Private Eye: the first 50 years

Private Eye Exhibition Cartoonists' Club outing

The Cartoonists' Club visit. Left to right: Alex Noel Watson, Pete Shea, Cathy Simpson, Ian Ellery, Alan Scragg, Robert Duncan, Royston Robertson, Tim Harries, Ger Whyman, Chris Williams

Did you miss it?  Well it was easily done; I had to ask a security guard twice where it was. Up until early January tucked away in two rooms of the V&A sat the ‘Private Eye: The first 50 years’ exhibition.  Its main focus was what some say are the only reason people buy the magazine… the cartoons.

Although you may have expected a greater floor space there’s no doubt that quality and quantity were on offer.  The exhibition was tightly packed with some of the best cartoon artwork to grace the Eye over the past five decades.

The first room was dominated by a wall plastered from floor to ceiling with fifty covers, one for each year, as chosen by Ian Hislop. Alongside we see the early years featuring artwork from the likes of Scarfe, Steadman, Heath, Barry Fantoni and co founder Willie Ruston (I’d totally forgotten what a superb cartoonist he was).

Themes of politics, royalty and social observation ran through the second room with a treasure trove of cartoonists and favourite gags to numerous to mention.  Again it was piled high sadly making the upper reaches inaccessible to those without perfect vision or a big friend to hold them up.

A chaotic editor’s desk sat in the corner strewn with notes and sketches to give you some idea of the work that goes into putting an issue together. I did spot some unscrupulous cartoonists leave issues proudly open at their work.

The short video ‘Watching ink dry‘ gave us an overview of a cartoons being created and selected for publication. If you didn’t get to watch all of it due to people harrumphing you to move along it can still be viewed on the website’s Eye Player.

By all accounts the exhibition was extremely popular to the point of overcrowding at times. So it’s a bit of a shame that it can’t now leave its native capital and bring echoing laughter to other stoic institutions across the land.

Chris Williams

Main image courtesy of Gerard Whyman

This review appeared in the ‘The Jester’ January 2012

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