10 October 2011

50 years of Private Eye: a story of retail, rejection and recognition

It's supposed to be a sure sign of growing older when you start thinking that police officers and doctors are getting younger. Another is when you realise that more and more significant anniversaries are taking place of events you think of as recent memories.

For me, the latest reminder of this is the news that it's 50 years since the fortnightly satirical magazine Private Eye was first published.

Not only do I remember it well, but I was also an early salesman and have been a subscriber and (very occasional) contributor ever since.

Selling the Eye outside university cafeterias was my first serious business venture. Lord Gnome had rightly seen students as a promising source of potential readers and had invited volunteers to join his sales force.

Once a fortnight, all I had to do was to go down to the station and collect my 6o copies of the latest edition, then priced at 1/6d (one shilling and sixpence, or 7.5 pence in new money) - for which I had to pay 1/- (one shilling, or 5 pence in new money) each, leaving a net profit of 30 shillings (£1.50 in new money) per fortnight.

These days, 75 pence a week may sound like a pittance. But when pubs sold a pint of beer for the equivalent of 7.5 pence, it was riches indeed.

For years, I tried unsuccessfully to get Private Eye to publish my hilariously funny (?) cartoons, only to be bombarded with rejection slips suggesting that I should send them to Punch magazine (now coming up to the 10th anniversary of its demise in 2002).

I also rather regret that nothing I've written has ever made it into Pseuds' Corner, even though I know that such acclaim can have embarrassing consequences. Someone (and we haven't forgotten who you are) had successfully submitted a sentence from article about conversational turn-taking that one of my best friends had published in a learned journal.

When I told him that I was rather envious because nothing of mine had ever got into Pseuds' Corner, he warned of the dire consequences such recognition can have. It had been published a few days before he was due in Cambridge to serve as external examiner in a PhD viva. As he put it "they already think we're mad enough to be doing conversation analysis in the first place, without being able to rub it in by waving Private Eye at me before the meeting started."

It wasn't until the mid-1980s that I finally managed to extract a cheque from Lord Gnome for a photograph that I'd taken of the village sign outside a village in Northamptonshire that bore the legend "Silverstone - please drive slowly."

Even then, it had seemed like another rejection for the many months it failed to appear in the I Spy feature, making me grumpier by the fortnight. Then, to give them their due, it turned out that they hadn't binned it after all, but had merely been waiting, with the journalistic flair we expect from Private Eye, to publish it the week before that year's British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

More recently, the Eye published another photograph I'd taken of a fly-posted planning notice from Mendip District Council - at a time when they were wasting unspecified amounts of council-tax payers' money on a campaign against fly-posting notices of forthcoming village events on 'items of street furniture', i.e. MDC jobsworthy jargon for telephone and electricity posts... (continued on p. 94).

Listen again: Lord Gnome aged 49 and 3 quarters - Michael Crick, BBC Radio 4 (8th October - for another 6 days).

1 comment:

domnul said...

An early salesman! A noble cause, Max. I am also proud that Lord Gnome paid me --- very promptly --- 200 smackers a pop for two Letters from Iasi.