Private Eye drew on the Blitz spirit to get the magazine off to print on time after an unexploded Second World War bomb forced staff to evacuate the newsroom and relocate to the pub.
Editor Ian Hislop was away while the drama unfolded in Soho, London, yesterday afternoon with Nick Newman standing in to finish off the jokes and cover on the fortnightly print title ahead of its 6pm deadline.
Discovery of the bomb prompted police to shut down Dean Street and the surrounding area, including nearby Carlisle Street where the Eye’s newsroom is based, threatening to deny readers their copies.
“We were interrupted by Herr Hitler unfortunately,” joked Newman, a cartoonist and joke writer who has been at the Eye since the 1980s.
“[Our receptionist] Maisie came in very calmly and said we have got to evacuate the building and we said: ‘Oh right, ok’ and went off to the pub. It was very much the Dun-work spirit rather than the Dunkirk spirit.”
Newman said the four-strong team were initially told it could be a matter of days before they could return to the office, which “would have scuppered us completely” he said, with the deadline looming.
Having regrouped in the Coach and Horses on Poland Street, the Eye team were given the all clear at about 6pm and went back to put the finishing touches to the satirical magazine.
It took another four hours’ work before it finally went to press at about 10pm. “We did get it done but it was a bit touch and go,” said Newman.
Cartoonist Royston Robertson even managed to turn the near-disaster into a satirical drawing for the issue.
As you can see, our cartoonists were deeply sympathetic to our predicament last night. Thanks @roystoncartoons! Copies on their way around the country as we speak: some may arrive a little late. pic.twitter.com/T0edYKyBKl
— Private Eye Magazine (@PrivateEyeNews) February 4, 2020
There had been fears the delay would mean the Eye would be late to arrive in shops today, but it does not appear to have impacted distributors with the title appearing on newsstands in London this morning.
“We hope our readers will understand that trying to thwart the Luftwaffe takes its toll,” said Newman, should any delays arise.
He revealed that during the Blitz a bomb had landed on Carlisle Street, right opposite what is now the Eye’s office, killing four people.
Among the dead was a teenage boy returned to his family after having been evacuated from London because they had missed him so much. His father was an air raid warden.
“A sobering end to what was to us quite a larky affair,” said Newman.
A planned drink to celebrate the difficult deadline was scuppered because all the pubs in Soho had closed as a result of lost trade from the bomb scare, said Newman. “But we were very proud that Private Eye stayed open.”