Came back to the day job last week after a month away – when I’m not working on the history of Private Eye that is the point of this bit of the website, I’m an active part of its present, writing for sections like Street of Shame, Media News, Books and Bookmen and compiling the Number Crunching column – to find, as is usual, an enormous pile of correspondence from readers waiting for me. Some of it was nonsense, some of it would have been useful if it had arrived three years earlier (eventually, people will notice we’re not running the Solutions column any more), much of it was fascinating, and a few bits and pieces became the basis for things in the latest edition of the magazine.
One email in particular stood out. The guy had signed off “PRIVATE EYE TILL I DIE”.
I chortled a bit, shared the flattery with a couple of my colleagues, then moved on to the next one on the pile. That one concluded:
“YES! I am a Subscriber.
NO! I will never Cancel!”
Now I can’t be certain about this, but I suspect that people who send thoughtful and perfectly-punctuated whinges in to the Guardian letters page or phone up the Sun‘s shop-your-mates-for-cash news line don’t feel the need to express quite this level of loyalty and appreciation at first contact. In fact, I don’t think most of the other publications currently being used to line budgie cages, make firelighters or line train seats cross the nation inspire feelings quite like this.
I’ve long had the impression that regular Eye readers – and subscribers in particular – feel themselves to be part of a gang. An in-crowd who rejoice in knowing who Brenda is, why sex must be referred to as Ugandan discussions, and who go through life with one eye open at all times for opportunities to obliquely refer to Andrew Neil in a vest. It’s there in the spontaneous opening of wallets when the magazine was threatened by monsters like Maxwell and Goldsmith. And it’s there in the disappointed, almost parental tone of more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger of those cancelled subscription letters.
Am I right? How would you describe your relationship with the Eye? How long have you been a reader? Have you abandoned the magazine in the past, and what brought you back? And what – if anything – would make you swear never to pick up another copy again?
Comment by Lyle
April 30, 2009 @ 4:21 pm
My “relationship with the Eye” (fwoar, sounds so naughty, geddit??!!?!! — sorry, I started channelling one G Slagg for a moment) could be described as a May-December romance, between a young(ish) woman eager to learn (that would be me, wanting to learn about current events, particularly from the U.K. perspective) and a distinguished, worldly-wise older man blessed with a fabulous sense of humor (that would be the Eye, running nearly 50 already and setting the bar for satire). I wonder if during your research you might have come across any images that could illustrate such a union? *cue Andrew Neil vest photo*
Comment by Adam Macqueen
May 4, 2009 @ 10:50 am
vg. Go to the top of the class.
Comment by Stephen Buckley
May 7, 2009 @ 3:16 pm
Although the senior staff at the Eye have long recognised the characteristics of the
magazine’s core readership (see, for example: Richard Ingrams “The Life And Times
Of Private Eye 1961-1971”, Introduction, p.21,ph.2), generally, the magazine has,
over the last half-century, taken for granted their support and commitment (yeah,
I know what “Private Eye Till I Die” means by signing off like that and if somebody texted “i2di4” and if “no cancelacion” was shouted from the barricades…). Perhaps
the Eye can develop ways of involving “us” more , as the technology for doing so
becomes available. What we need is a name for ourselves; I suggest “Eyelet” in its
original meaning of “small eye”. What do other “Eyelets” (c. bucktrash ltd, 2009)
Comment by Grandebosse
June 5, 2009 @ 8:54 pm
Private Eye (at 50) glimmers……..
43/44 years ago. Bedsit in Romilly Street. Selling wine at Kettners in Old Compton Street to Soho Geezers, Strippers and PE staff, until late. Ronnie Scotts afterwards. Trying to save up to join ‘The Establishment’. Showing myself up by getting drunk at the pub around the corner with PE staff (never again). Was this really me, or is this the ‘False memory’ of a sad old Suffolk gentleman of 65 ?……..
Comment by Simon McInnes
June 14, 2009 @ 10:53 pm
You pondered what may cause readers never to pick up another Eye again. In my case it would be complete truth and an absence of any personal agenda in mainstream media reporting, impeccable integrity in national politics, and as reasonable replication of that as is possible in business and local government, plus the health service no longer being used as a political football, and a decent public transport system. I think you can consider my subscription as fairly safe revenue…
Comment by John Lilburne
June 20, 2009 @ 4:23 pm
I started buying the Eye around 1970 and always from a newsagent. After I moved to Australia over a decade ago I did the same thing but each issue was always two months behind the publication date. Last year I finally subscribed and reading your article has reminded me that my sub runs out in a few days. I shall be resubscribing.
On a somewhat different topic, is it true that geography teacher’s elbow patches on jackets are coming back into fashion in the mother country? Maybe your esteemed editor could let us know.
Comment by Adam
June 22, 2009 @ 12:23 pm
Wow. Counts on fingers… and that would have been in Richard Ingrams’ drinking days, before he famously went teetotal. Your bosses must have made a fortune!
Who do you remember getting drunk with? And which pub – had they made it to the Coach and Horses by that point, or were they still frequenting another establishment?
Comment by Subscriber
July 5, 2009 @ 12:16 pm
I am 52 and have seen the Eye since about the age of 12, left lying around by my parents or their friends. It was an immediate breath of fresh air, whether or not it was all true, and its bravery in libel cases has been notable. I have followed it all my life and a lot of its phrases have passed into family usage as well as mainstream English (“shurely shome mishtake”, “cont. page 94” etc). I think I have most copies going back to 1964. What a mix of humour, from the most basic schoolyard stuff to the likes of Michael Heath’s zany view of the world. People today forget that the rest of the meeja in the UK were unduly deferential until perhaps the death of Princess Di, and the egos of the “great and good” needed to be deflated then as much as now.
Comment by Not a fan
July 13, 2009 @ 8:50 am
My relationship with Private Eye is that my next door neighbour passes her copy when she’s finished it and I glance through it before using it to line the hen coop (it’s just the right size to fit the trays).
I used to buy it (though I never subscribed) some years ago, but fell out of the habit; I then bought the issue released after the death of the Blessed Diana because it was the only paper to comment on the hysteria.
I kept buying it for a while but kicked the habit once I realised that it’s basically a school magazine with a mixture of in-jokes and intellectual snobbery that create an in-crowd and excludes anyone who doesn’t have the right background and isn’t prepared to put in an apprenticeship learning the codes.
Frankly I can’t be bothered. I only went on this site so that I can send a critical letter to the editor about his performance in another sphere altogether.
Comment by Roger Hall
September 8, 2009 @ 10:28 am
I started reading the Eye with issue number 9, which was probably in 1961/2. It was in the days when Willie Rushton drew many of the cartoons and I remember visiting the Eye office in Greek Street to buy a couple of t-shirts, one of which featured a drawing by him. It was of a very large lady and when I wore it, she appeared to be crawling across my chest with her hand disappearing down into the waistband of my trousers. The other showed that I was a member of the House of Commons Underwater Wrestling Team – I never did figure out why I thought that was funny.
I also remember one of the Eye team, Christopher Booker, appearing on Hughie Green’s Double Your Money and I’ve no idea why that has stuck in my mind.
Comment by Stephen Buckley
September 8, 2009 @ 3:05 pm
How interesting that RH should mention the 1966 “Ogress” and “Underwater Wrestling” tee-Shirts (also available as sweatshirts), as I was just about to ask, on the “From the vaults” blog, whether the Eye had any of them in storage somewhere. What RH doesn’t say is that the “lady” bears a striking resemblance to Anne Widdecombe in her later years, on a bad day (I gather that in the late sixties Ms Widdecombe was regarded by some as a “stunnah” – so maybe Wiilie Rushton had a percipient vision of her rising again, Grendel’s Mother-like, from the Somerset Levels, to pursue her political career).
So, does the Eye have any of these tee/sweat-shirts in its archives – does anybody else – and could we see them illustrated on this blog?
Comment by michael
May 22, 2011 @ 11:26 am
Is there a compendium of the Andrew Neil vest jokes available anywhere?
Comment by Adam
May 26, 2011 @ 1:41 pm
There will be quite a few of them in the book, which is out on 1 September…
Comment by Robert
July 14, 2011 @ 11:18 pm
I was first lured into the realms of the eye, by reading one of the early Dear Bills in a Dentist’s waiting room in 1980 or so and being enormously entertained. I was young, immature, feckless (I am no longer young) but was enormously entertained and read dear bill religiously (imagery deleted) until I escaped the country in 1983. After a year or so I discovered where I could buy it in New York and have with my newly found transatlantic status realized that there was so much more to the Eye than pure satire.
Although at times it annoys me it never fails to entertain. It is irreverent without being irrelevant and important without being self important. Its greatest assets is that whilst it glorifies in exposing the ridiculous, self important, downright corrupt, it never does so from the standpoint of assumed (and therefore totally bogus) self righteousness.
I know little of the working of the internecine world of British Journalism, but I reckon that much reason would be restored to print media if each major columnist of each major paper had to do three month unpaid stretches at the eye every few years. Alas such a thing is unlikely to happen….there are international conventions that cover torture that probably even apply to Ian Hislop.
Comment by Adam
August 16, 2011 @ 9:13 am
Steady on Robert. Other journalists doing my day job for free? I’m not so keen on that idea…
Comment by RogerT
May 5, 2012 @ 12:37 pm
I first saw the Eye back in the early 60’s when I was still at school and a fellow pupil brought in a copy and were deliciously shocked and amused.
Been a subscriber for many years, very important for keeping in touch now we live in Italy.
PS is there an email address for pseudonames letters please ?
Comment by Justin
May 13, 2012 @ 11:29 am
I strongly agree with you (that there are a group of us who feel like that, and it’s probably unusual and hugely to your credit).
For me, the main way that the Eye keeps my loyalty is by being fair – if that goes (especially if it’s accompanied by great arrogance), then the loyalty goes too (not that I’d expect you to care, but still – you kindly asked!).
Are there comparable magazines elsewhere? I’m not aware of any, which is another reason that in addition to being funny, the Eye is special, and vital for us (for society).
Did the readers of Punch feel similar? (Incidentally, whilst the quality of satire was high in Punch, there seemed to me to be far more *very funny* cartoons in the Eye – perhaps that’s just my taste in humour).
Assuming that there are similar publications outside of the UK, do they manage this too?
Le Canard Enchaine is the closest that I’ve seen, but from what I can tell, it’s not as funny as the Eye:
Conversely, Titanic in Germany
might be very funny (there are some outrageous Mother’s Day jokes in there at the moment) and have clever satire, but it misses the investigative.
Personally I love the mixture: brilliant covers (incidentally – I’d *love* to see more examples of covers that were proposed and not run!); investigative; regular columns; long running jokes and phrases often not explained; consistently high quality cartoons (and lots of them); interaction with readers via the letters; etc