Private Eye for the Satire Guy

first_imgPrivate Eye raises hell. Always has done – it’s been sued more times than anyone can count and provides much weekly amusement, from titters to belly-laughs, at the expense of the famous, the pompous and the crooked (preferably all three in one person). You’d expect the former editor-in-chief, Richard Ingrams, would not have gone gently into any future jobs. So what controversial, high-profile publication does he currently helm? He’s now editor of The Oldie magazine, which caters for those advancing in years. Does he think he’s done anything to improve the image of old people through the magazine? “No, not really. I don’t think I’ve done anything – I’m not in the business of campaigning for certain causes. It’s a bit of a joke.” This doesn’t sound like someone who used to run a magazine famed for strong views on people. The killer streak always perceptible in Private Eye’s style seems to have mutated into the irascibility not unassociated with the elderly. Does he think The Oldie has any other purpose than to entertain, then? Another ‘no’: “The purpose of all journalism and writing, I think, should be to entertain, rather than to have some crusading ambitious aim.” This seems strange given Private Eye’s longenduring vendettas. Is he proud of what he did at Private Eye? He laughs. “I certainly had a lot of fun when I was there. I’m very pleased it’s survived so long, you know, forty years now. In the life of any magazine forty years is impressive; most are gone very quickly. It’s a cause of pleasure.” This pleasure seems to derive from the smugness of getting one over one’s enemy; Ingrams‘ favourite stories from his years at the Eye are “running campaigns against Robert Maxwell, James Goldsmith, Jeremy Thorpe. Those are memorable.” Private Eye was a major irritant to those figures, who made perfect targets for the magazine’s particular brand of pompbursting satire; in Maxwell, fame, self-importance and criminality combined to make him a legitimate mark (in the magazine’s view) for their unrelenting attacks. Was Private Eye a valid forum for such campaigns, in his opinion? “It was certainly very useful for ridiculing public figures. It’s an entirely independent organism, unlike others which are owned by newspaper or media conglomerates; the editor has total control, which is rare nowadays. I was there when Peter Cook was proprietor and there was complete freedom; Ian Hislop now has complete freedom.” Despite fond recollections, no journalist escapes without regrets, especially true for Ingrams since Private Eye could cut deeply. “There were lots of mistake in that long period, but when you consider that it was such a long period, it’s not to be wondered at. Of course, my memory’s bad now so I can’t remember too specifically. Take the Hitler Diaries – we were taken for a ride with those. There was nothing else on that scale – mainly details were wrong. When I look at it again, the Eyewas right, the people it went for were right. There’s a danger when you attack small people who don’t have the money to sue or defend themselves.” We move on to what seems to be a national pastime these days – taking people to court. It is not, however, as prevalent here yet as it is in America, where it’s practically been written into the Constitution. On the subject of suing, does he think the media culture today is becoming overly litigious? “No, in fact I’d say it was the other way round when compared with the old days. Jeffrey Archer, going to jail for lying, has put people off suing and litigation. The media has always been litigious, on the other hand. Journalists are far more selfimportant than politicians and so are more likely to sue. Take Sir Harold Evans, the former Times and Sunday Times editor. He came to think of himself quite highly.” I sense a high–profile rivalry of the sort which newspaper barons used to have, channelling their views through their papers. This is an interesting line worth pursuing, and Ingrams doesn’t seem like he will hold back. I plunge in: does he have any schadenfreude over what’s been happening to Harold Evans and his wife, Tina Brown (former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair whose latest effort, Talk, folded ignominiously)? “Oh yes, tremendous schadenfreude, tremendous. I knew her when she was an Oxford student. The way to get in to journalism was to interview, and she was a fetching young blonde lady who charmed many old men. She’s now a queen bee.” Does he think her fame is commensurate with her ability? “Well, I never had a high opinion of her as a journalist. She was socially very ambitious. Vanity Fairand similar, they’re puff magazines doing publicity for people you’ve never heard of. If you become rich and famous in America and then fail, they turn on you.” I think it’s best to move on in case the Evans-Brown’s lawyers decide to pick up this week’s Cherwell. An innocuous – well, less sensitive – topic suggests itself: does he think a magazine like Private Eyewould go down well in America? But Ingrams is in full swing. “The thing about America is that American magazines are all about people you’ve never heard of – rich businessmen, movie stars and so on. Americans don’t like satire and gossip. Graydon Carter (current editor of Vanity Fair) started Spy, which was like Private Eye. I admired it, but it didn’t last that long. Graydon Carter’s now a prosperous- looking man running Vanity Fair; that’s what happens – you go from satirical to businessman.” Moving away from America (I pray), we turn to the home front. Is there anyone he thinks has a big future in journalism? Anyone he currently admires? “I don’t tend to follow young careers. I like the journalism of the Independentand particularly its coverage of the Iraq War. Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn – they’re extremely good.” Some positive comments. Phew. Does he like them for their political views or for the quality of their writing? “It’s probably a bit of both, I suppose. I really admire oldfashioned journalists – the problem with journalists today is that they sit in front of computer screens. It’s old-fashioned going out and talking to people. The problem was when all the newspapers moved into Docklands – they went out of the centre of town and now they’re isolated from the city.” So is journalism more impersonal now? “It’s much more impersonal and not such fun. Back then, the hugga-mugga journalists mixed with one another and with MPs. It’s a very different scene.” As we’re finishing the interview, Ingrams offers the following: “I hope that was suitably Victor Meldrew-ish for you.” Quite.ARCHIVE: 2nd week TT 2004last_img

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