Satire and society change all the time

There were two items of interest about the Victoria and Albert Museum in the press recently. (That’s the huge museum of all sorts in South Kensington and a very fine institution it is, too.) One was the news that they acquired forty newly discovered cartoons of extreme nastiness by that great artist and satirist, James Gillray, that had been suppressed in the mid-nineteenth century and have been mouldering ever since in the Home Office archives. It will be useful to be reminded, once more, that politics in this country used to be considerably nastier than it is supposed to be now.

The second item is also to be welcomed but is also very funny. Private Eye, the first of the many satirical outlets of the sixties that are credited with changing British society … back to something like it was in the eighteenth century, will be fifty years old this autumn and there will be an exhibition of cartoons and covers from it in the V&A, as it is affectionately known. Ho-hum! I recall when it was not stocked in W.H.Smith’s, then a far bigger chain of newsagents and stationers because of fear of libel action; when it had to be asked for at small newsagents; when respectable people read it rather defiantly and students passed their copies round. And now? An exhibition in the V&A and an article in Vanity Fair.

And, of course, a posting on the Conservative History blog. After all, Private Eye is rather a conservative institution.