Happy 50th Birthday, Private Eye

Who would have thunk it? Private Eye is about to notch up a cool half-century.

Fifty years might not sound a terribly long time in the quaint, dusty world of news and magazine publications, but the figure is misleading. By the time you factor in the lawsuits, which have occasionally threatened to kill off the Eye completely, it’s only reasonable to apply some sort of multiple in order to establish this esteemed organ’s “true” age, in the same way you do when converting the age of your pets into human years. I reckon Private Eye’s true age is more like two or three hundred years.

The Eye is published fortnightly. It’s not a very thick publication but the length, detail and subject of some of the individual articles can sometimes be a bit daunting; so much so that it often takes you the best part of the two-week publication cycle to get through the bloody thing.

I buy it reasonably often; not every issue. And a couple of years ago a good mate of mine was generous enough to get me a one-year subscription as a birthday present. It was a very thoughtful gift but occasionally the issues would start to pile up and Eyeball me menacingly from across the living room while I was watching Sky News or some other mindless shit, as if to say, “you’d rather watch that than read this?”. I got through them all eventually.

Those who don’t read the Eye sometimes assume it’s just a bit of a laugh, a piss-taking publication with an occasional semi-serious message. But much of it is actually in-depth, meticulously researched journalism. Many of the articles aren’t on particularly glamorous topics but the Eye hacks pester away with the stories over a period of time and often get the desired results.

Now for a bit of crawling worthy of a mention in the Eye’s ‘OBN’ (Order of the Brown Nose) section. Ian Hislop (or “Sloppy”, as the comedian Reginald D Hunter calls him) is a bit of a living legend, not just for his 25-year editorship of the Eye but also for his unbroken stint on Have I Got News For You, which remains the gold standard for satirical news quizzes (warning: beware of cheap or expensive imitations). I like the way you never really know exactly which part of the political spectrum Sloppy occupies. I prefer it that way.

Kelvin Mackenzie, a former editor of the Sun, described the Eye quite neatly: “All good journalists are outsiders. They’re the ultimate because they’re outside the outsiders.”

So if you’ve never read the Eye, may I suggest you do yourself a favour and just buy a copy. I find it’s excellent to read on a long train journey, when you’re forced to read some of the more obscure and detailed pieces that you might ordinarily be tempted to flick over. It will only set you back £1.50 and you probably wouldn’t think twice about spending twice that amount on an overpriced coffee/grown-up milkshake from an overpriced coffee shop, which you might not even finish. And you might even save yourself a few quid: if you were only to read Private Eye and not buy any newspapers, I reckon you wouldn’t go far wrong.