The story in Lord Ashcroft’s new book that David Cameron stuck his dick into a dead pig’s head as part of the initiation ceremony for membership of the super elite but disgustingly degenerate Piers Galveston Society at Oxford University, is completely credible.
We know that Cameron, as the wealthy scion of a wealthy family, had already been inducted into the equally corrupt and venal Bullingdon Club, a collection of drunken upper class vandals whose favorite past-time was trashing expensive restaurants and puking through people’s windows after they had enjoyed their fill. Suffice it to say that the idiot lout, Boris Johnson was also a member.
It would thus be natural for an ambitious Cameron to graduate to the even more exclusive Piers Galveston Society – membership confined to a dozen – so-named after the allegedly gay lover cum confidante of the English King, Edward II, whose refusal, in 1312, to sack his corrupt and debauched inamorata cost Galveston his head at the hands of outraged aristocrats while Edward II, according to one account, was sent to an early death by the same angry barons some ten years later – but not before experiencing the sensation of a red hot poker exploring his rear passage.
Not surprisingly, the Piers Galveston Society or Dinner Club to give it its proper name, specialises in sexual and sybaritic excess.
Of such stuff are the English upper classes devised.
(Lord Sebastian, a member of the Bullingdon Club, pukes through Charles Ryder’s window at Oxford in Brideshead Revisited, the TV version of Evelyn Waugh’s celebrated novel)
So, as I wrote above, the revelation that David Cameron was a member of such an exclusive, debauched and lascivious group was hardly shocking to me. Nor even, the claim that he tried to get a blow job from a dead porker.
But what really shocked and, I have to say, disturbed me was the disclosure that among past members of this dissolute bunch was Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, a guy I have met, liked and admired for what I thought was a healthy distaste for all that was wrong with British society, not least the hypocrisy and dissolution of its ruling elite.
Never in a thousand years would I have imagined Ian Hislop sticking his member into a dead pig’s head as his toff mates laughed and jeered in encouragement.
But then life is a series of disappointments and disillusionments, one after the other.
Here is a piece, from 2001, in which Hislop admits his membership. As I said, disappointing and depressing:
Evening Standard: The Man Who Just Wants To Be Believed
Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Author: ANDREW BILLEN
MORE than 100 boxes of evidence line the right wall of Room 14 of the Royal Courts of Justice. On the other side, a matching number marches up to the witness stand.
We are in week five of Condliffe v Pressdram and Hislop, a libel action waged by a West Country accountant called Stuart Condliffe against Private Eye, which, back in March 1992, accused him of overcharging clients. It is a no win case for the Eye, which is resigned to paying huge legal costs even if the judge finds in its favour.
‘Excuse me,’ says Ian Hislop after he has greeted me. ‘I’d better sit at the front so I can nod at the judge.’ Given the magazine’s history before the libel courts, it is a dismally appropriate way for the Eye’s editor to be celebrating his organ’s 40th.
There are compensations, however.
This morning is Condliffe’s first on the stand and the crossexamination by the Eye’s QC, Ronald Thwaites, is brutal. It cheers Hislop up considerably and his mood further lightens when, emerging like a little blinking vole into the sunlight of the Strand at lunchtime, two passersby ask him to sign their birthday copies of the Eye. After 11 years as a team captain on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You, Hislop is not only wealthier than Richard Ingrams, whom he succeeded as the Eye’s editor in 1986, but much better known.
It would be a tragedy if his celebrity made him lose touch with his public, I say, once we have reached our restaurant in Chancery Lane. He orders a
medium-done steak and water and says he thinks this unlikely. ‘I was walking down Soho this morning and someone came up and said, ‘Love you on the show’.
So I was feeling very pleased with myself and a bloke in pinstripes walked past me and just said, ‘Not funny’. So I feel I haven’t quite got enough distance from the public. I commute, you see. There is no way out on a train.’
Court, he says, is hours of boredom and incomprehension and sudden moments of drama, such as this morning’s. He arrived as editor pledging to reduce the Eye’s legal bills, but it was not long before he was facing a Pounds 600,000 libel award to Sonia ‘Mrs Ripper’ Sutcliffe. If this was justice then he was a banana. He has ended one Ingrams tradition, however: printing gossip simply because it sounds true.
‘I don’t believe that ring of truth thing. I think it’s dangerous. What I always want of the item is for it to be believed. I can’t bear the thought of running all this journalism if everyone thinks, ‘Oh, take it with a pinch of salt.” Hislop wants the Eye to be believed partly because papers, generally, are not. He says when Private Eye was born (when he was one), its role was to print the true stories journalists couldn’t get into their own papers.
‘Nowadays it seems to be our job to point out that the ones that have been printed are not true.’
An under-reported difference between Ingrams and his protege is the contempt in which Hislop, who is basically a jokesmith, holds journalism.
‘It’s true,’ he says. ‘I’m not hugely impressed by journalists on the whole.
But I think that is a reasonable point of view for the editor of Private Eye to take.’
JOURNALISTS Peter McKay and Nigel Dempster were the first to leave under his editorship. With them went much of the paper’s coverage of what it used to call Ugandan Affairs. Conventionally one should praise the Eye’s restraint from sexual tittle-tattle these days. Yet, sex sometimes surely earns its place in even righteous gossip.
Let us imagine, I say, the obviously entirely imaginary case of a newspaper editor who campaigns for privacy rights and has a mistress himself.
Should his motives not be exposed? Ah, he says, this is an interesting case.
They had considered doing a ‘Hackwatch’ feature on just such an editor, but when they checked the cuttings they found that during his condemnation of the prurient coverage of Robin Cook’s divorce, he had admitted in his editorial that everyone on his paper had affairs all the time.
‘I don’t know how his wife felt about it but he made a good case.
But certainly most of the people who write for me are just looking for a loophole with which to get him.’
The other argument would be that tabloid editors who expose other people’s private lives should face similar humiliation themselves.
‘Yes, that is a very good point, and if there were a Piers Moron sexual legover story, that would be fine.’
The scarcity of boudoir gossip, which has removed all edge from an already weak Street of Shame column, has at least been compensated for by more coverage of other professions. Hislop has introduced insider columns on television, the railways, the NHS and even the advertising industry.
Its current pamphlet on the handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic last week won praise from the Daily Telegraph. But it is, frankly, no longer a magazine the rich and powerful would bother trying to close down as Goldsmith and Maxwell wanted to. Whereas Ingrams’s Eye cost Cecil Parkinson his career, you can’t imagine Tony Blair caring less about what it says about his ministers.
He admits the paper lacks sources in Millbank: ‘Nobody’s actually handing us Jo Moore’s stuff, it’s true. They are not very leaky this lot, certainly not our way. The nationals have more of that stuff than we do. That’s probably an area that should be improved.’
But if the really big targets are left unmarked by the Eye, it does not mind duffing up easier ones.
In the current issue, the deeply troubled Michael Barrymore is given the line: ‘I want to put all this behind me and become the Queen of Television, the People’s Pooftah.’
On HIGNFY Hislop humiliated the highly strung Paula Yates and later called her a ‘slag’, a remark for which he sees no reason to apologise, even posthumously. It is not in the same league of cruelty – nor was he the ringleader – but Friday night’s debagging of Boris Johnson MP on HIGNFY was significant, too. Johnson, it should have been explained to viewers, had once revealed that contestants saw the questions before the recording. It was inevitable that Boris would eventually be cornered in the playground.
I ask if Hislop had been a bully during his decade boarding at Ardingly College in Sussex. He looks surprised. ‘Usually interviewers say, ‘Were you bullied at school?’ But it’s a better question, I think, for humorists to be asked, ‘Were you a bully?’ I certainly made jokes about people in order to prevent being bullied, not in order to amuse but in order to fire a warning shot.
‘Yes, I have memories of being unpleasant to some people at school, which I would find very sort of worrying now. Will Boyd wrote a play called Good And Bad At Games which I think to anyone who’s been to public school is a real shock because you just have an awful thought: ‘Did I behave like that or were there characters who were that badly treated? You know, misfits, people who didn’t fit in’.’
HISLOP, who is 5ft 6in – Dempster called him a ‘pushy midget’ at the time of his elevation – had his height to worry about. Then one day, aged 12, his headmaster called him out of class to tell him his mother had arrived from abroad with bad news: his father was dead.
‘I knew he was ill. But like all children you just assume, ‘Damn, he’s annoyingly not going to be around for a bit’. I was very worried that he wouldn’t be playing in the fathers’ cricket match because I was in the team.
Sadly, he wasn’t going to be doing anything at all.
So no, it was pretty miserable, but, in some senses, school was a saviour.’
The camaraderie of boys? ‘Yes. It was an alternative family in a way.’
Hislop went on to have a wonderful time at Ardingly, taking on the school magazine from his friend Nick Newman and appearing in revues that managed to both offend masters and amuse the head. He ended up head boy.
After a gap year spent on a kibbutz, he followed his mentors Newman and Simon Park, now a parish priest in Crouch End, to Oxford, where he drank plenty, joined the mock-decadent Piers Gaveston dining club and met his wife Victoria Hamson (who had been deputy head girl of her school). He started a funny little magazine called Passing Wind, which provided his excuse for interviewing Ingrams.
He made Lord Gnome laugh and within a few years the little Buddha had emerged as his anointed one.
I suggest that joining the male, public school-dominated world of Private Eye must have been like returning to the cosiness of Ardingly.
‘It was,’ he agrees, ‘like running the school mag again.’
I pass him a 1976 passage from Kenneth Tynan’s diaries, in which the priapic critic defined the Eye’s idiom – ‘the appalling Rees-Mogg’, ‘the wretched Wilson’ as schoolmaster English. Tynan wrote that the Eye’s contributors ‘develop from inky schoolboys into middle-aged schoolmasters without any intervening period of young manhood’. Was Hislop ever young? ‘Yes, I think I was probably young. I didn’t like punk but I liked Two-Tone quite a lot. I think I had a porkpie hat. Actually, I am sounding like the witness today. I did have a porkpie hat.’
At 41 he is indisputably middleaged now, and prosperous with it. He is rich not so much from the Eye (which pays its staff appallingly) but from personal appearances, the highly lucrative runs of HIGNFY and script writing for Dawn French and other TV stars.
Having sold his houses in Wandsworth and Somerset, he now lives quietly with Vicky and their son and daughter in a Kent village – the equivalent, one assumes, of Ingrams’s retreat to a cottage in Berkshire during his editorship (except for the cottage bit). He does not actually play the parish church organ as Ingrams did, but the God he ‘got’ at 15 during an evangelist revival at Ardingly, still sticks. His Anglicanism explains the accuracy of the Eye’s regular attack on Blair’s piety in St Albion Parish News.
A university friend, the publisher Mike Fishwick, says that despite his success Hislop is more than loyal to old friends. ‘He’s the gang leader, organises the get-togethers.
I find him very reassuring company because he is so consistent.
He has always known what he thinks about things. He is a grownup and, in a sense, always has been.’
He adds that he is good at compartmentalising his life. When Hislop talks of a period in 1994 when Victoria miscarried and his mother, Helen, was in a hospice, dying from leukaemia, his eyes begin to fill. Yet at the time Eye staff had no idea anything was wrong. ‘I felt,’ he says, ‘it was something I had to deal with and that it wouldn’t really help to share it.’
In another compartment, we should also remember, there is the Hislop who outfoxed his older rivals to take Lord Gnome’s seat and who is quite capable of sacking members of staff. People claim he never forgives. Did he invite Dempster or McKay to the Eye’s birthday boat party? ‘Er no, they seemed to slip off the guest list.
Funny that, isn’t it?’
That’s the essence of him and Ingrams, I say: Christians editing an unforgiving magazine. ‘Ah, we’re sinners, you see.’
BUT minor ones. On occasions like Diana’s death and the World Trade Center attack, when the Press’s nerve collectively fails, the Eye’s cynicism twinkles amid the sentimentality, almost virtuously. ‘There are things to say and comedy is the way we say them,’ as he puts it.
His father was 45 when he died from cancer and his mother barely over 60.
‘Genetically it doesn’t look too hot, does it?’ he admits.
Do their premature deaths affect his personality? ‘I think they must do. I haven’t done a lot of Anthony Clare or invited Raj (Persaud) to give me his views. But, yes, there must be a feeling of the clock ticking.’
But before the school-bell tolls, Hislop is around to ensure Private Eye never ages, let alone grows up.
Each fortnight the Eye emerges in its childishly middle-aged prime.
May it, and its editor, continue. On to age 94, at least.