A late word on the late Keith Waterhouse
Posted by Adam Macqueen, 17th September 2009 | 11 comments

Keith Waterhouse only wrote one thing for Private Eye, for issue 73, published on 2nd October 1964. It was a piece about opinion polls just ahead of the election Harold Wilson was about to win, co-written with his regular collaborator Willis Hall and entitled “What is a Don’t Know?”

I’m not going to give you the text of it here. But I am going to give you this telegram, which for many years has been pinned to a noticeboard in Richard Ingrams’ – and subsequently Ian Hislop’s – office.

(God alone knows why it’s come out sideways… New technology baffles pissed old hack.)

Issue 73 also featured the first flexidisc – fixed to the cover over a photograph of Alec Douglas-Home on the toilet with a speech bubble saying “Put that record back AT ONCE!”, the very first appearance of Spiggy Topes and the Turds, as introduced by Maureen Cleavage, and the launch of the Stuff Your Own Quintin Hogg cushion kit. It’s rather a good one…


Comment by Stephen Buckley
September 17, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

Keith Waterhouse’s telegram reflects a familiar criticism of the Eye that I don’t want to comment on here but to use it to ask whether there’s any sign of Anti-Eye histories being written yet? (Are your dustbins secure? Have Vintage Magazines’s stock of Eyes shrunk recently? Do your legion of clapped-out sixties and seventies types who contributed to the magazine [I’m a clapped-out etc… reader] report certain people asking them for their memories of the Eye for the first time for years? I do not know but I think we should be told).

It would, of course, be entirely juvenile if, over the next two years, the above mentioned clapped-out readers were encouraged to redouble their natural tendencies to make satirical rejoinders to the Anti-Eye commentators.

Comment by Adam
September 18, 2009 @ 11:36 am

Well, I like to think that my book won’t be a hundred percent pro-Eye – it will certainly be levelling criticism where it’s deserved. The first thing Richard Ingrams said to me when he found out I was writing it was “it mustn’t be a whitewash”, and everyone who I’ve interviewed so far – including Ian Hislop – has been pretty frank in their views of where they feel the magazine’s gone wrong. Not to mention their colleagues…

Comment by Lyle
September 25, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

“Familiar criticisms” aside, is it possible please to share with blog readers what exactly in Issue 73 prompted Mr Waterhouse to send this telegram? Simply reproducing a letter shouldn’t be construed as poking fun at non-native-English speakers, so I’m curious how the Eye staff decorated or embellished the letter to satirical effect. I Googled the name ‘Khalil Shabis’, hoping for a clue, but came up with nothing. (I really should get out more!)

Comment by Stephen Buckley
September 27, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

@ Lyle

Don’t worry about what bothered Glenda Slaughterhouse in PE 73, natives finding the way foreigners can speak their language funny is a universal characteristic and I don’t remember the Eye ever being particularly nasty about anybody by the standards of the time and it’s often been subtly amusing (The current issue’s reporting of Inspector Nakerstani’s phone call is funnier to people familiar with Indian English, I am thinking).

What you should be worried about, on behalf of you very close friend, Bangkok
Expat Mama, is this headline from the “Bangkok World” printed in PE 198:



Do you really think that all the Anti-Eyes are going to pass up the opportunity given by the fiftieth anniversary to dump on the magazine?

Comment by Lyle
September 28, 2009 @ 10:26 am

Are there really that many Anti-Eyes out there? To read the Eye is to love the Eye!

Comment by Adam
September 28, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

It wasn’t anything in issue 73 – that was the one KW wrote for. Try as I might, I can’t find the offensive passage in question anywhere… maybe he was reading Punch without realising?

Comment by Adam
September 28, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

And Lyle – there’s plenty of them out there, don’t you worry!

Comment by Stephen Buckley
October 2, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

Sorry about being vague about the Keith Waterhouse reference – blame frustration at not having access to the old Eyes I have (“storage”) and to the ones I don’t (apart from the magazine and the British Library, where else are complete runs – have you found out yet?).

Unfortunately, the blog seems to be drifting into becoming an Eye loyalist Chat-Room; to try and return it to what I guess was one of your original intentions: as you learn more about your sources and resources for the history,is there anything you’d like us to look for “out there” (including Anti-Eye activity – Ms L should read the new issue very closely to see examples of what I’ve referred to before).

Comment by Lyle
October 3, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

I’d love to read the new issue exceedingly closely but thanks to the ongoing strike at Royal Mail, Father Christmas might hit my town before said issue does.

Comment by Lyle
October 13, 2009 @ 10:16 am

So I saw this today……and thought, won’t the Eye have fun with this. More Carter-F*ck ridiculousness to wrangle with. Have on ’em, guys.

Here is why Eye loyalists are legion. The Eye holds institutions and public figures accountable for hypocrisy, betrayal of public trust, abuse of authority, general misdeeds, and — perhaps most infamously of all — taking themselves too seriously. Arguably an admirable mission. But of course, an anti-Eye element does exist. Shurely due somewhat to chips on shoulders about public school elitism, but that’s a tired trope. Most hardened anti-Eye folks probably have had the piss taken out of them by the Eye for any of the above transgressions, and likely wouldn’t have counted amongst the readership in the first place.

It only follows that a blog tracking the development of the Eye’s 50th anniversary book would draw more fans than critics. What’s wrong if the blog’s comments section, which offers much-appreciated “access for anoraks”, occasionally sounds like a lurvfest?

Private Eye is the only English-language current affairs organ I’m aware of that offers reporting with integrity and unparalleled satire. Such a quirky combo engenders fierce loyalty from readers.

Dig up photos of Ian Hislop frolicking with the Barclays on their yacht in Monaco, however, and I would cancel my subscription forthwith!

p.s. My 2 October issue arrived yesterday. Hurrah etc.

Comment by Stephen Buckley
October 13, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

Hi-Ly (well this really is becoming the Chat Room I talked about above – maybe it should be renamed EyeChat – so I guess I can welcome you back [have you had problems posting anything here over the last week or two, like me? and, AM, what was that about, please?]).

It would be interesting to develop a place for continuing discussion amongst the Eyelets (remember the name I coined for us) [hint]; Do we have to set things up all by ourselves [hint] or can the denizens of Carlisle Street do it for us and, if not keeping it in house, at least “rent” us a “room” [bigger hint]?

I stand by what I said to AM on 27/9/09; by the way, L, are you keeping an
“Eye” (geddit) out for owls, now that I’ve warned you of the potential terrible result of negligence?