The Grimsby-born man who launched Private Eye 50 years ago
Current affairs magazine Private Eye is celebrating its 50th birthday... and it wouldn't have been here had it not been for Grimsby- born Andrew Osmond. Here, Telegraph columnist Peter Chapman tells us more ...
IT IS time for well-deserved celebrations in the offices of the fortnightly satirical magazine Private Eye. It is its 50th birthday and the pricked balloons lie around to prove it.
Sadly – and I don't really want to introduce a note of gloom quite so early – the man who "started" it, financed it and was its first owner is not here to enjoy the results of his confidence.
Andrew Osmond was a friend of mine and a contemporary whose premature death in 1998, aged 60, saddened many beyond his family's bounds.
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He was born in Grimsby, but his father died when he was 8. His widowed mother, Doreen (nee Pearson) married again to J Harwood Tate, owner of the supermarket chain that bears his name, and thus became Andrew's stepfather.
There was a point when he had concluded a remarkably brilliant period of National Service during which he had become a captain in the 6th Gurkha Rifles that he appeared extremely unlikely to become involved with the rebellious and Bohemian crew who were to found Private Eye.
But that would have been to disregard both his sense of humour and Oxford University where, he re-met Richard Ingrams who, with a coterie of others, reignited the imp in Osmond.
As a consequence, Osmond put up the £450 required to start the magazine and Private Eye was a fact. And Osmond was the man who chose its title.
To mark its Golden Survival (often against terrible odds) a marvellous book, Private Eye: The First Fifty Years (Private Eye Productions 2011 – £25), has been compiled by Adam Macqueen.
And through its illustrated 300 pages we are transported back to all those scandals and sensations and to a realisation that without Private Eye, without its daring and inquisitiveness, there would have been a fairly large pile of things swept under history's table.
This is a very enjoyable book. It is a vindication of all that is best – especially larded with (often disgraceful) humour – in investigative journalism, in the demolition of the pompous and the self-seeker, the conniver and the hypocrite.
Willie Rushton, part of the initial team of demolition men, wondered in a casual sort of way whether I might join forces. We had met – had adjacent rooms in the Army – and had become friends.
But I sensed an anarchist in him and knew there wasn't one in me. No matter.
There is a place for scepticism. And in 1961-62 there was a void. Private Eye filled it and we should all be grateful that it did.
The author of this celebratory book has chosen an A to Z format enabling you to look up your favourite bête-noir – you soon realise the whole book is terrific reading.
There is, of course, Maxwell (no need for first names), Blunt (ditto), Thorpe, Archer, Goldsmith and so on.
But Private Eye, scurrilous to some, fresh air to many, has many friends. I have always been one and so, as a matter of interest to those of you who knew him, was the late Rex Critchlow.
I am sorry Andrew Osmond is not here to find this book wrapped for Christmas. Or indeed Rex, who died last year after a lifetime of readership.
My only role in this tale is the bringing of Private Eye to Grimsby, upon which I shall expound in the December issue of The Journal. In the interim, upstage Christmas and give yourself a treat.