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.