We’re on your case, mate


A t whose expense comes the mild irony when, this fall, the cheaply produced scandal sheet Private Eye will have an exhibition of its cartoons and pictorial covers at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a building consecrated to taste and restraint? Perhaps the show’s modest title furnishes a clue: “ Private Eye: The First 50 Years.” Keep in mind that, a half-century ago, the British establishment was almost as near in time to its Victorian forebears as we are to the half-forgotten names—like Harold Macmillan (who even in his own day was described as an Edwardian)—who were so pitilessly lampooned in Private Eye’ s first issues. I was a mere sheltered schoolboy at the time, but couldn’t fail to notice the exciting fact that the authorities were getting nervous. In spite of a BBC monopoly on the airwaves, the semi-official censorship of cinema and the theater, and the titanic, still-enduring prestige of Winston Churchill and the royal family, you could hear the noise of collapsing scenery as a whole parcel of scandals—sexual ones, property ones, espionage ones—started to unwrap at the same time. Private Eye, which could be bought inexpensively and smuggled under the jacket, was the ideal samizdat bulletin, where you could very often read next week’s real news. They so nearly called it Bladder, which would have gone well with the bathroom humor, the word bubbles, the dirty paper, and the graffiti-like cartoons. But that image would also have evoked the squeaky rubber balls of the old court jesters, meant to rebound in the end from the armor of authority.

more from Hitch at Vanity Fair here.