Media: `Private Eye' readers outflank Diana threat

Britain's best-known satirical magazine was pulled from newsagents' when it attacked the reaction of press and public to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Paul McCann, Media Correspondent, reveals how readers are trying to ensure it can continue to speak out.

Postal subscriptions to Private Eye have doubled following the banning of the magazine by newsagent chains in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Readers seeking to make sure they can get the magazine in future, no matter what it prints, are lining up for home delivery while others have donated thousands of pounds because they are worried that its loss of sales on the Diana issue could jeopardise its future.

The magazine's editor, Ian Hislop, estimates that one-third of the magazine's usual 180,000 sales were lost because of the censorship by newsagents, but he is returning readers' cheques "because things aren't quite that bad".

Three days after the Princess's death, Private Eye's front cover targeted what it saw as the public's hypocrisy in buying newspapers that they were then blaming for her death.

The magazine's famous "speech-bubble" cover showed crowds outside Buckingham Palace trying to get hold of a newspaper containing pictures of Diana's crashed car.

This was deemed "inappropriate" by T&S Stores and Alldays, two large regional retail chains, which banned the magazine outright. WH Smith first pulled the magazine then allowed their individual managers to decide whether or not to sell the Eye or to keep it under a counter out of sight.

"We pointed out to Smiths that they had been making money from selling tabloids printing pictures of Diana just hours before her death," said Mr Hislop. "So it was rather hypocritical of them not to put the Eye on their shelves. The fact is that is that this supposed deep grief expressed itself in terms of self-righteousness."

"We've doubled the usual number of subs [subscriptions] we sell in the two weeks since the banned issue," added Mr Hislop. "Because it is the only way to ensure that you get your copy."

The magazine also ran a biting leader from its fake newspaper, the "Daily Gnome", apologising on behalf of the British press for having in the past portrayed Diana as: "A neurotic, irresponsible and manipulative troublemaker," and that the press only realised after her death that she was, "in fact the most saintly woman who has ever lived". The "Daily Gnome" leader column expressed the British press's "sincere and deepest hypocrisy".

The Eye has received an "enormous" amount of post because of its Diana issue with some correspondents accusing the magazine of being "grossly offensive" and worse. But the magazine insists that the positive letters have outweighed the negative by 10 to one.

"There was a range of targets on offer in that issue," said Mr Hislop. "We took on the hypocrisy of the public, which was risky. But most of it was the overwhelming bilge being pumped out by the media."

Private Eye was removed from a small number of newsagents in the early Nineties for running the headline "The Fuck Stops Here" when President Bill Clinton's sexual fidelity first became a political issue.

An entire issue was once pulped on the instructions of lawyers working for Lord Parkinson, the current chairman of the Conservative Party.

Private Eye later managed to overturn the injunction and ran Lord Parkinson on the front cover with "I've stopped the buggers printing" coming out of his mouth.

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