Private Eye (magazine)

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A British fortnightly satirical magazine, running since 1961.

It does a lot of investigative journalism and has been sued for libel a considerable number of times (it usually loses, and would have been bankrupted by the damages if not for donations from supporters and subscribers). Its editor, Ian Hislop (a team captain on Have I Got News for You), even held the record for 'Most Sued Man in England' for a time. For many years it was verging on a point of pride how long it had been since they won a case. The first time Ian Hislop won a libel suit, the following issue was filled in celebratory manner with yet more libelous material, just because they knew they'd get away with it.

(For those reading from outside the UK, it's important to point out that under British law it is possible for something to be both perfectly true and libelous, as it is up to the defendant to prove the truth of what he/she has said. In the USA, the person bringing the suit has to prove that what was said is false. The flip side of this is that getting an injunction to prevent something being published in the first place is rather harder in Britain - otherwise known as Publish and be damned. Or at least, it was, before the current fad for "super injunctions", where the target is not even allowed to say they have had an injunction put upon them, let alone talk about the original subject...)

It has a number of regular cartoon strips and ongoing parodies, such as:

  • "The Broonites", which features the Brown camp of the now former Labour government and who all speak in exaggerated Scottish accents- even the English ones. This is done in the style of The Broons, a cartoon strip from The Sunday Post.
    • Contains an apparently deliberate example for comic effect of Just Plane Wrong. In the 1205 strip, Gordon Brown is put on a plane to Afghanistan to solve the government's popularity problems. The plane- an English Electric Lightning, long gone from RAF service.
      • This is possibly a bizarre example of the cartoonist having Shown Their Work. You see, the original cartoonist on The Broons- (Dudley D Watkins) spent the whole of World War Two drawing anything military in the same style as his earlier adventure comics: That is, straight out of World War One.
  • "The New Coalition Academy" - Reporting on government affairs in the style of a posh school's newsletter. Previous versions for earlier governments include:
    • "Prime Ministerial Decrees"- Gordon Brown as a Stalin-style leader.
    • "St. Albion's Parish News" - Tony Blair as a rural vicar (became a TV series as A Sermon from St Albion's)
    • "The Secret Diary of John Major (aged 47¾)" - written in Adrian Mole style
    • "Dear Bill" - Margaret Thatcher's husband Dennis writes to Bill Deedes, editor of the Daily Telegraph
    • "Heathco. Newsletter" - Edward Heath as MD of a failing business
    • "Mrs. Wilson's Diary" - Harold Wilson's wife writes in the style of BBC radio show Mrs. Dale's Diary
  • "Dave Snooty and his New Pals"- David Cameron in the style of The Beano strip Lord Snooty. Boris Johnson features quite a bit (crossing over from the earlier Beano parody Boris The Menace).
  • "The Adventures of Mr Millibean"- Replacing The Broon-ites, Ed Miliband and the Labour Shadow Cabinet in the style of the Mr. Bean cartoon spinoff.
  • "Celeb", made into a brief TV series, it involves a fading pop-star Gary Bloke and his wife, daughters (Rosedrop Bunnypetal and Pixie Frou-frou) and son Troy.
  • "Supermodels" - Parodies the current events in the fashion industry, all the models in this comic are drawn as a thin line for the body.
  • "It's Grim Up North London" - features a group of friends of the new age liberal type.
  • "Apparently"
  • "Pseuds Corner", a column which highlights particularly pompous and pretentious quotes from that week's media.
  • "Colemanballs", which records ridiculous or just plain stupid quotes from the broadcast - and usually sports - media. Named after the now-retired and notoriously gaffe-prone sports commentator David Coleman. A typical Colemanball, spoken by Alan Minter: "Sure there have been injuries and deaths in boxing - but none of them serious."
    • Extends to other fields when the material is abundant, such as "Warballs" regarding the War On Terror.
  • "The Book of (Insert Israeli leader name here)", which presents contemporary Middle Eastern events in the style of the King James Bible, and usually ends in "and so it was back to the square which is called one".
  • "Yobs" or "Yobbettes" when the story features females. A Strip which features (un)working class people behaving yobbishly.
  • Young British Artists: a satire on the works and attitudes of modern British artists. Typically featuring Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Carl Freedman.
  • Craig Brown's Diary: Spoof diary of politician or celebrity, usually based on the assumption that their private life is exactly like their public life (So Prince Charles spends all his time worrying about architecture, Barack Obama can only talk in inspirational speeches, and so on). Made into a Radio 4 series as The Lost Diaries.
  • Gnome: a spoof editorial by the fictional proprieter Lord Gnome or his lackey E. Strobes. (Lord Gnome appeared in the 1993 TV special The Bore of the Year Awards, played by the Eye's real-life founder Peter Cook.) Also, "The Curse of Gnome", where they point out that people who've won libel cases against them generally come to a bad end.
  • Glenda Slagg: Spoof tabloid woman's columnist, whose articles are full of condemnation/praise for whoever the gossip magazines are talking about, usually switching from one to the other within a single column. Catchphrases "Aintchasickofim" and "Dontchaloveim".
  • Polly Filler: Spoof broadsheet woman's columnist, whose articles are about how difficult it is being an upper-middle class young mother, because you have to spend all day telling the au pair to do things. Also uses her column to plug the collected edition of her columns, the novel based on her columns and, most recently, the film based on the novel based on her columns.
  • The Alternative Voice(Dave Spart): Straw Liberal. And it's typical of the right-wing, Thatcher-loving junta that, er...
  • A Taxi-Driver Writes: Straw Conservative. String 'em up, it's the only language they understand.
  • The Eye's Controversial New Columnist: A baby, who gives the important baby's eye view of current events (usually that the people involved are acting like, well, babies).

There are also features on the hypocrisy of the Fleet Street press ("Street of Shame") and a great section called "Rotten Boroughs" on local council misbehaviour, along with annual awards—such as for Tory bigots.

Also, by way of a Running Gag, their generic parody name for a law firm is "Sue, Grabbitt and Runne".

Fond of the Unusual Euphemism and obscure nickname, sometimes for legal reasons, to the point that it can become unreadable to those not in the know. Most of these are derived from very obscure old political scandals. Some examples:

  • Baillie Vass = former Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home (after The Scotsman mixed up the captions for a photo of him with a photo of the titular castle)
    • It's all right not to have heard of him- he was only in office a year.
  • "Exotic cheroot" = cannabis
  • "Tired and emotional" = drunk
  • "Ugandan discussions" = having sex
  • "The reply given in the case of Arkell vs. Pressdram" = "Fuck off" (for details, see Sophisticated As Hell.)
  • "Carter-Fuck" = Carter-Ruck and Partners, legal firm with whom Private Eye have crossed swords many times.
  • "Crapita" = Capita, a large out-sourcing company known for cocking up Government contracts for things like building schools and running IT systems
  • "Brenda" = HM The Queen
  • "Brian" = Prince Charles
  • "Inspector Knacker" = the Police, especially the Metropolitan Police (a.k.a. Scotland Yard, as in "Knacker of the Yard -- geddit?)
  • "[Takes out onion]" = insincere public crying
  • "The Glendas" = the sort of columnists Glenda Slagg is a parody of. Usually female, although Tony Parsons of the Mirror has been designated a "Glen".
  • The Grauniad = The Guardian (a newspaper known for its spelling mistakes and other typographical errors)
    • The success of this nickname can be seen by the fact that redirects to the Guardian's website.
  • The Torygraph = The Daily Telegraph (right-leaning newspaper)
    • Also The Steffigraph during Wimbledon.
  • The Indescribablyboring = The Independent (another newspaper)
  • Er..
  • That's it. (That's enough nicknames. Ed)
Tropes used in Private Eye (magazine) include:
  • Arch Enemy: At varying times this role has been filled by Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch, Piers Morgan and Mohammed Al Fayed among others.
  • Arc Number / Memetic Number: 94. This derives from a common gag where a long run-on list or article will end in "cont. page 94", the joke being that the Eye is obviously nowhere near thick enough to actually have a page 94. While this joke is still used straight, the number has become iconic and representative of the Eye itself, so is now found in other context—any parody of a topical media that involves numbers will use it (e.g. The Number 23 is parodied as The Number 94).
  • Driver of a Black Cab: The "A Cab Driver Writes" segment, which portray any recent celebrity or politician who's said something intolerant as such a cabbie. Occasional variations appear, e.g. Islamic extremists being portrayed as "A Camel Driver Writes".
  • Flame War: The "From the Messageboards" column is set in a fictional forum where one seems to be permanently ongoing. Time to end the disastrous democratic experiment.
  • Funny Spoon: The "Me and My Spoon" column, a parody of celebrity lifestyle columns.
  • Insistent Terminology: Referring to Alec Douglas-Home as "Baillie Vass" and Andrew Neil as Andrew Neill with two Ls (apparently purely because it annoys him). Mohammed Al Fayed is always referred to simply as Mohammed Fayed, on the grounds that he added the 'al' himself.
  • In the Style Of: Much of the humour in the second half is based on this, such as the "Book of (Insert Current Israeli Leader Here)" bits which present contemporary Middle East events in the style of the King James Bible.
  • Long List: Usually subverted, with a ten-point (or more) list being promised but it petering out around point 6 with "Er...That's it."
  • Malaproper and Metaphorgotten: The Colemanballs column.
  • Mood Swinger: Glenda Slagg, a parody of female columnists like Lynda Lee-Potter who swing between gushingly effusive and poisonously biting opinions of the same celebrity between columns—Glenda is an exaggeration, switching from one pole to the other in alternating paragraphs.
  • New Media Are Evil: The Eye is usually at least somewhat guilty of this, although it changes over time. On the other hand, they are also fond of mocking newspapers' (especially the Guardian and the Telegraph) belief that they can get bloggers to do their jobs for them for free by encouraging them to "Join the debate!"
  • The Nicknamer: The magazine itself, see above—pretty much every British newspaper has a well-known nickname that was given to it by the Eye. A lot of politicians and celebrities have also been given nicknames, usually derisive:
    • Tony Blair was "The Dear Leader" (the title used by Kim Jong-il of North Korea) due to accusations of a messiah complex.
    • Boris Johnson is "Beano Boris" due to his cartoonish antics.
    • Colourful Lib Dem Lembit Opik was dubbed "Lemsip Optrex" (two brand names for cough medicine and eye drops respectively)
    • Ed Miliband has become "Mr. Milibean"
    • Piers Morgan is "Piers Moron", sometimes phrased as "Piers 'Morgan' Moron" as though Moron is his real name and Morgan the nickname.
    • Rupert Murdoch is "The Dirty Digger" (Digger = Australian) and Richard Desmond is "Dirty Des", both referencing their more unsavoury connections.
  • Note From Ed: Usually to say the columnist is fired.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Sometimes people or institutions are only ever referred to by their nickname, which can create a Continuity Lock Out for new readers. More commonly though the real name is used at the beginning before shifting to the nickname for the rest of the segment.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The "Prime Ministerial Decrees" spoof of Gordon Brown had him constantly spouting Communist jargon adapted to the here and now, such as referring to David Cameron's politics as "neo-Bullingdonite-Etonist deviationist backsliding". Also sometimes appears in the Dave Spart segments.
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old / Time Abyss: Jokes of this type were constantly made about ancient journalists Bill Deedes and Alistair Cooke prior to their deaths (and Deedes jokes still occasionally show up).
  • Romance Novel: The "Dame Sylvie Krin" segments are parodies of this, with subjects such as Prince Charles and Camilla or Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng.
  • Single-Issue Wonk: Several newspapers are presented as being unhealthily obsessed with one or two issues, such as Diana's death (the Daily Express), house prices and things giving you cancer (the Daily Mail) and Liz Hurley and 'fruity girls' in general (the Daily Telegraph).
    • A now vanished Running Gag involved a discussion being sidetracked at the first mention of The Sizzler, an exorbitantly expensive breakfast available on long train journeys, with the article wandering off into singing The Sizzler`s praises.
    • The "From the Messageboards" column is set in a fictional internet forum made up almost entirely of trolls of this type.
  • Strawman Political: Many.
    • Dave Spart, and occasionally his Distaff Counterpart Deirdre Spart and gay version Cedric Spart: stereotypical far left wing politics.
    • Sir Hubert Gussett: ultraconservative rural Tory politics. The older character of "Sir Bufton Tufton", who predates the Eye, is also sometimes mentioned.
  • Strongly Worded Letter: A frequent feature is a spoof Split Screen of the letters pages of the Guardian and Telegraph, with two writers each having written a Strongly Worded Letter about a topical news story, but being outraged for opposite reasons.
  • Trans-Atlantic Equivalent: The second half of the Eye is similar to America's The Onion in content.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Has added several to the language, mostly deriving from weedy excuses or alibis given by politicians embroiled in scandals:
    • "Discussing Uganda" / "Ugandan discussions" = having sex
    • "Tired and emotional" = drunk
    • "Exotic cheroot" = cannabis
  • The Vicar: Tony Blair was presented as one in the 'Vicar of St Albion's' parody, inspired by a comparison that had been made by many in the media who had compared his style when making speeches to that of a trendy Anglican vicar giving a sermon.
  • The Weird Al Effect: Some phrases the Eye has kept going are now more associated with it than their original progenitors, such as "as any fule kno", which comes from Molesworth.
  • What Could Have Been: Parodied with the "First Drafts" cartoon series, which features famous authors either in the process of inventing their distinctive style or trying to write before having discovered it (such as Philip Roth starting a book with "I'm Jewish; I don't see much mileage in that, so, moving on...")
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: The Sizzler (see above).
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: In the "Book of (Insert Current Israeli Leader Here)" segments and sometimes some of the Retraux newspaper segments which compare current events to historical ones.

However, the truly unparalleled touch of genius about Private Eye is widely thought to be its famous (cont. p.94).