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Saturday 31 May 2014

So Farewell Then Richard Ingrams

It seems strange to use a phrase probably coined by former Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams about his latest move, which is to resign the editor’s chair at the Oldie magazine, which he created in 1992. There has been a protracted dispute with the current publisher, and rather than allow matters to drag on, Ingrams has decided to call it a day. His editorial presence will be sorely missed.
Ingrams appears on the cover of Private Eye for the first and only time in 1969

It was as editor of the Eye for well over 20 years that Ingrams made his mark, establishing the magazine as a thorn in the side of the establishment, that being not just politicians and their hangers-on, but the press and other parts of the media. Many hated the Eye; many more sued it, though few in proportion won damages from it. One man tried to close it down.

It was during Ingrams’ editorship that James Goldsmith, who younger readers may remember only as the leader of the Referendum Party, a pre-UKIP anti-EU outfit, who barracked “Shagger” Mellor on the occasion of the latter losing his seat in the Labour landslide of 1997, was given leave to sue the Eye on the ancient pretext of criminal libel. Ingrams could have been jailed as a result.

At this time, in the mid-1970s, the Eye was not well-known outside London, although it was popular with students and political activists. Mainstream news sellers like W H Smith and John Menzies refused to stock it. But its readership was sufficiently loyal and determined to help it overcome Goldsmith’s vicious and deliberate attempt to close it down. Ultimately, he was overcome by his own vanity.

The Express titles, it was rumoured, were for sale. Goldsmith got it into his head that owning a newspaper, and being thereby able to get his one true version of events out into the world, was A Very Good Thing. But here a problem entered: despite many in Fleet Street hating Private Eye, the idea of an over-powerful businessman bludgeoning a small publication into submission was terribly bad form.

Goldsmith therefore brought his action against the Eye to a conclusion, and the magazine survived. Ingrams’ determination had been central to its survival; this will always count in his favour. The Eye’s unfortunate attitude towards homosexuals, however, was also largely his doing, as was its tendency to ridicule the feminist movement. That was a great pity, and a great misjudgement.

And, to those of us outside London, the fascination of the Eye under Ingrams with Royalty and the rest of high society was mystifying (fortunately, Ian Hislop, Ingrams’ successor and still editor, did away with this aspect of the magazine). But much of what made Private Eye a success was Richard Ingrams’ doing, and remains in the magazine today. So it is sad to see him leave the editor’s chair for the last time.

Moreover, whether the Oldie can survive his departure is doubtful.

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