Private Eye is a fortnightly satirical magazine, published in the UK since 1961. Its current editor (since 1986) is Ian Hislop. It invariably targets those in authority or having power with the aim of deflating pomposity and cant. Originally started as an offshoot of the satire boom by Oxford University graduates and as an extension of a magazine in Peel's alma mater Shrewsbury School, it has gained a reputation of being a thorn in the side of the establishment and for attracting lawsuits with predictable regularity.

Among Peel's contemporaries at Shrewsbury were Richard Ingrams, Christopher Booker, William Rushton and the much more left-wing Paul Foot, all of whom played important parts in the development of Private Eye, particularly Ingrams, who served as editor for many years. While Peel had a high regard for the magazine's investigative journalism, at one point calling it "as close to a newspaper of record as we have", [1] his relationships with the magazine's founders (at least excepting Foot) were more complicated, as can be seen in his comments in Margrave of the Marshes on an encounter with Ingrams at the BBC:

"Ingrams I found cold, even hostile, and when I once discovered him looking for a studio in the basement of Broadcasting House and led him to it, felt that he still regarded me, then in my fifties, with the lordly disdain that he would certainly have shown in that sanatorium had I been in a position to speak to him." [2]

This could have derived from Peel's school experiences, but may also have been an indication that he did not have much in common with his former schoolmates. Despite Private Eye's willingness to take on the establishment, it was (and is) not a magazine of the Left, being equally scathing about politicians of all parties. What is more, some contributors like Ingrams (who called himself a "Tory anarchist", the same position espoused by long-time Eye diarist Auberon Waugh) and Christopher Booker were cultural conservatives; Booker took a decidedly critical view of pop culture in his book on the 1960s, The Neophiliacs.

Peel's generation of Eye contributors have long since departed (although he claimed to have been a regular reader from 1967 onward), but the magazine has retained its unique format. There are many regular features, one of which, Colemanballs (verbal sporting slip-ups) was chosen by JP for It Makes Me Laugh in 1980. The magazine is willing to be as rude about itself as those it lampoons, and also features serious investigative journalism. One of their book reviews heavily criticised Mick Wall's Peel biography. [1]

Pseuds Corner

Peel was a (not unwilling) victim of the Eye's scathing wit both in print and on record. A piece he wrote for Disc & Music Echo about Pink Floyd referred to "isolated, incredibly melancholic sounds, which cross one another sounding like cries of dying galaxies lost in sheer corridors of time and space" [2]: this earned him an entry in Eye's Pseuds Corner, a feature reserved for laughably pompous journalism normally sent in by observant readers. According to his 02 August 1979 show, he was subsequently featured three times in ten years and proudly reads his Radio Times article about Siouxsie & The Banshees, his latest entry, in which he uses the adjective 'vulturine'. He claims he was aiming for the appearance when writing the piece.

The Loneliness Of The Long-Playing Record

Another regular feature of the magazine was a cover-mounted flexidisc which just about skirted the censorship laws of the time by satirising public figures under fictitious guises such as Spiggy Topes and the Turds, which was a thinly disguised portrayal of John Lennon. However, a 1969 recording actually referred to Peel, Lennon and Yoko Ono by name and parodied the 11 December 1968 show. As usual, long-time patron and contributor Peter Cook impersonated some of the characters, even though Cook and Lennon were good friends: below is a transcription of the piece, subtitled The Loneliness Of The Long-Playing Record (a reference to Alan Sillitoe's book The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner).

BBC Announcer: "But first the news, read by John Peel."
JP: "Well, nothing much has happened really, friend. What I'd like to do for you now is play a bit of a record that John and Yoko, or as we know her, Okay Yoni, have made of their new film, which I think could spread some very good vibrations. (raspberry sound) Tell me John, is it your deep concern about peace and all those very important things, or is it the macrobiotic diet that's sparked off that great new sound?"
Lennon: "No man, you got it wrong, because what we're doing basically is just taking Buddha's Veda and turning it upside down or not. I mean, like Beethoven, he was just a con, like Hunter Davies, [3] he just did it for the bread. I mean, Beethoven just did his LPs as a joke."
JP: "Right, I think that's very right, John."
Lennon: "Right, and don't ask me any more questions man, because I can't think properly since I gave up drugs."
Ono: "Ying a yang."
JP: "Right John, and thank you Yoko, and this is their new sound. I hope you like it: it's very boring and very dull, but I think it's extremely genuine. Right."
(What follows is a kind of hippy anthem to the tune of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.)
JP: "You may think it's a lot of old cock, man, but that's your hang-up."

External Links

  1. Margrave Of The Marshes, Corgi edition, p.125.
  2. Margrave, Corgi edition, ibid. Long-time Peel listener Colin Ellis adds that on the 2013-09-02 edition of Radio 4's Quote...Unquote, Richard Ingrams was one of the participants. "Nigel Rees read out JP's "life has surface noise" soundbite and asked the panel to identify the quote. Can't recall whether anyone did, but when Rees revealed it was a Peel quote, Ingrams remarked 'I was at school with John Peel'. 'And did you read what he said about you in his autobiography?' asked Rees. 'No...', answered Ingrams, but there was a hint of embarrassment in his voice which suggested that he might well have done." This contrasts with Peel's opinion of co-founder and investigative columnist Paul Foot, whom he met at an Eye lunch and was "enchanting, clever, funny and kind."
  3. Author of the Beatles' 1968 auobiography.
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