Private Eye: The First 50 Years - Adam MacQueen

We enjoy a Private Eye subscription (especially the crossword!), so I was delighted when Caroline got me this for Christmas. Last week we saw the associated Private Eye exhibition at the V&A, and this book really helped put it into perspective.

My first thought, having read this, is that it should be essential reading for journalists and historians (which I guess is effectively the same job on different time scales!). It shows how malleable the truth is. There are the scandals which Private Eye broken. The accusations that Private Eye made that were wrong. The accusations made that were found libelleous in court, only to be found true later on.

But there's more! Interviews with pretty much every key player in the history of the magazine seems to disagree vehemently on key points in its history. Add to this that so many friendships turned sour, and extracting the truth and a coherent view of things is actually surprisingly difficult.

'Difficult' and 'angry' seems to describe the early days of the Eye, and the people working on it, so it's not surprising the there was a fair amount of falling-out. In the early days, being angry seemed to suffice, but eventually being right and angry made the difference. I think this has been Ian Hislop's strength - while the Eye does seem to regularly get things wrong (although certainly less so than in most other journalism) or pick up the wrong end of the stick, they do at least care about it!

It really is a fun book. While presented in an A-Z fashion, the choice of labelling's not obvious, so interesting things pop up all over the place, making it quite reasonable to read from front to back. Unsurprisingly, there's plenty of coverage of the court cases and letters about libel. It's in areas like this that the Eye's long-running antipathy to certain people is explained. Fascinating.

In summary, what a lovely present!

Posted 2012-01-16.