1976 was a difficult year for the satirical and current affairs magazine Private Eye.
This was the year its then editor, Richard Ingrams received over 60 writs from disgruntled billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith (aka Sir Jams Fishpaste, as the Eye called him). Goldsmith had objected to 3 stories the Eye had published about him—one in particular that suggested Fishpaste had helped his friend, Lord Lucan escape Britain from a murder charge.
Goldsmith and Lucan were bonded by several things, one in particular was a belief Communists had infiltrated western media, and Britain was on the verge of a Communist revolution. It led Fishpaste and Lucan to discuss the pros and cons of a Fascist military coup over “smoked salmon and lamb cutlets.” Their conversation reflected the paranoid, Boy’s Own fantasies of a very privileged and ruthless class.
“[Goldsmith] set out to destroy the little magazine that had presumed to offend him. He sued….But he spread the net far beyond Private Eye. In a novel exercise in overkill, he issued separate writs against all the distributors and wholesalers of the magazine. There were over 60 writs. Private Eye faced a huge financial burden. It was liable to indemnify all those whom Goldsmith had chosen to sue.
The first task was to reassure the recipients of these writs that the indemnity would be honoured. Private Eye lacked the resources but had a lot of supporters. A drive to raise money began, inspirationally named the Goldenballs Fund.
Peter Cook and Richard Ingrams check an early edition of ‘Private Eye’
The legal action brought considerable media attention, and in October, the BBC made a documentary about Ingrams and Private Eye:
“Richard Ingrams’ offices are at 34 Greek Street. A former haunt of prostitutes and drug addicts. Now the main problem is writ service. Rented at sixty-pounds-a-week, the building is small and dilapidated, but it’s all that Private Eye can afford. The magazine runs on a shoe-string budget. It comes out once a fortnight, price 20 pence, and has a circulation of 90,000.”
Ingrams may have looked like an unassuming university lecturer—dressed in a corduroy jacket, with a Viyella shirt and tie, but he was (surprisingly) a reformed drinker and smoker, who believed in God and played the organ at the local church. He was, more importantly, a superb and strongly principled editor, who understood Private Eye‘s role:
“It has to be anarchic. It has to be prepared to hit everyone—even its friends. As long as you attack everybody indiscriminately, completely indiscriminately you are safe. Immediately you start taking sides, or sticking-up for somebody, or keeping quiet, then you get into difficulties.”
Under his editorship, Private Eye had a golden decade in the seventies. It attracted some of the very best writers, journalists and artists, who brought an excellence other magazines (Punch) could only dream about. There was Auberon Waugh who produced an hilarious and corruscating diary; Paul Foot who delivered brilliant investigative reports; Peter Cook offered memorable comic contributions; and “Grovel” the Eye‘s (in)famous gossip column written by the late, Daily Mail diarist, Nigel Dempster, who claimed:
“We live in a banana peel society, where it gives no-one greater pleasure than to see someone trip up.”
Not all of the Eye writers were happy with Dempster’s column, Christopher Booker thought it edged too close to exaggeration, without thought of the damage done.
This lack of thought had led a 100 people to sue Private Eye by ‘76, which had depleted much of the magazine’s profits. But then the Eye was never really that interested in profits—it was a product of those patrician attitudes Public Schools can afford to inspire.
The magazine’s original quartet Richard Ingrams, Christopher Booker, Paul Foot and William Rushton had all met at Shrewsbury School, where they had produced their own teenage satirical magazine—a first issue was covered with hessian and embedded with free seeds. After school, university, where Ingrams hoped to become a leading comic actor. It didn’t happen, and the Famous 4 regrouped to produce the very first Private Eye in 1961, from typescript, Letra-set and cow-gum. It is interesting to note how this amateur, home-made style has remained very much the template for the Eye ever since.
This new magazine chimed with the so-called satire boom, in which Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller conquered the world with Beyond the Fringe, and producer Ned Sherrin made a star of David Frost (who Booker later described as a man with “..a peculiar ambition to be world-famous simply for the sake of being world-famous”) on the highly successful That Was The Week That Was—which proved so successful it was canceled after 2 series.
The Eye continued long after both these shows and the satire boom had run out of laughs, in part much aided by the backing of Peter Cook, who helped finance the magazine until his death in 1995.
What makes Private Eye essential is the ephemeral nature of its exceedingly good journalism. As Auberon Waugh once wrote (in the introduction to Another Voice—his essential collection of writing for The Spectator), “Timeless journalism is bad journalism”:
“The essence of journalism is that it should stimulate its readers for a moment, possibly open their minds to some alternative perception of events, and then be thrown away, with all its clever conundrums, its prophecies and comminations, in the great wastepaper basket of history.”
Though it has been occasionally wrong (MMR comes to mind) and wrong-headed (comic attitudes towards race, women, and gays have been questionable), Private Eye is indispensable and essential reading for those with an interest in the follies of politics and business of contemporary life, or the strong tradition of good investigation journalism, which most newspapers appear to have abandoned long ago. This is what made, and still makes Private Eye truly great.
Sir Jams Fishpaste launched his own magazine Talbot!, which soon disappeared without trace, before forming the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Margarine Party, a popular movement that failed to be..er..popular. He died in 1997.
Richard Ingrams quit Private Eye in 1986, and appointed alleged schoolboy Ian Hislop as Editor, who has managed the magazine with great success ever since.
Ingrams started a new magazine The Oldie in 1992, which has been described as “the new Punch and the new New Yorker,” which he continues to successfully edit today. Richard Ingrams is 94.
I think we can all agree that Chris Morris is a comedic genius, right?
His work, from BBC Radio’s On The Hour and The Chris Morris Music Show in the early 90s, through The Day Today, Brass Eye and Nathan Barley on TV, and all the way up to his most recent work, Four Lions, is both howlingly funny and the pinnacle of biting satire.
One of the reasons his work is so powerful is the attention to detail, from the small linguistic tics to the perfectly-framed, over-the-top computer graphics. But in particular, for me, it’s his use music that is most impressive. Morris can simultaneously rip the piss out of a tune or a band while lodging a brand new melody in the style of that act permanently into your brain. That’s no mean feat.
While Chris Morris’ musical works are never really foregrounded in his films and shows, they are definitely worthy of attention in their own right. (Heads up WARP - why not put out a compilation of Morris’ musical satires?) So, after a discussion with a friend that was sparked by the discovery of an American band non-ironically named “Blouse”, I decided to compile the best of Morris’ musical parodies for DM.
A major tip of the hat is due to the YouTube uploader FourJamLions, who has uploaded quite a bit of Morris’ music, though some of it is not embeddable on other sites. Here is FourJamLions’ compiled clip of the best musical moments from the classic series Brass Eye. This clip includes the priceless Pulp parody “Blouse” (with Morris playing the lead singer “Purves”) singing an ode to serial child killer Myra Hindley. After the jump there’s more of Morris’ musical monstrosities, but if you need some bizarre-but-familiar aural refreshment this Friday, here’s a great introduction:
BRASS EYE Music (inc Pulp parody BLOUSE “Me Oh Myra”)
After the jump, music from The Day Today, Brass Eye, Nathan Barley, and The Chris Morris Music Show…
Australian comedian, piano whizz and enthusiastic exponent of guyliner Tim Minchin has had a satirical song of his called “Woody Allen Jesus” cut from the broadcast of one of the UK biggest chat shows, The Jonathan Ross Show. Minchin had been asked specifically by Ross and his producers to write and perform a Christmas ditty for the show, but when an advanced tape was passed to the station’s director of television, Peter Fincham, it was decided that the song needed to be dropped.
Minchin is miffed, and rightly so. Are well living in the 21st century or not? Does freedom of speech and thought (and music) exist in this country or is the Christian religion in such a dire state that it needs to ban anything that questions its relevance? Actually, that might be the case. Despite David Cameron’s particularly idiotic and toadying claims that the UK is a “Christian country”, the figures simply do not back this up, as this report in the ultra-conservative Daily Mail shows: “Number of Christians is down 10% in just five years.”
Being Christmas, I thought it would be fun to do a song about Jesus, but being TV, I knew it would have to be gentle. The idea was to compare him to Woody Allen (short, Jewish, philosophical, a bit hesitant), and expand into redefining his other alleged attributes using modern, popular-culture terminology.
It’s not a particularly original idea, I admit, but it’s quite cute. It’s certainly not very contentious, but even so, compliance people and producers and lawyers all checked my lyrics long before the cameras rolled. As always with these bespoke writing jobs, I was really stressed for about 3 days, and almost chucked it in the bin 5 times, and freaked out that it wasn’t funny and all that boring shit that people like me go through when we’re lucky enough to have with a big audience with high expectations. And if I’m honest, it ain’t a world-changing bit of comedy. Regardless…
And then someone got nervous and sent the tape to ITV’s director of television, Peter Fincham.
And Peter Fincham demanded that I be cut from the show.
He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.
Yesterday I wrote a big rant about comedy and risk and conservatism; about the fact that my joke has no victim; about sacredness (oh God, not again!) and about the importance of laughing at dumb but pervasive ideas. But I trashed it because it’s boring and takes it all too seriously. It’s hardly the end of the world.
But I have to admit I’m really fucking disappointed.
It’s 2011. The appropriate reaction to people who think Jesus is a supernatural being is mild embarrassment, sighing tolerance and patient education.
And anger when they’re being bigots.
Oh, and satire. There’s always satire.
Jonathan Ross is no stranger to controversy within the British media - in 2008 he and Russell Brand found themselves in deep shit after a phone call to Andrew Sachs was deemed to have gone “too far” by the tabloid press. Those ever-original and forward thinking people at the tabloids christened the incident “Sachsgate” and the outrage that was drummed up was enough to have both comedians ousted by their employer at the time, the BBC (one was suspended and the other quit.) This background hum of potential “outrage” may have been enough for Fincham to pull Minchin’s segment on the Ross show, but now it looks like a whole new controversy based on freedom of speech and expression is blowing up in ITV’s face. Oh dear.
Here is Tim Minchin performing “Woody Allen Jesus” on The Jonathan Ross Show:
Let’s face it - with the Nineties revival beginning to build up steam, it’s only a matter of time before Friends becomes re-evaluated as not just mere trash TV but something deeper, something representative of the culture of the time. And who knows - maybe it was. If the culture of the time was utterly vacuous and so bland and white-washed that having bleached hair was somehow “edgy” and the most rock and roll thing one could do was attend a Hootie And The Blowfish concert. But that wasn’t the 90s I lived through.
Before we go hailing Friends as the voice of a dispossessed generation, let’s take a minute to pause and reflect on how the show represented gay people, and how much of the humor was based on a premise that being gay in and of itself was just so strange and unusual that it’s inherently funny. And that’s not even touching on gender roles as shown in the show - as a friend of mine commented on this clip:
I always thought Friends’ gender policing was outrageous - it seemed like every other episode centred around how hilarious it was that a man was doing things that normal men didn’t do.
Homophobic Friends is a re-edit compilation by Vimeo user WayOutEast, that compiles all the gay-based humor in the show and that runs for over 40 minutes. Bitch Magazine has an excellent feature on this video and its creator, real name Tijana Mamula:
Mamula found that the homophobic and transphobic jokes in Friends tend “to avoid provoking either aversion or anger, and instead prompts the viewer to be swept away by the hilarity of the situations.” Seeing theses moments altogether, one after another, you can see how the audience was presumed to just chuckle and move on. (I couldn’t help but be reminded of the site Microaggressions, which documents the little, caustic everyday incidents that add up to much more).
And wait, there’s more! “I noticed all sorts of other problematic content, some of which I found even more upsetting, like the place of women and foreigners…You could do a whole series of videos, like Misogynistic Friends and Xenophobic Friends.” (See also: this zany montage of the few black characters that have appeared in the show. The overwhelmingly white cast—including the extras, despite the show taking place in New York City—has often been pointed at as one of the show’s shortcomings.)
Jiz and The Mammograms is a re-dubbed parody of the classic 80s cartoon Jem and The Holograms. It’s performed by the drag artist Sienna D’Enema, who wishes to remain anonymous so that s/he doesn’t have to tell hir parents about it - which is completely understandable. If it was me I wouldn’t want to tell them either. The subject matter of Jiz! covers teen pregnancy, prostitution, people trafficking, crack addiction, abortion and oriental skat fetishes. Jem is no longer a world-famous rock star doing her best to help the local youth, she’s now a drug pushing pimp who gleefully encourages her teen fans to get pregnant so they can have abortions. Her mansion is now a giant brothel full of underage hookers (and a few kidnap victims), and Synergy, the super-computer that communicates to Jem, and styles her through her special earrings, has been rechristened “Electronic Drug Dealer”. Yes, it’s tasteless (REALLY tasteless), but it’s also very, very funny.
The latest episode of Jiz! has been released onto Youtube, and could possibly be the most controversial yet. It concerns a young girl (Laura, aka Shitty Panties) who is sent by an extremist Christian group to convert Jiz to the word of the Lord, but who has her own struggles to face along the way. Not least of which is her excessive flatulence. I never saw much Jem and the Holograms the first time round, but this has made me REALLY curious about the original episode.
If you have never seen Jiz! before, I recommend you start with the episodes after the jump, as “Laura” contains a few in-jokes (including The Golden Shower Girls). If you have seen Jiz! then you know what to expect. Brace yourselves:
Laura - Taking It Up The Chocolate Yahweh (obviously this is NSFW)
You gotta love Charlie Brooker. He’s on a one man mission to tear television apart from the inside. Nowhere is that more clear than in the title of his new show, the first episode of which looks at how and why fear dominates the airwaves. His new series How TV Ruined Your Life debuted on the BBC on Tuesday, and some helpful person has gone and uploaded it to YouTube, in two parts. If you live in the UK you can see the full show, unbroken, on the BBC iPlayer for the next week.
In an age where dwindling ratings are forcing channels and shows to become more extreme, we need voices like Brooker’s more than ever. He seems like the only one left trying to fill a Chris Morris-shaped hole on mainstream UK TV (he and Morris worked together on 2005’s Nathan Barley series), speaking what seems a glaringly obvious truth to power. Most of the televisual references here are British, but it doesn’t really matter as it’s the same fundamental principles all over the globe. People are biologically trained to be alert to warnings, we find it hard to look away - fear sells, and Charlie helps us laugh at it.
On another level, this also gives non-British viewers a chance to see some of the terrible crap that has come out of the goggle box in the UK over the years. It’s not all as good as Fawlty Towers. .
Part Two of How TV Ruined Your Life after the jump…
The fact that Jamaicans are posting up hilarious little tributes to kung fu film online should come as no surprise. As in most countries, Jamaica always had its share of young men enthralled by martial arts cinema, which crested in terms of both prolificacy and popularity during the mid-’60s, soon after the rugged island nation became independent. Reggae producers like Lee Perry, Keith Hudson, Augustus Pablo, and Prince Jammy folded martial arts influence into their music, sometimes in the lyrics, and in other instances by simply titling their dubs “Exit The Dragon” or “Shaolin Temple.”
The global digi-video age now opens up possibilities for Jamaica to explode the kung-fu spoof genre. Below you’ll find the possible first bamboo shoots, starting with Prezzi909’s footage from November of some brilliantly awkward kung-fu kombat street theatre, replete with the sound of cackling and screaming onlookers. But wait til a pro gets a hold of the concept…
After the jump: watch the kung-fu kraze refined with actual scripting and wicked effects!
If you appreciate intelligent political humor, especially when delivered by Brits, you’ll pee your pants for The Bugle, the free weekly Times Online comedy podcast. Daily Show correspondent/writer John Oliver calling in from New York City and fellow Brit comedian Andy Zaltzman in London deliver an excellent 40-minute fake news show, replete with grandiose trumpet fanfare, horribly stretched-out puns, and a lot of schoolgirl-style giggling. Plus zingers like these:
Bush admitted that standing under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” was a mistake—which is like apologizing for spelling someone’s name wrong on the birthday cake you made them out of shit.
Here’s some highlights from the audio newspaper for a visual world:
Really creative stuff here. UK designer and video artist Chris Lince has put together a fantastic video for his fellow Brits in the group Pig With the Face of a Boy, which describes itself as “the world’s best neo-post-post music hall anti-folk band.”
The song, “A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris” (that melody is actually the 19th-century Russian folk song “Korbeiniki”) is clever enough, packing a 70-year history into seven minutes. But the metaphor of the famously addictive video game truly comes alive in Lince’s atmospheric vid. He captures the grime, the grit, and the blocks beautifully. I’m not a gigantic fan of satirical musical comedy, but I think this is executed really well.
By 1937, surrealism was in its second decade as a movement. Its artists and filmmakers were making inroads into London and New York galleries, and becoming media stars. The surrealist bug also bit on the West Coast, and underground gatherings like the Hollywood Film and Foto League screened European avant-garde films regularly.
Such gatherings attracted politically minded actor Harry Hay and Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographers Roger Barlow and LeRoy Robbins. After seeing a magazine ad for a short film contest, these jokers sprung into action, making Even—As You and I, a short depicting themselves as broke filmmakers who cobble together clichés from their fave avant-garde films into a dorky film-within-a-film spoof called The Afternoon of a Rubber Band. In a “D’oh!”-style ending, the three realize they’ve missed the contest’s midnight deadline.
A damn clever little underground film moment. Hay—the curly-haired guy in the group—would go on to become the godfather of gay activism, founding the Mattachine Society in the early’50s and the Radical Faeries in the early ‘70s.
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
I'll repeat that: We're not necessarily endorsing everything you'll find here, we're merely saying "Here it is." We think human beings are very strange and often totally hilarious. We enjoy weird and inexplicable things very much. We believe things have to change and change swiftly. It's got to be about the common good or it's no good at all. We like to get suggestions of fun/serious things from our good-looking, high IQ readers. We are your favorite distraction.