Anyone subscribe to Private Eye? I do, and have done for almost forty years. But I am beginning to wonder why. The cackle quotient declines on an almost weekly basis and this week I couldn’t find a single thing to laugh at. One can usually depend upon Craig Brown’s piece and 'From The Message Boards', which is almost always very cleverly written. But not this edition. There’s also Dumb Britain which often raises a laugh and Pseuds Corner. But the main body of the mag has been a humour-free zone for yonks.
A few years back they increased the number of cartoons hugely, presumably in order to fill in for the otherwise utter absence of mirth. But the cartoons – unless the wonderful McLachlan has contributed – are pretty dire and sometimes inexplicable. The whole thing reeks of a lack of wickedness and malice. In Richard Ingrams’ day both the prevailing culture and the counter culture were relentlessly mocked and the mag was wonderfully un-pc, while being anti-establishment. I don’t get that at all today. It seems timid and worried.
It is still doing extraordinarily well in terms of sales, better than ever – 250,000 and counting. But I do wonder if its success in this sphere is a consequence of its resolute refusal, these days, to offend. Which I kinda thought was its raison d’etre. But its become suffocatingly liberal, and the problem with liberals is that they’re not terribly funny. It’s true that down the years people have often said that Private Eye is not as funny as it was. Sure. They also said that Punch wasn’t as funny as it once was. And in that they were right.