Sunday, August 04, 2019

Ian Hislop's tribute to Christopher Booker reveals the problem with Private Eye's view of the world

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The current issue of Private Eye celebrates the life and work of Christopher Booker.

People of may age and younger will know Booker through his campaigning journalism against the European Union and measures to combat climate change. This was wrongheaded and, as far as he had influence, harmful to the national interest.

But, though he made the mistake of going on holiday in the Eye’s early days and returned to find himself ousted as editor by Richard Ingrams, it is clear from his contributions reprinted in the current issue that Booker was central to the organ’s view of the world.

Dave Spart, The Secret Diary of John Major aged 473/4, St Albion Parish News: he had a hand in them all.

He even wrote the greater part of the parody of Mr Justice Cantley’s summing up in the Jeremy Trial that Peter Cook made famous.

So I am happy for Christopher to be celebrated by Private Eye. He deserves it.

I am less happy with Ian Hislop part in this commemoration.

Hislop has spent the past 33 years editing Private Eye. As he is younger than I and has shown limited ambition to change the magazine, that means he has spent pretty much his entire adult life bathed in the view of the world that Booker established.

So you might expect a degree of affection for Booker from Hislop and some sophisticated reflections on satire and its role in our society and how it has changed since Booker's heyday.

Not a bit of it.

Here are two quotations from Hislop’s tribute o Christopher Booker in the current Private Eye:
And that is the reason I think he was really known as the Deacon – because he always wanted to share some insight, to convert you to his view of an event or an issue and to make you see the truth of it. That sounds a bit preachy (nicknames are rarely entirely affectionate) , but at Private Eye it was always done through humour and it was his defining motivation “to tell the truth smilingly”. This Horatian view of satire was… (put this into Pseuds Corner – Ed).
Given how rude he was about the BBC, his approach was positively Reithian – he really did want to educate, inform and entertain. His stint on That Was The Week That Was was a model of this sort of Juvenalian fury (put his in Pseuds Corner as well – Ed).
So you see, whenever Hislop is on the point of saying something admiring of Booker or at all revealing about satire, he abandons the attempt and takes refuge in the Eye’s decades-old tactic of laughing at the heartfelt.

Such an attitude may have seemed radical when Booker and Ingrams and Willie Rushton adopted it at Shrewsbury School in the 1950s, but for Hislop still to be embracing it almost 70 years on suggest there is something deeply conservative about Private Eye - and Hislop himself,

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