Winter Wordfest: 50 Years of Private Eye

Charming, educating and amusing its audience with a diverse and colourful program, Winter Wordfest descended upon the ADC theatre on Sunday 27th November in a celebration of Literature.

New and established writers covered a whole range of exciting genres in one day, these included; Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who discussed his book, Back From The Brink, 1000 Day’s Living At Number 11, Gordon Brown and Britain’s financial crisis; Clare Tomalin with her new biography on Charles Dickens, published for his 200th Birthday; Peter Popham thrilled the audience by analysing his vibrant book ‘The Lady And The Peacock ‘, which illuminated the Burmese female Politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, who served a prison sentence for twenty one years; Indian poet, novelist and travel writer Vikram Seth, charmed a packed theatre on his love of Chinese poetry and his new book The Rivered Earth ; Columnist and author David Baddiel joked on stage about his fourth novel, The Death of Eli Gold, he also had to mention his love of football and stand – up comedy.

It’s not fair to say Ian Hislop and Adam MacQueen headlined the day, but due to their ticket sales it became very obvious they were the festival favorites, as they celebrated the 50th birthday of Private Eye Magazine, which also ended the successful event. The pair also agreed to do a second slot earlier in the day, as Diana Athill had to withdraw for health reasons.

According to ADC – ‘Tickets for Winter Wordfest went on sale to the general public last Friday (28th October) and it was our most successful opening day ever. In less than half an hour, our event with Ian Hislop and Adam MacQueen marking the 50th anniversary of Private Eye had sold out, breaking Box Office records at the ADC Theatre’.

Adam MacQueen

The virtually unknown Adam MacQueen and author of the book ‘Private Eye The First 50 Years’, has worked for the satirical fortnightly magazine for the past 14 years, written two novels, been part of the editorial team of Popbitch.com (I’m not slightly embarrassed that I’ve never heard of this website before) and was acting editor of the Big Issue, so its obvious he’s very successful in his own right.

Without taking any credit away from Adam, it must be nice to know your book will be an instant seller before you write the first word. Having Ian Hislop to promote your book must be reassuring to say the least. Ian admitted ‘ The book was completely down to Adam, I had virtually nothing to do with putting it together’.

Wearing a pin-stripped suit that looked to big for him, and scrunching his face up like a public school boy as he laughed, it was obvious to see how proud Ian Hislop was of the magazine, as he answered questions from Adam about working at the Eye, and the ups and downs of the previous two and a half decades as the Editor.

‘ Do you like your job?’ asks Adam,

‘No I bloody hate it’ was the immediate retort, before the trademark smile and possibly only un-sarcastic comment of the evening, ‘No it’s great, of course I love it’.

Ian Hislop

Ian Hislop then told the story about Peter Cook’s (the late owner of Private Eye) ‘finest hour’. Ian explains, ‘ Robert Maxwell, the then proprietor of the Daily Mirror had got the Eye removed from newsstands over a potential libel, and was planning to print a million copies of a rival magazine called “Not Private Eye”.

Ian told how his loyal team set about sinking Not Private Eye, by sending a crate of whisky to the journalists working on it, which was ‘Cook’s ingenious idea’. Later they drove around to the Mirror’s London HQ to find all their journalists, ‘totally legless’ in Maxwell’s office.

Ian reminisced how he and his gang had grabbed a dummy front cover of the Not Private Eye, who’s front page claimed Ian had been, ‘approaching young boys on Hampstead Heath, which was totally untrue – it was Clapham Common’, he confidently joked.

Peter then orders a crate of Champagne from The Daily Mirrors catering and then phoned Robert Maxwell himself from New York, laughing down the phone shouting, ‘Hello Captain Bob, guess where we are’. Just before security threw them all out.

Whilst not claiming to be Private Eye’s number one fan, I have had a subscription for the past six months, as a way of learning and trying to impress my friends about Politics, Super Injunctions, The Leverson Inquiry and Rupert Murdoch’s mess, without being bored to death. Private Eye seemed a great and cheap way to do this, as an issue only costs £1.50. Nevertheless I have found on occasions some articles slightly long-winded and pointless. This is probably down to the fact I don’t have the strongest grip on British politics to understand where some of the jokes are. However this new book is an excellent way to see what scoops the magazine has covered, as they have specialised in gossip and mis-deeds of the powerful and famous over the past 50 years. I can see many of these books being animatedly ripped open from devoted Private Eye readers stockings this Christmas.

Images reproduced from cambridgewordfest.co.uk