The world of print is dragging my time away from the online side at present, delving into the archives at the National Art Library at the V&A for a book on the history of magazine design (1840 to today) and a section on magazine history for The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Also, moving a collection of several thousand magazines has really tested my back in the past few days!
But I note that the V&A is hosting a 50th birthday celebration exhibition for Private Eye in October. There’s one not to be missed. Great journalism (with all its carbuncles), biting cartoons – and at the cutting edge of technology using Letraset, typewriter-produced text [though its enemies might describe it as tripewriter] and offset-litho printing in 1961. Its mode of production would be adopted 15 years later by the Punk fanzines. The magazine has its own page on the event, Private Eye at 50: Making an exhibition of ourselves.
The displays will no doubt focus on the cartoonists – Willy Rushton, Ralph Steadman and Gerald Scarfe to name three – and Private Eye’s bubble covers. But will it give a chance to air photos of old men wearing white vests? Dust off the Fergus Cashin rug? Will Gnitty become a household name? And one for a BBC Radio 4 series – how would the magazine landscape have looked if Private Eye had taken up the offer to write the news pages for Michael Heseltine’s Town?
You know something is doing well when it is hated as well as loved. Such was the venom with which the Eye is (or was) held that the likes of Jeffrey Bernard, Derek Jameson, Clive Jenkins, Ken Livingstone, Spike Milligan, Austin Mitchell, Michael Parkinson, Lady Rothermere and Mary Whitehouse backed the criminal Robert Maxwell in Not Private Eye and his fight to bring Richard Ingrims and pals down. Yet thousands of people rode to the rescue when court fines in losing libel cases to St Jammy Fishfingers and the Bouncing Czech threatened to bring it down.
There’s always someone writing ‘why I’m cancelling my subscription’ (there’s a typical one in Gerald Scarfe’s Drawing Blood, though it might be about a cartoon in the Sunday Times) or ‘why I don’t read you any more‘ letters. And that’s exactly as it should be.