Casting a jaundiced eye

Tim has his own entirely justified beef – for which he’s not likely to get the apology he wants – Jamie has given up too, and D2 has a sharp point about the decline into farthood. To be honest, the main thing that keeps me reading Private Eye is sheer inertia – if I had to actively go out and buy a copy, rather than having a sub, I’d probably have given up on it a few years back.

I’ve wondered whether me not laughing at the jokes any more was just a function of age. I’d heard the same thing from other people, but none of us are getting younger. Not, though, that there’s nothing there worth reading. The back pages still have useful material, though a bit lacking in focus since Paul Foot died. Bookworm is often good, and Remote Controller usually very good. But I do kind of agree with Jamie that the in-jokes and private vendettas… well, they were always there, but there was more to it as well. You used to read Street of Shame to find out Robert Maxwell’s latest enormity; these days, what you’re likely to get is an off-colour crack about Bryony Gordon’s tits, and shit, I can do that stuff. Do it funnier, too.

Add to that the comedy sections suffering from a complaint that Alice Cooper often talks about, how he felt under such an obligation to roll out the greatest hits that there was no space in his shows for any new material. Yup, it’s yet another Rocky Horror order of service…

I was thinking of Ingrams there. Ingrams used to tell a story, which was a classic Ingrams story in that it may well have been made up but still illustrated a point. The starting point of this was an ashen-faced Paul Foot arriving in the office after interviewing Enoch Powell. “My God,” gasped Paul, “I liked the bastard!” (I can sympathise with Paul on this score, having once had a similar experience with Horst Mahler.) This led Ingrams, once he had a few quid, to move to the country and only come to London for work purposes, the theory being that his scalpel would be blunted if he had to mix socially with his targets. This, together with Ingrams having been a notably authoritarian editor, helped give the Eye its edge. The old man also had the sense to get out before he’d outstayed his welcome, though not before he’d sacked most of the old gang and lined up a young sycophant to replace him.

And so here we are. The old gang are either dead or chuntering away into elderly crankiness, Hislop and Wheen have been in situ since the 1980s (and are of an age where they could conceivably carry on for another 20 years), and there’s a notable lack of new inspiration. As D2 says, the sycophants of yesterday are the old farts of today, who beget sycophants of their own. The viciousness of old is blunted by the farts being part of the media-luvvie circuit themselves. The vendettas are there yet, but transparently based on little more than personal grudges. The gossip bits are now covered by Guido and his ilk, who can do it all online with much more immediacy than a fortnightly mag can muster. And if I have to read another “Ratbiter” column bigging up Douglas Murray and David Toube as experts on Islam, I’ll be not inconsiderably annoyed. Oh yes.

On reflection, perhaps D2 is a bit harsh in saying that the Eye has transmogrified into Punch. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was a decompression chamber for Oldie readers looking for something a bit more sedate.


  1. May 29, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    […] it was splinty who struck the cruelest blow: On reflection, perhaps D2 is a bit harsh in saying that the Eye has transmogrified into Punch. […]

  2. ejh said,

    May 30, 2010 at 8:25 am

    I’ve already said my piece on both Jamie and Dsquared’s blogs but I’ll say here that it’s worth critics giving the Eye a few months of Conservative government to see if they think it picks up: it’s usually better under the Tories.

  3. May 31, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Cartoons pretty good, especially ‘it’s grim up North London’; the rest of the humour just skim over. I disagree about the book reviews – they never review anything worth the effort. But where else these days can you get ANY investigative journalism? Trouble is that they’re public school right wingers basically so you can’t entirely trust them, especially on foreign matters where they’re pretty much in line with the MSM propaganda; and some say PE is a regular outlet for SIS slanders and misinfo. But their coverage of the PFI scams, especially in the NHS has been excellent. ‘In the City’ too, though often only for the deeply interested. That’s it really – maybe at most half a dozen pages of info you probably won’t get anywhere else. ‘The Broons’ was good too, but I suppose the joke would be lost to those not brought up on the Scottish Sunday Post.

  4. organic cheeseboard said,

    May 31, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Just to echo ejh here really – give them a few months under a Tory govt – what first allied me to the mag was their willingness to undercut positive spin for things like PFI, which reminded me of when I’d earlier read my Dad’s copies which were very strong on exposing tory corruption. Not to say there wasn’t a lot of that under New Labour, but that they do seem to have been stronger, from memory, when the Tories were in power.

    But I an’t also help echoing a lot of thers, in the idea that the magazine feels very tired at the moment. Every single piece in street of shame dealing with tehgraun is anti-graun, and pro-observer, for example; the richard Desmond stuff is just plain dull now; and they have pointless vendettas against certain journos (Johann Hari and the aforementioned Gordon spring to mind); this is even infecting the political pages which are openly anti-Bercow, to their detriment.

    maybe i just didn’t read it as attentively as i do now, or maybe i was more willing to accept that targets of vendettas were definitely Bad People, but all these petty pointscoring exercises re really boring.

    I’ve always opened it at Bookworm, mind you, since although the reviews are always negative, it manages to undercut, in interesting and usually accurate ways, the smugness and the hype machines of the book world. Ditto remote controller, most of the time, though again on occasion that also sems to be motivated by grudges.

    Ratbiter seems, mercifully, to have been relegated into rehashing columns about libel laws over and over again now, though i’m certain it won’t be long before another copy and paste from Islamophobia Central is allowed in.

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