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Private Eye founder and former Shrewsbury School pupil Christopher Booker dies at 81

By Toby Neal | Shrewsbury | Features | Published: | Last Updated:

Christopher Booker, who was one of a group of former Shrewsbury School pupils who founded the satirical magazine Private Eye, has died at the age of 81.

Christopher Booker playing the trombone with The Salopian band at Shrewsbury School. Picture courtesy of Laurence Le Quesne.

Booker had a successful career in scriptwriting and journalism, including writing for the BBC's classic early 1960s late night satirical review That Was The Week That Was.

For nearly three decades he was a columnist with the Sunday Telegraph.

Old Salopians Richard Ingrams and Willie Rushton invited him to join them as they attempted to get a new a magazine off the ground, and the first issue of Private Eye appeared in October 1961.

Within four months Booker had become the editor of the magazine, which scandalised polite society.

However the origins of the British satire revolution in the 1960s had been in the unlikely guise of the Shrewsbury School magazine, The Salopian, in the mid-1950s.

Key contributors were a number of pupils who were to gain later fame. They were Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams, Paul Foot, and Christopher Booker.

A 1950s issue of The Salopian featuring Willie Rushton cartoons. Picture courtesy of Laurence Le Quesne.

Rushton was a talented cartoonist, and humorous input from the group enlivened a previously strait-laced school magazine, which proved to be the primordial soup from which the later Private Eye emerged.

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Speaking in 2015, Shrewsbury's Laurence Le Quesne, who was the master in charge of The Salopian, recalled of Booker: “I knew him at the time quite well. He was one of the ones in my form. He was a historian. Apart from that he was not one of the ones I saw most of.

“He was very bright. My job in many ways was to get as many history scholarships for Shrewsbury at Oxford and Cambridge as I could. He was a strong candidate and did get one."

Although Booker's direct link with Private Eye was relatively short lived, he was a contributor for many years, making jokes for popular features like the secret diary of John Major, and the views of the rabid Left-winger David Spart.

His Sunday Telegraph column was noted for its stances challenging orthodoxy. For instance he questioned whether asbestos was really dangerous, disbelieved climate change, and cast doubt on the link between passive smoking and cancer.

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop said: “No one agreed with Christopher all the time, including Christopher himself.”

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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