Private Eye: The First 50 Years

17 October 2011

At last. Private Eye makes an art of itself. – Ian Hislop

Oh what joy to see a wall plastered with 50 of the most memorable Private Eye front covers on a chilly Monday morning. In collaboration with the V&A, the magazine’s editor, Ian Hislop, chose the selection (one from each year) to represent the title’s first five decades and in doing so, celebrate a half-century of modern British history.

Founded in October 1961, Private Eye’s unmatched combination of hard-hitting journalism, satire and savage cartoonery, guarantees it has always hit (usually politicians and celebrities) were it really hurts. And that tradition shows no sign of abating:

The exhibition explores the wealth of artistic talent that the magazine has attracted, displaying the original artwork for more than 120 of Private Eye’s funniest cartoons. The magazine has promoted artists such as Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Nick Newman and William Rushton. In fact since the demise of its rival Punch, Private Eye has been the most prominent outlet for cartoonists in the UK.

Below, a 1962 cartoon of Harold Macmillan as Christine Keeler, by Gerald Scarfe:

The magazine has always been known for its basic production methods with its cut-and-paste methods changing very little over the years. The jokes pages – produced in collaborative sessions in the editor’s office – are still written out in longhand, and the text pages compiled from pieces of paper shuffled around the team by hand. Although Letraset, cowgum and stencils have now been replaced by Apple Macs.

There’s a lovely recreation of the editor’s office: scattered with ephemera commemorating past campaigns and court cases together with the pink paper used for joke scribbling. We especially loved the chair (that once belonged to arch-enemy, Robert Maxwell) and the wonderful ‘Bore of the Year’ award.

Private Eye: The First 50 Years is at the V&A until 8 January 2012. The exhibition is free.

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All images by CELLOPHANELAND*.