Northern Ireland news

Review: Ian Hislop in conversation with Craig Brown

Ian Hislop with Craig Brown at the Mount Stewart Conversations Festival at the Mount Stewart National Trust property in Co Down. Picture by Phil Smyth


Ian Hislop in conversation with Craig Brown

Mount Stewart Conversations Festival

by Ian Knox

At 4pm on Saturday the “carnival of sparkling conversations” at Mount Stewart in Co Down experienced its largest draw ever.

Ian Hislop in conversation with Craig Brown could have packed the marquee several times over.

Hislop is of course the editor of Private Eye magazine and Craig Brown is the celebrated parodist who contributes to Private Eye, the Daily Mail and appeared elsewhere at the festival as author of the scathing and hilarious Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret.

Private Eye is currently riding the crest of a wave which Hislop attributes to its well-honed policy of enticing the reader with joke covers and cartoons about matters already well known, and then feeding them articles about issues they were unaware of.

Other reasons for its success include “malice filters” - journalists experienced in separating emotional embitterment, which often accompanies informants’ accounts, from genuine nuggets of grade A information.

With the money Private Eye is now making, Hislop intends to enlarge its team of investigative journalists, particularly those with the stamina to sit through tedious courtroom trials to the bitter end.

He described himself as a team player who cannot operate without at least three others, unlike Brown who impossibly does it all in detached isolation.

Hislop paid tribute to the late Peter Cook, one-time owner of the magazine, and admitted to talking incessantly about him in a vain attempt to keep him alive.

As an example of Cook’s left-field genius he cited the occasion when the late Robert Maxwell, owner of the Mirror group, had tried to ban the 'Eye' from newsstands, while launching a rival publication entitled “Not Private Eye”.

Rather than sink into gloom, Cook sent a case of whiskey along with an offer of help, if needed.

Later in the afternoon the Private Eye editorial team went round to the Mirror offices. Surprisingly they gained easy access to the “Not PE” department where they found the staff comatose.

The dummy for the new magazine, less than half completed, lay unguarded on the table.

Cooke and the PE team scooped it up, wrote “Greetings to Captain Bob” on the window and departed.

It all made for a fascinating and revealing encounter.

* Ian Knox is the political cartoonist for The Irish News

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