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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Private Eye - 40 not out ... yet
Private Eye logo
Private Eye - Life begins at 40?
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, better known to millions as part of BBC TV's Have I got News for You? team, is not taking the 40th anniversary of the magazine's publication too seriously.

Private Eye's first edition was published 40 years ago today. But hold the champagne corks. Current editor Ian Hislop predicts - with typical hyperbole - that the satirical magazine is entering its "41st and final" year.

Ian Hislop, Paul Merton and Angus Deayton
Ian Hislop (right) with fellow "Have I got News" stars

"We are celebrating in typical style by getting sued for libel and upsetting our readers so much that they are cancelling their subscriptions in record numbers," he told BBC News Online.

Bush insult

The libel action dates back 10 years to an article accusing an accountant of over-charging his customers.

But the cause of the cancelled subscriptions is much more recent - a jokey front cover published just days after the attack on the World Trade Center accusing President Bush of cowardice and hypocrisy in the face of the crisis.

The offending item was a full page of picture of an aide whispering news of the attack of into the president's ear with Mr Bush reacting by saying: "Armageddon outtahere".

It was a reference to one of the most sensitive aspects of the events of 11 September - the president's decision to head for the safety of his nuclear command centre instead of going directly to New York.

Inside there was more material carefully calculated to cause offence - including another picture of President Bush this time sitting next to Colin Powell and saying "I'm relying on intelligence". In a "thinks" bubble the general is seen reflecting "Uh oh!".

Very Upset

The magazine was so certain of the offence this material would cause that it printed a special "cancel your subscription now" coupon, to save readers the trouble of writing in.

Hundreds of readers have done just that, Hislop says: "People were very, very upset by the Bush jokes".

There are no reliable figures yet indicating the overall impact of the Bush insults. But the magazine's sales have been slowly declining in recent years - almost 4% in the last full year for which figures are available.

George Bush and wife
Bad taste: Slurs on Bush's "intelligence"

Not done well

Hislop meanwhile seems more worried by the effect of the magazine's latest and "ruinously expensive" libel case.

If the magazine loses, it will have to pay 10 years worth of lawyers' fees as well as any compensation damages awarded by the court to the aggrieved accountant.

If that's justice - then I'm a banana

Ian Hislop
"I was brought in as editor in order to reduce the number of libel actions, so I have not done very well at that."

"I'm a banana"

The magazine's future has repeatedly been put at risk in the past by libel actions. In 1986 Sonia Sutcliffe, then the wife of "Yorkshire Ripper" Peter Sutcliffe , was awarded 600,000 in damages after an article about her dealings with the tabloid press.

Sonia Sutcliffe took the Eye to court, and won
On the steps of the court Hislop said: "If that's justice, then I'm a banana". The damages were later reduced to a less catastrophic 60,000 after appeal.

If Hislop has tried to keep out of the courts he claims that the magazine remains as rabid in upsetting the status quo.

"We are the antedote to Hello! Magazine," he says. "We are there for people who don't always take a 100% positive view of everything."

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