On this day in magazines: Private Eye celebrates in 1981

Lord Goodman jumps out of a giant birthday cake on Private Eye's 500th issue cover in February 1981

Lord Goodman jumps out of a giant birthday cake on Private Eye’s 500th issue cover of 13 February 1981

Private Eye registered a sales figure last week at just over a quarter of a million copies an issue for the second half of 2016. Under editor Ian Hislop, it claims the high ground as the best-selling news and current affairs magazine.

The circulation per copy breaks down as 105,077 through newsagents, 142,833 subscriptions, 2,214 bulk sales and just 22 copies free. It total, that’s three million copies a year from its fortnightly mix of satire and investigative journalism. While the newspapers keep jacking up their prices – arguing readers will pay for quality reporting – but lose sales, the Eye holds its price at £1.80 and buyers and subscribers keep coming.

The cover above is from 13 February 1981, when the Eye was celebrating its 500th issue with a Willy Rushton cartoon. Out of the giant birthday cake festooned with writs jumps Lord Goodman – an early ally of Private Eye. Rupert Murdoch can be seen waiting on then editor Richard Ingrams in the top left and Gnitty, the magazine’s mascot Crusader, is also seated at a table. Around them are foes, friends and characters from the magazine.

A punning advert from Letraset for Private Eye's celebratory issue

A punning advert from Letraset for Private Eye’s celebratory 1981 issue

Although the magazine had survived many legal battles, such as the 1976 onslaught from James ‘Goldenballs’ Goldsmith who issued 60 writs against the Eye and its distributors in one month, many more were to come, including those with Robert Maxwell and his Not Private Eye. In 1990, Private Eye was threatened with closure when Sonia Sutcliffe was awarded £600,000 in libel damages. Hislop said that if this was justice he was ‘a banana’. The sum was reduced to £60,000 on appeal.

Inside the anniversary issue are many supportive advertisers, including Letraset, the makers of dry transfer lettering, a revolutionary British invention in its day, but now a French-owned brand mainly selling marker pens.

Private Eye‘s title was an early success for Letraset – the typographer Matthew Carter did the design, which saw its first outing on 18 May 1962 and is still in use today.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


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One Response to “On this day in magazines: Private Eye celebrates in 1981”

  1. This month in magazines: Oz in 1967 | Magforum blog Says:

    […] Private Eye, Oz might have looked crude, but it was an innovative user of the latest production techniques […]

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