Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The real hero of Private Eye’s first 50 years is Christopher Booker

The person who tends to get overlooked amidst all the celebrations surrounding Private Eye’s half century is Christopher Booker. As far as I’m concerned he may just deserve the title of Greatest Living Englishman.

Famously ousted as editor of his own magazine in 1963 by Richard Ingrams (after which, as Booker delights in reminding everyone, circulation rapidly plummeted from 93,000 to 25,000) Booker has been part of the Eye’s joke-writing team for over 45 years since patching things up with Ingrams in 1965. He claims to have been responsible for more of the words published in Private Eye than any other writer.

Booker particularly hates trendy, modish obsessions - whenever there’s a particularly vicious piece parodying the latest bullshit being excreted by members of our liberal ruling establishment , I assume Booker’s responsible. In effect, he – along with Auberon Waugh – taught many of us who reached adulthood in the late sixties and early seventies to laugh at the ridiculous enthusiasms of our political-media-academic class.  For showing those of us on the Right that it was perfectly acceptable to loudly shout “Bollocks” whenever we heard some farcical, puffed-up, self-important pipsqueak lecturing us on whatever happened to be the current topic at Hampstead dinner parties, Booker deserves to be commemorated in bronze outside 22 Greek Street, Private Eye’s original Soho HQ. (I remember the address because I went there once in my teens to buy some posters and back issues – I felt like a pilgrim visiting a shrine.)

I met Booker once, briefly, when he was setting the weekly quiz for Melvyn Bragg’s TV show, Paperback Writer, in the late ‘70s. Faced with the choice of talking to me or Harold Robbins, Booker showed enormous good taste by choosing me: he got me a much-needed drink, and we chatted about Cambridge and I told him how repulsive Harold Robbins was. He, by contrast, was terribly nice. I'm not sure I was aware that most of the jokes I laughed at in Private Eye were his, but I read his stuff in the Spectator, and I was excited to meet him. 

I was too young to appreciate his book about the 1960s, The Neophiliacs, but I bought The Seventies when it came out, and loved it. His analysis of that disgusting decade influenced me in many ways – in particular his interest in Jung, his contempt for the unions, and his deep respect for Pope John Paul II. Booker was evidently someone who was happiest swimming against the tide of fashionable opinion - and he managed to do it without coming across as just another Young Fogey.

Booker took over the Peter Simple column between 1988 and 1990 (a fact I’d been completely unaware of – how does he almost invariably manage to avoid publicity?) before swapping places with Auberon Waugh and starting a weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph, which, for 20 years, he has used to crusade on our behalf against the massed ranks of the establishment’s smug brainwashers and social engineers. 

I can’t remember him ever being on the wrong side, whether calling British politicians to account for their betrayal of the Cossacks at the end of WWII, or relentlessly exposing the attacks on British sovereignty and business efficiency by the EU and our own zealous bureaucrats, or his authoritative, long-term rubbishing of the whole Anthropogenic Global Warming argument and the honesty of its main proponents, and, currently, the determination of local council gauleiters to drag children away from their parents on the flimsiest of pretexts. He has also  given the Theory of Evolution a regular kicking, and finally completed a 30 year project in 2005 by publishing The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories – a masterly Jungian analysis of the psychology of story-telling.

Ultimately, what makes Booker special is that he is, above all else, an absolutely superb journalist: he evidently spends an awful lot of time going through deeply boring documents and getting the facts straight before sounding off.

I’ve occasionally worried that Booker's wisdom wasn’t being sufficiently recognised, and that’s undoubtedly true. But I have a feeling that when he finally retires (if ever – he turned 74 last month, and his biggest-selling book, The Real Global Warming Disaster, was published just two years ago) we’ll suddenly realise what we’ve lost.

If our government wasn’t being led by a vacuous, spivvy PR pimple and a silly, meaningless Eurofanatic - and if Prince Charles hadn’t swallowed all that AGW claptrap wholesale – I reckon Booker would be in line for a knighthood.

Of course, the Great Man should be awarded a peerage without delay. And, it goes without saying, the title of Greatest Living Englishman (Media Category).


  1. Booker is one of those journalists who ends up being right about 90% of the major issues on which he writes and until the rest of the commentariat catches up a few years later, he is invariably dismissed as a Little Englander or bonkers. I had no idea of his connection with Peter Simple, for my money the most consistently funny column in post -War British journalism whose discontinuation made me give up on the Telegraph. Rather like Michael Wharton, Booker gives the impression of some one who if not able to ridicule the great and the good would be driven mad by them.

  2. The only reason we don't give up the Telegraph is that my wife does the crossword: it is a sad, shivering, palsied, dimished version of what it used to be in the days of Charles Moore. Now they've even got rid of Simon Heffer for the crime of not being a keen Cameron supporter. Almost all of its best writers are confined to its online edition, particularly the blogs - it's the only thing about the Telegraph I'd genuinely miss.

  3. I agree with everything you say about Booker. He and his collaborator Dr. Richard North are both fine investigative writers. North's book "Ministry of Defeat" made me vow never to read another book or article about the MoD again because of hypertension problems. What a bloody shower these people are.

    The Daily Telegraph is beginning to have the same effect. Over the last couple of years the paper has been gradually infiltrated by the "sisterhood" [the educational system similarly]. 50% of the content seems to be fashion and celebrity profiles. Bryony Gordon is given a huge amount of space [mind you, she sure needs it]. A snap-shot from last Monday's edition: Louise Mensch MP about her 58-year old husband " My palms still sweat with adreline whenever he walks into a room" [by Rowena Mason, Political Commentator]. I am currently giving the Daily Mail a trial run - yes, it's that bad.