James Fox writes about the Ingrams school of journalism and its antagonists

It was for services ‘to exports and ecology’ that Sir James Goldsmith was nominated for a peerage, and then demoted to a knight by the Scrutiny Committee, in what is bitterly remembered as the Wilson Honours List. Was there a connection between Sir James’s elevation and his year-long battle to punish Private Eye and jail its editor, Richard Ingrams – an effort which was supported by Wilson and Lady Falkender, both victims of Ingrams’s harassment, and which petered out in a relatively painless settlement in 1976? Ingrams’s theory is that there was such a connection.

Goldsmith is no great exporter (France is without Marmite) and the ecologist is his brother, Teddy. Sam White, the Paris columnist of the Evening Standard, and a long-standing friend of Goldsmith, suggested to Richard Ingrams, as the heat died down, that the ‘services’ mistake was really a Wilson/Falkender joke. The ‘ecology’, according to White, was the cleansing of the ‘pollution’ of Private Eye from the environment. If this is true, we have a bizarre scene to contemplate: that of Wilson and Falkender, shouting with vengeful laughter at Number 10 – two characters from Fritz Lang. Lord Crathorne of the Scrutiny Committee, quoted by Ingrams, was confused. ‘We couldn’t see what these fellers had done for Britain,’ he said. ‘We didn’t like the cut of their jib.’ Goldsmith was a close Heath supporter, a right-wing Tory, and he and Wilson had known each other for only a short while. By the time the honours list was leaked, Goldsmith’s war against the Eye was backfiring, and his public image, not just in Fleet Street, was hurt, mostly, as he discovered to his surprise, because many people, not just the ‘extremists’ that he saw everywhere, didn’t like his crushing attack on the small magazine. He looked like an arrogant bully using his money to break the spirit of the independent press. Private Eye’s ‘Goldenballs’ Fund had an impressive range of supporters, including ‘All the staff at W.H. Smith, Kingsway (except the manager)’. Lord Goodman effectively blocked Goldsmith’s chances of buying the Observer in the autumn of 1976, but the Eye case had already generated considerable resistance among the journalistic staff. It was then that Goldsmith, thwarted in his political ambitions and now finding it hard to buy a newspaper, began to back down and to deal with Ingrams for a settlement. Ingrams describes Simon Jenkins, then editor of the Evening Standard, bringing Goldsmith’s final peace terms to him in a coffee bar, when it looked as if Goldsmith might buy the ailing Standard. At that point, Ingrams, too, was ready to settle:

The strain of an apparently unending stream of cases was beginning to tell. I myself could talk or think of little but Goldsmith. At night I dreamed about him. The obsession was plainly turning me into a bore as far as my immediate circle was concerned.

‘Bore’ is one of the rudest words in the Ingrams lexicon and he was clearly at the end of his tether.

Now comes the puzzle. What exactly was it that so infuriated Goldsmith about the Eye – to the point of serious loss of judgment and ultimately self-defeat? Private Eye is widely disliked – with due regard for its austerely investigative element and for its other merits as a paper – as being boorish, unpleasant, puritanical, voyeuristic, carelessly untruthful, sadistic etc. Here Ingrams only addresses himself to the charges of anti-semitism that have been levelled against him. In this account – a smooth display of Ingrams’s journalistic and narrative gifts – he never seems to wonder why anyone should take a dislike to his magazine. He therefore doesn’t attempt to fathom Goldsmith’s reasons too deeply. He concludes that Goldsmith was intrigued by the personalities of contributors to the magazine, Messrs Waugh, West, Gillard and Marnham, and would have liked to have been editor of Private Eye. Goldsmith’s aversion to the Eye certainly seems to have been different from the conventional dislike. It may have touched off fears of a deep and dangerous conspiracy against himself. ‘ “Is your aim to smash Private Eye?” he was asked. “No,” Goldsmith snarled, leaning across and jabbing his finger at me. “I only want them to be more TRUTHFUL.” ’

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