Private Eye: The first 50 years, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Jokes so old they should be curated...

Once upon a time, a group of Oxford students put together a scrappy little magazine.

They stuffed it with jokes and called it Private Eye. Fifty years on, it's still scrappy and some gags are the same, only now they have entered popular culture, and the V&A has given the Eye its own exhibition.

It's just two rooms, though for some sniffier bods at the V&A, even this was too much. "We wouldn't do this for, er, Heat magazine," explains curator Julius Bryant. No need to apologise. As he says, the Eye's is "a heroic tale of surviving against bullying millionaires and captains of industry". But it's mainly the cartoons that are celebrated here. Since the demise of Punch in 2002, the Eye is almost the sole outlet for political cartoons, a tradition going back to Hogarth and Gillray, whose works form part of the V&A's collection.

The idea was to choose 50 of the Eye's greatest cartoonists, though in the event, more than 60 are represented. Regular readers will recognise their distinctive styles, and even some of the jokes, though they're just as funny second time round. Take the Kerber gag, of a mother and child walking past The Vagina Monologues: "Mum, what's a monologue?" Or the fly visiting his doctor: "You should try and take things easier, Mr Blue Arse."

As well as the cartoons, Bryant wanted to show the creative process behind the magazine, still a low-tech operation centred on a notoriously shambolic office in Soho. He has recreated some of that chaos here – to more lip-curling from colleagues – by filling two cabinets with the "autumn leaves of chaos that they live with". But, as he says: "There are certain things you might do in Soho which you wouldn't do in the V&A." So there are no Diana jokes, and when they were handed the office's stuffed dog, they put it in a fridge, to avoid a break-out of mange or fleas throughout the museum. The day I visit, there's a lively debate over whether to erect a disclaimer for one potentially offensive joke: a bishop walks into a church lined with choristers and says, "God, it's like everyone I've ever slept with is here".

Some of the best cartoons draw on cultural references that will amuse even the driest V&A curator, like the Escher-style labyrinth with the caption: "I'm sorry, Mr Escher, but yes, you will have to fit disabled access." And words can't do justice to the man standing by a lake playing with his new toy, a remote control Ophelia". All great fun, but why not just buy the magazine? "The fact is there is nothing like Private Eye outside Britain," says Bryant. "Why shouldn't somebody see this and go back to New Zealand and set one up over there?"

A highlight is the "interactive" recreation of the editor's desk. Pick up the Bakelite telephone and you hear a reel of spoof calls from some of the Eye's most regular victims, such as John Prescott jabbering away in garbled English.

The paperwork has been loaned from the Eye offices, and to Bryant's horror included some genuine correspondence from MPs and lawyers, which he hasn't included. "Anyone could take them and leave them on the Tube!" he explains. Even when celebrating its birthday, the Eye knows how to make mischief.

To 8 Jan (0207-942 2000), admission free

Art Choice

Painting is dead, decided Gerhard Richter in 1973, so he painted a Titian to show that you can't paint Titians in 1973. Yet, doing so introduced a new dispensation in painting. Gerhard's intriguing representational abstracts, above, which ask as many questions as they answer, are the subject of a major Tate Modern show (to 8 Jan).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions