover of issue 256 from 1971 showed Emperor Hirohito visiting Britain with the caption "A nasty nip in the air" (subhead: "Piss off, Bandy Knees"). Idi Amin also was characterised speaking in Pidgin English. In the 1960s and 1970s the magazine mocked the gay rights movement as "Poove Power".

Public offence

The magazine's irreverence and occasionally distasteful humour offend some while delighting others. Upon the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, it printed a cover headed "MEDIA TO BLAME". Under this headline was a picture of many hundreds of people outside the gates of Buckingham Palace with one person commenting that the papers were terrible, another agreeing, saying that it was impossible to get one anywhere, and another saying, "Borrow mine. It's got a picture of the car. The issue also featured a mock retraction of everything negative that the magazine had ever said about Diana. This was enough to cause a flood of complaints, many cancelled subscriptions, and the temporary removal of the magazine from the shelves of several newsagents. On the other hand, the Diana issue is now one of the most highly sought after back issues. The newsagents who removed the magazine included W H Smith, which had previously refused to stock Private Eye until well into the 1970s. (W H Smith was usually characterised in the paper as "WH Smugg", or "WH Smut" on account of its contemporary policy of stocking pornographic magazines.)

Similar complaints were received about the issues that followed the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, the September 11, 2001 attacks (the magazine even including a special "subscription cancellation coupon" for disgruntled readers to send in) and the Soham murders. Following the 7 July 2005 London bombings the magazine's cover featured Tony Blair saying to Ken Livingstone "We must track down the evil mastermind behind the bombers...", to which Mr. Livingstone replies "...and invite him around for tea", in reference to Ken Livingstone's controversial invitation of Yusuf al-Qaradawi to London.


The 2004 Christmas (issue 1121) issue received an unexpected number of complaints and subscription cancellations after it featured Pieter Brueghel's painting of a nativity scene, in which one wise man was saying to another: "Apparently, it's David Blunkett's" (who at the time was involved in a scandal where he was thought to have impregnated a married woman). Many readers sent letters accusing the magazine of blasphemy and anti-Christian attitudes. One stated that the "witless, gutless buggers wouldn't dare mock Islam", an observation later apparently vindicated when the magazine declined to publish the Danish Mohammed cartoons for fear of firebombs, although it does publish Islam-related humour on a regular basis. Many letters in the first issue of 2005 disagreed with the former readers' complaints, and some were even parodies of those letters, 'complaining' about issue 1122's cover - a cartoon depicting Santa's sleigh shredded to pieces by a wind farm: "To use a picture of Our Lord Father Christmas and his Holy Reindeer being torn limb from limb while flying over a windfarm is inappropriate and blasphemous."


The magazine has long been famous for attracting libel lawsuits, which can lead to damages relatively easily in English law. To ensure a level of safety, the magazine maintains a large quantity of money as a "fighting fund" (although experience has taught those behind the magazine quick ways to defuse legal tensions, usually by printing a letter from those concerned). As editor, Ian Hislop has become the most sued man in Britain.

Those who have sued the magazine include many famous names, though (as the editors noted) while politicians are a prime target they "tend to take their medicine like men", and the largest number of lawsuits issue from journalists. For the tenth anniversary issue, the cover showed a cartoon headstone inscribed with a long list of well-known names, and the epitaph "They did not sue in vain".

An unlikely piece of British legal history occurred in the case Arkell v. Pressdram. The plaintiff was the subject of an article relating to illicit payments, and the magazine had ample evidence to back up the article. Arkell's lawyers wrote a letter in which, unusually, they said: "Our client's attitude to damages will depend on the nature of your reply". The response consisted, in part, of the following: "We would be interested to know what your client's attitude to damages would be if the nature of our reply were as follows: Fuck off". This caused a stir in certain quarters. In the years following, the magazine would use this case as a euphemism for an obscene reply: In subsequent cases, instead of using the obscenity, Private Eye (and others) would say something like "We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram"; or, perhaps, "His reply was similar to that given to the plaintiff in Arkell v. Pressdram". As with "tired and emotional" this usage has spread far beyond the magazine.

The most famous litigation case against the magazine was initiated by James Goldsmith (known within Private Eye's pages as '(Sir) Jammy Fishpaste'), who managed to arrange for criminal libel charges to be brought (effectively meaning that, if found guilty, those behind the Eye could be imprisoned). He sued over allegations that members of the Clermont Set, including Goldsmith, had conspired to shelter Lord Lucan after Lucan had murdered his family nanny, Sandra Rivett. Goldsmith won a partial victory and eventually reached a settlement with the magazine. The case threatened to bankrupt the magazine, which turned to its readers for financial support in the form of the Goldenballs Fund. Goldsmith himself was referred to as Jaws. The solicitor involved in many litigation cases against Private Eye, including the Goldsmith case, was Peter Carter-Ruck (or "Carter-Fuck", as the Eye referred to him).

Robert Maxwell (Captain Bob) also sued, for the suggestion he looked like a criminal. He won a significant sum. The editor, Ian Hislop, summarised the case: "I've just given a fat cheque to a fat Czech." Sonia Sutcliffe also sued after allegations that she used her connection to her husband, the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, to make money. She won £600,000 which was later reduced to £60,000 on appeal. However, the initial award caused Hislop to quip outside the court: "If this is justice, I'm a banana.". Readers raised a considerable sum in the "bananaballs fund", and Private Eye scored a PR coup by donating the surplus to the families of Sutcliffe's victims. Sonia Sutcliffe later acknowledged that she had indeed sold her story to the press.

A rare victory for the Eye came in late 2001, when a libel case brought against the magazine by a Cornish chartered accountant, Stuart Condliffe, finally came to trial after ten years. The case was thrown out after only a few weeks as Condliffe had effectively accused his own legal team (Carter-Ruck and Associates) of lying.

The Paul Foot Award

In 2005, The Guardian and Private Eye established the Paul Foot Award, with an annual £10,000 prize fund, for investigative/campaigning journalism.


The magazine is apparently owned by an odd and eclectic cartel of people, albeit officially published through the mechanism of a limited company called Pressdram Ltd,which was bought as an "off the shelf" company by Peter Cook in November 1961.

Private Eye is not the kind of magazine to publish explicit details of individuals concerned with its upkeep (it notably doesn't even contain a "flannel panel" listing of who edits, writes and designs the magazine), but in 1981 the owners were quoted in the book The Private Eye Story as being Peter Cook, who owned most of the shareholding, with smaller shareholdings by the likes of Dirk Bogarde, Jane Asher, and several of those involved with the founding of the magazine. Most people on the list have since died, however, and it's not clear what happened to their shareholdings. Those concerned are reputedly contractually only able to sell their shareholdings at the price they originally paid for them.

Shareholders as of the last annual return, 26 March 2005, are: (note: many of the shareholders have inherited shares)

  • Jane Asher
  • Barbara Braden
  • David Cash (also a director)
  • Elizabeth Cook
  • Lin Cook
  • Barry Fantoni
  • Tessa Fantoni
  • Ian Hislop (also a director)
  • Eileen Lewenstein
  • Executor of Lord Farington
  • Peter Cook (Productions) Ltd
  • Private Eye (Productions) Ltd
  • Anthony Rushton (also a director)
  • Connor Hammil
  • Sarah Seymour
  • Thomas Usbourne
  • Brock van der Bogaerde.

The other directors are Sheila Molnar, who is also the company secretary, and Richard Ingrams.


  • News (previously called The Colour Section - a misnomer) – The logo for this section of the magazine is a donkey-riding naked Mr Punch caressing his erect and oversized penis, while hugging a female admirer. It is a detail from a frieze by "Dickie" Doyle that once formed the masthead of Punch magazine, which the editors of Private Eye had come to loathe for its perceived descent into complacency. The image, hidden away in the detail of the frieze, had appeared on the cover of Punch for nearly a century and was noticed by Malcolm Muggeridge ("Muggo" or "The Guru") during a guest-editing spot on the Eye. The 'Rabelaisian gnome' (as the character was called) was enlarged by Gerald Scarfe, and put on the front cover of issue 69 at full size. He was then formally adopted as a mascot on the inside pages, as a symbol of the old, radical incarnation of Punch magazine that the Eye admired.
  • "The Eye lunch" (or "The Old Crappola") takes place upstairs in The Coach and Horses, a public house known for its association with deceased columnist Jeffrey Bernard. The lunch plays host to magazine staff and visitors who attend to share their inside information.
  • On May Day 1965, the magazine held a "Mass for Vass" rally in Central London for beleaguered former British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, a reference to his nickname "Baillie Vass". Some 300 marchers under police supervision carried banners proclaiming "High-Speed Vass Gets Things Done", "The Baillie Will No Fail Ye", "Hands off the Rann of Kutch!" and "Who's a Cretin?" (a reference to a former nickname, "Sir Alec Douglas-Who?"). The march progressed from Parliament Square to Conservative Central Office, where, accompanied by a brass band, the participants sang rousing songs in mock support of Home to the occupants of the building. This incident went almost entirely unreported in the national media.

See also


Further reading

  • Carpenter, Humphrey (2002). That Was Satire That Was. Phoenix. ISBN 0-7538-1393-9.
  • Ingrams, Richard (1993). Goldenballs!. Harriman House. ISBN 1-897597-03-7.
  • Hislop, Ian (1990). The Complete Gnome Mart Catalogue. Corgi. ISBN 0-552-13752-9.
  • Marnham, Patrick (1982). The Private Eye Story. Andre Deutsch/Private Eye. ISBN 0-233-97509-8.
  • Ingrams, Richard (1971). The Life and Times of Private Eye. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-003357-2.

External links

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