Note: I am presently trying to sell my semi-complete run of Private Eye between 1979 and 2005. I’m having little success. But I have been nudged into looking again at some of the very early issues that I found in a cupboard when I was at school.
They make for a depressing read. With a few exceptions, none of the villains named in the old issues ever came to a bad end. Instead, he continued lying and defrauding his way to the grave. Everything identified back then as a problem has got steadily worse.
Here is a set of pieces by Auberon Waugh, just as he was coming into his prime. At the time, I recall his vicious contempt for the Heath Government was not thought entirely reputable journalism. Looking back, with the hindsight of 40-odd years, at the multiple catastophe that Government was, his attacks seem almost gentle. I don’t think anyone believes nowadays that politicians do other than lie or prevaricate all the time.
I have included a few notes in square brackets for those who might not know or recall some of the nicknames or references. SIG
From Private Eye, 228, 11 Sept 1970
One explanation for Grocer’s [pejorative name for Edward Heath] leisurely style of government is that its members are slowly finding, to their enormous relief, that none of them has a single idea for solving our problems. Two important decisions were taken soon after the General Election: one was to appoint a committee of businessmen to watch over the Civil Service; the other was to revive the House of Lords with an infusion of 35 brilliant young Conservative recruits.
Nearly three months afterwards, Tory cabinet ministers are still asking at dinner parties if anyone present knows a public- spirited businessman or has heard of a brilliant young Conservative.
Most people would immediately think of the great and good Sir William Haley-Mogg, whose wisdom and kindliness illuminate a bleak world; of the Rev. Christopher Booker, Mr Bernard Levin, Sniffer Wells – yes, even of the late Nigel Lawson, who, although small, lacked neither ambition nor enterprise throughout his tragically brief career. But the only name which has occurred to the Tories so far is that of Mr Mark Bonham Carter, the influential friend of Michael X. [A reference, I think, to an as yet unbroken scandal about some indecent photographs of Princess Margaret]
The only snags with Bonham Carter, as the brains behind the scheme ruefully admit, are that he is neither brilliant nor young nor Conservative. Further suggestions for anybody possessing the necessary qualifications should be sent on a post card to Lord Jellicohen of that Ilk, The Privy, Westminster SW 1.
A little known facet of Grocer’s amazing character is that he is a compulsive liar. Any- one who doubts this should telephone him at the Grocery. You dial WHI 4433 and ask for “The Study,” which is the code name under which he prefers to be known. When “The Study’s” dulcet voice answers, ask him whether it is true that he is having a £25,000 boat built to replace the Morning ‘Cleod. Grocer will deny it point blank.
He might even answer “balls.” His language is very distressing these days, and he frequently uses the word “balls” to signify disagreement. People might suppose that he is trying to emphasise his masculinity, abrasiveness etc. More often, however, he is merely covering up for a lie.
It may be that Grocer genuinely believes that there is no truth until it has been made the subject of an official pronouncement; that anything which has not been officially admitted must be denied. Other politicians tend to evade the truth (Baillie Vass [an obscure nickname for Alec Douglas Home, the former Prime Minister and current Foreigh Secretary] asked last week if it was true that he had suffered a stroke, cunningly answered that he had seldom felt better) but Grocer’s immediate reaction on being asked a question is either to refuse to answer it or to tell a lie.
In any case, Grocer is having a £25,000 boat built, as anyone who telephones the Clare Lallow boat yard will discover. And thereby hangs a tail.
Keeping Grocer afloat
The whole idea that Grocer is interested in sailing was cooked up at a meeting between Geoffrey Tucker, formerly of Colman Prentice and Varley and some worried businessmen; when it became clear that Grocer was not being a hit as Leader of the Tory Party in Opposition. Our friendly victualler needed a new image they decided. The organ had not been a success, but boating was a classless occupation, and it was into this mould that the blancmange was accordingly poured, to emerge as our wobbly pink Skipper Ted of song and story.
At first they put him in a two-man sailing dinghy called “Fireball” (there we go again), but traded it in for Morning ‘Cleod after two years. The normally quoted cost of Morning ‘Cleod is £ 7000, but in fact our provision merchant spent another £2,500 replacing all foreign equipment aboard with British stuff which was more expensive and less efficient.
The new sails, it is known, were a present from the makers. Similarly, Qantas Airways flew him and his team out to Sydney just for the thrill of it. No doubt other firms have chipped in to keep the plucky little fellow afloat. But the question of just who is paying for this new image, how much it is costing, and what they hope to get out of it will arise in even more acute form with the new boat, which, in addition to costing £25,000 to build, will cost nearly £5000 a year to equip and maintain.
Among those who are thought to have attended the original PR conference at which Sailor Heath was launched is Mr Graham Dowson of the Rank Organisation. Another name mentioned occasionally in connection with Grocer’s sailing activities is that of Sir Maurice Laing, the industrialist. There is no particular reason to suspect these people more than anyone else, but it would be interesting to know exactly who Grocer’s fairy godmothers are, how much it costs to become one, and what benefits one can expect from the role.
Lobby acquitted sensation
The Westminster Lobby Correspondents by Jeremy Tunstall (Routledge 32s).
The main criticisms of the Parliamentary Lobby s system, and of the present collection of clowns who call themselves Lobby correspondents, are well known to readers of the Eye and can be summed up as follows:
1 By obsequiously pretending to believe what Ministers tell them they have succeeded in deceiving the British public and making misgovernment easier.
2 By operating a rigid closed shop – with the enthusiastic assistance of the politicians, naturally enough, but also with the complaisance of idle, money-obsessed newspaper proprietors and drunken puppet-editors – they effectively prevent anyone else from disturbing the complacency of our politicians.
3 Through remorseless toadying to Ministers they also effectively prevent the public at large from realising what blinding mediocrities our leading politicians are.
In other words, these drunks, toadies and geriatrics are as guilty by default as the politicians are for all the ills which beset our punk little, drunk little island.
Now, after years of derision and the well- deserved contempt of all other journalists, the toadies have found someone prepared to toady to them. “Lobby Acquitted” dribbles David Wood, the 106-year-old political editor of that once magnificent organ, The Times, above his review of Jeremy Toadstool’s new book. His only criticism is that behind Toadstool’s “model” of a lobby correspondent, “nobody would guess … the unswerving integrity of Francis Boyd of the Guardian. ”
We need not be surprised that David Wood, 109 last birthday, should single out Francis Boyd, who will be 414 in October, for special mention. Boyd is so unbelievably boring that impressionable young journalists have been known to burst into tears at the first sight of his face.
One wonders if the time will ever come in Fleet Street when there are enough editors of calibre to spike the non stories which pour out of the Parliamentary Lobby every day, sack the people responsible, and refuse to use any story from a political source until politicians submit themselves to the same scrutiny as everyone else.