Champagne and oysters - that's the way to do it

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The Independent Online
The chattering, and muttering, classes were out in force last night for the long-awaited re-launch of the humorous magazine Punch.

With a pounds 3m budget, courtesy of its new owner Mohammed Al Fayed, there was no shortage of champagne to lubricate the glad-handing and back-slapping as the satirical magazine (pictured right) returned after four years in the wilderness.

Rory Bremner, the comedian, welcomed the magazine in the voices of Prince Charles, John Major, Tony Blair and Michael Heseltine, but no one listened. Perhaps this was for the best since some of his jokes were at the expense of his host, Mr Al Fayed.

The newspaper proprietor Lord Stevens was in attendance, cheek-by-jowl with a large number of very angry and soon-to-be jobless Express newspaper journalists.

The great and the good packed the Georgian restaurant in Harrods to toast the new Punch in champagne and to down oysters and canapes. For the less refined there was pizza.

Willie Rushton, a founder of Private Eye which has lampooned Peter McKay, the new editor of Punch, was more generously inclined towards it last night. "Punch was the enemy, but I don't mind it now, it is a whole new business," he said.

The first issue of Punch - or the 7,889th issue, depending on how you look at it - has a distinctively New Yorker-ish feel and format. The glossy red and black cover advertises an article by Joe Haines: "Why I turned down a peerage", another about Bill Clinton's election campaign and a third by Alan Clark, the former minister and diarist, on the importance of being stylishly rich.

"New Punch New Danger" claims the cover, with a take-off of the notorious Conservative party poster featuring Tony Blair with demonic eyes. But the reality is tried and tested formulas and a traditional approach.

Inside there were hints on handling road rage and being caught at lesbian shows. Marje Proops, the agony aunt, examined the seven deadly sins. There was an interview with chef Marco Pierre White and a review of Two Gentlemen of Verona at Shakespeare's Globe.

Mr McKay said in his foreword that he wanted to "restore [Punch] in the affections of the English-speaking people everywhere as a reliable, amusing friend." In this spirit, perhaps, he had raided Punch's archives of cartoons, and plans a return of that old Punch stalwart, the Captain Competition.

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