This landmark event for the magazine - which has always featured cartoons and comic strips satirising British life and politics - is also being marked by Private Eye: The First 50 Years. an exhibition of art at the V&A Museum in London, which runs until 8th January 2012.
Founded in 1961, Private Eye has survived and prospered for half a century by entertaining, informing and irritating its readers with a unique mix of jokes, journalism, campaigning and gossip. In August, MediaWeek noted that the magazine had retained its position as the UK's leading domestic current affairs magazine with an average circulation of 206, 266 per issue in the first half of 2011.
Despite representing a marginal drop of 0.1% on the previous six months, and down 0.7% year on year, the current affairs magazine remains more than 20,000 copies larger per issue than its nearest rival, The Week.
The bumper edition of the magazine on sale next week will look back at 50 years of exposing political corruption and scandal.
Private Eye: The First 50 Years. the V&A's free exhibition, explores the wealth of artistic talent that the magazine has fostered by showing the original artwork for some of the finest and funniest Private Eye cartoons. Over its 50 year history, It's published and promoted the work of more than 90 artists, many of whom started their careers at the magazine, including Ken Pyne (above) Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, William Rushton, Barry Fantoni, Michael Heath, John Kent and Ed McLachlan.
Strips have also included a Dan Dare spoof, 'Dan Dire' in the 1990s, lampooning Labour leader Neil Kinnock, drawn by Nick Newman.
The illustrations are being shown in thematic sections on politics, royalty and social observation and are richly varied in style and tone and take the form of single cartoons with captions, long-running strips and caricatures.
Ian Hislop, Editor of Private Eye - who is celebrating 25 years as editor - has chosen 50 of the best of the trademark front covers, one from every year the magazine has been published. The front covers are arranged in a timeline, offering a graphic satirical history of the news over five decades.
Visually, Private Eye is renowned for its low-fi aesthetic. The cut-and-paste production technique and overall look have changed little in over 50 years, despite the switch from cowgum to computers and letraset to the internet.
Private Eye: The First 50 Years aims to evoke the atmosphere of the magazine’s Soho office, with a recreation of the editor’s paper-strewn desk plus seldom-seen ephemera from the magazine’s past campaigns and court cases, plus as a life-sized cut out of Tony Blair, a stuffed dog, a flying Robert Maxwell and a giant inflatable banana.
"At last," note Hislop, "Private Eye makes an art of itself."
The 50th anniversary is not just being celebrated by the magazine in print. Last month saw the release of Private Eye: The First 50 Years, an A-Z - a lavishly illustrated, definitive history of the magazine, charting its rise from 300 copies of the first edition on 25th October 1961, to a fortnightly readership of 700,000.
Written by Private Eye journalist Adam Macqueen, who has been with the magazine since 1997, the book offers is an in-depth, witty and occasionally critical appraisal of the magazine, a long-awaited volume "containing everything you ever wanted to know about the nation’s favourite satirical organ" (it says here).
At last the origin of Ugandan discussions will be disclosed, along with the story behind that Andrew Neil photo, and the identity of Britain’s Biggest Pseud. Plus the inside story of the magazine’s many high-profile legal battles, scoops and staff bust-ups, told by those who were there.
In addition to a wealth of new material, the book features exclusive interviews with current editor, Ian Hislop, his predecessor Richard Ingrams and co-founder, Christopher Booker, plus a host of other key figures past and present.
The book also contains exclusive reminiscences and revelations about former contributors including Peter Cook, Auberon Waugh and Willie Rushton, in addition to rare archive material, unseen photographs and an abundance of cartoons from the likes of Nick Newman, Tony Husband and Michael Heath – many never before published.
Also on sale now is the 2011 Private Eye Annual presenting the very best of Private Eye’s unique blend of wit and humour, jam-packed with pages of parody, the funniest spoofs, gags, cartoons, photo bubbles and topical humour.
Consistently found in the best seller chart and selling in excess of 78,000 copies last year alone, it's a must for every Christmas stocking.
- Official Private Eye web site: www.private-eye.co.uk
- Private Eye cover gallery: www.private-eye.co.uk/covers.php
- V&A Private Eye Exhibition: www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/p/private-eye-the-first-50-years
- Shortlist interview with Ian Hislop: http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/ian-hislop
Cover images and cartoons copyright Private Eye