The National Theatre Platforms are an eclectic programme of events celebrating all aspects of the arts. On Monday at the Olivier Theatre the book Private Eye a Cartoon History was launched by editor Ian Hislop and cartoonist Nick Newman. They discussed the new collection, which brings together some of the best cartoons from Private Eye’s fifty year history.
Ian Hislop is sent hundreds of cartoons a day. Only 25-30 appear in each fortnightly issue of the magazine, but even so, over 30,000 cartoons have appeared in its pages since 1961. Hislop and Newman have selected a thick hardback book’s worth of the best as a representative history of Private Eye.
With the stage set for Othello the two humorists came onto the stage at the Olivier Theatre, along with MC Libby Purves. The two men have been friends for years and even co-founded a satirical magazine at school. This Private Eye book is only their latest collaboration in a long series, previous projects having included writing for Spitting Image and Harry Enfield and Chums.
Newman controlled a big screen from a tablet, showing cartoons that made it into the book, many of which elicited huge laughs from the audience. In one by Ed McLachlan that was particularly well-received a giant hedgehog raced across a road, squashing cars as he went.
Originally Willie Rushton did all the cartooning at the Eye, but nowadays anyone can send work in. Unfortunately rejection is the most likely outcome, given the number of pieces sent in, but Hislop does send out a very polite rejection note.
Questioned about the Danish Islam cartoons that resulted in bombings, Hislop said he wished that all the British media had agreed to publish the images on a particular day. That didn’t happen and he admitted that not publishing them in Private Eye was ‘in the end an act of cowardice’. He admired the bravery of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, before claiming that if the Daily Telegraph didn’t have the cartoonist Matt and the crossword they would be in real trouble.
The question of taste was raised, and the lines over which they would not cross. Newman said the cartoonist produced ideas, whatever they were, it was up to the editor to make judgements about their suitability for publication. Hislop felt he would only publish a cartoon that he could justify.
Strangely it was revealed that the targets of political cartoons are the keenest purchasers of the work. Jeffery Archer in particular is keen to own all the pieces that mention him, no matter how painful the lampooning. Some of the world’s best cartoonist have been published in the Eye and many of their gag cartoons have aged well and still make people laugh today.