Punch Parodies 1: 1954-1956

Highlights: Punch versions of Reader’s Digest (1956) and The New Yorker (1954)

Punch (1841-1992) loved parody from birth, but it waited over a century to do a full-scale takeoff of another publication. The main holdup was its mid-Victorian layout, which left targets from The Yellow Book to yellow journalism looking very much like Punch. Big change only came in 1949, when art editor Kenneth Bird (a.k.a. the cartoonist “Fougasse”) became the first visual thinker to get the top job. He introduced modern design and typography but left the editorial mix mostly intact. Circulation, which had peaked around 175,000 in 1947, was 130,000 when he stepped down at the end of 1952.

3 early Punch parodies
Punch on The Yellow Book (Feb. 2, 1895), The New Age (May 4, 1910) and picture weeklies (April 13, 1910)

To replace Bird, owner/printers Bradbury & Agnew named Malcolm Muggeridge, the 49-year-old Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph. He was an unlikely choice. The typical Punch editor had been a long-time staffer who had mastered the mag’s clubby ways and shared its Tory politics. Muggeridge was a self-described “incurable journalist” who had never written for Punch and claimed not to read it. Though born into the Labour Party — his father was briefly an M.P. — he became a fervent anti-Communist and Christian apologist after covering Moscow in the 1930s, yet he never lost his innate contempt for wealth, power and conventional opinion, right or left. Mainly he liked to stir things up, first in print and later on TV talk shows. With his sardonic eyebrows and lipless grin, he even looked like Mr. Punch, although he claimed to have no sense of humor — or need one: His job, he said, was to “throw a firecracker into a mausoleum.”

MM, 1953

Muggeridge lasted only five years at Punch — the length of his starting contract, which neither side felt like renewing — but he made a century’s worth of changes. Out went whimsical anecdotes, flower-bordered poems and Richard Doyle’s 1847 cover; in came biting political cartoons, topical satire and celebrity bylines. Not everything worked, but the shake-up got Punch talked about and boosted sales, though readers eventually tired of the constant jeering. (Published numbers for Punch circulation are few and suspiciously round: Muggeridge told The New York Times in early 1956 it was “150,000 and still rising.” When he left at the end of 1957 it was “around 100,000 and decreasing at the rate of 2,000 a week,” according to industry journal Smith’s Trade News.)

Caricature of Churchill in Punch
WSC, 1954

“Of all Muggeridge’s devices for increasing interest . . . two stood out,” R.G.G. Price says in his History of Punch: “the Press parodies, with their typographical gaiety and literary quality, and his calculated exhibitions of what die-hard readers considered bad taste and potential readers considered a sign that Punch was not dead after all.” The bad taste was most potent in the political cartoons; Leslie Illingworth’s 1954 drawing an listless, post-stroke Winston Churchill produced a flurry of cancellations. The parodies, Price says, sprang from Muggeridge’s “childlike love and wonder for the Press” and his habit of seeing parody as “a form of invective rather than of criticism” — though they seem subtle by current standards.

Junior editions from 1954
Juvenile versions of the Evening Standard and Daily Mirror (1954)

Whatever his motives, Muggeridge ran six feature-length press parodies and a handful of one-pagers. Though uncredited, most were written by J.B. Boothroyd and Richard Mallett, with art by Norman Mansbridge and Russell Brockbank. Of the longer parodies, four appeared between Spring 1954 and Spring 1955 in the oversize seasonal numbers; the later two ran in issues built around a single theme.

The Parodies:

  • April 7, 1954: The New Yorker (“The N*w Y*rk*r”), 8 pages.
  • Sept. 1, 1954: Daily Express (“Junior Express”), 1.
  • Sept. 1, 1954: Daily Mirror (“Junior Mirror”), 1.
  • Sept. 15, 1954: The Tatler & Bystander (“The T*tl*r & Byst*nd*r”), 4 no cover.
  • Sept. 29, 1954: Radio Times (“R*d*o T*m*s”), 1, no cover.
  • Oct. 13, 1954: Time (article: “Miscellany”), 0.33 [1 column], no cover.
  • Dec. 15, 1954: Genre: women’s (“Her”), 6.
  • April 6, 1955: Krokodil, 4.
  • Aug. 24, 1955:  Radio Times (“Tradio Times”), 6.
  • Nov. 7, 1956: Reader’s Digest (“Redigested Digest”), 7 on 4.
Pages of Punch New Yorker
“S.J. P-r-l-m-n” and “Edm-nd W-ls-n” in the 1954 “N*w Y*rk*r”

The biggest and most famous was the first — an eight-page takeoff of The New Yorker in the 1954 Spring Number. Printed on slick paper with full-color front and back covers, “The N*w Y*rk*r” was delayed payback for its target’s 1934 “Paunch” (previous post) and proved just as popular on newsstands: The issue disappeared so fast Punch had to buy copies back from readers for its own files (or so I was told when I stopped by the office 20 years later). Price calls Mallett’s spoof of S.J. Perelman “the high-water mark” of Punch parodies, and it’s one of the few anywhere that rivals the original for linguistic pyrotechnics. I’m partial to the brief duet between Ogden Nash and Phyllis McGinley, and Boothroyd’s takedown of Edmund Wilson at his most Anglophobic.

Real Tatler and Punch parody
Punch ignored Tatler’s traditional all-ads front cover to spoof the opening-page portrait.

Punch reached Peak Parody in September-October 1954, beginning with contrasting kiddie versions of the staunchly conservative Daily Express, then a relatively serious broadsheet, and the pro-Labour Daily Mirror, which favored crime stories and cheesecake. “The T*tl*r & Byst*nd*r” in the 1954 Fall Number took on the leading chronicler of high society, which started as The Tatler in 1901, merged with rival Bystander in 1940 and was Tina Brown’s lauchpad to Condé Nast in the 1980s. Norman Mansbridge’s mock-photo illustrations here show a comic craftsmanship equal to anything Harvey Kurtzman’s gang was doing in Mad and Trump. It was followed by brief spoofs of esoteric BBC Radio listings and Time’s offbeat “Miscellany” column (both sitting ducks).

Her and four real women's magazines
“Her,” three 1950s targets and near-namesake She

“Her” in the 1954 Christmas issue parodied weekly magazines for housewives, as they were then called. Bearing such titles as Woman’s Weekly (launched 1911), Women & Home (1926), Women’s Own (1932) and just plain Woman (1937), they were a notch or two above supermarket tabloids and several notches below slick U.S. monthlies like McCall’s. Confusingly, three months after Punch’s parody appeared, the National Magazine Company launched a new title aimed at “young, gay, elegant” postwar women who wanted more from life than the domestic pieties satirized in “Her.” Its name: She. Coincidence or Fleet Street in-joke?

Du Maurier Punch (1888), Mansbridge in Punch’s “Krokodil” (1955)

The parody of Russian humor weekly Krokodil in the 1955 Spring Number flayed two of Muggeridge’s favorite targets: Soviet Communism and Punch itself (which he more than once called “an allegedly humorous publication”). While the written pieces play up the iron teeth behind Krokodil’s state-sanctioned grin, the cartoons transfer some of Punch’s most famous gags from the 19th Century to contemporary Russia but leave them otherwise un-updated. Trust Muggeridge to display the family heirlooms in a deliberately unflattering setting.

Punch's Krokodil and Radio Times parodies
MId-50s issues of Krokodil and Radio Times, flanked by Punch’s version (both 1955)

The coming of commercial television inspired a second takeoff of the BBC’s program guide, Radio Times (founded 1923 as Radio Times and never retitled). The page of fake radio listings the year before had been an almost affectionate sendup of the wireless division’s fondness for the obscure and undramatic. “Tradio Times” — as in, “being in trade” (sniff) — is an all-out and rather snobbish attack on the threat to public taste and intelligence posed by for-profit TV, which debuted in London the week the parody appeared. The authors try to imagine the worst in their “journal of the I.T.A.” — the Independent Television Authority — but reality has long since outrun satire: “Tradio’s” tropes include kids’ shows that are basically one long commercial, programs entirely about shopping, “film sequences of kittens at play” and, most popular of all, a reality series about a clan of shallow materialists called “The Trump Family.” I didn’t make that up.

Tradio Times listings
Premonitions and product placement in “Tradio Times” (1955)

More than a year went by before “Redigested Digest” appeared in November 1956, and there were no press parodies at all in 1957, Muggeridge’s last year. At least the series ended on high note. For my money, “Redigested Digest” is Punch’s best press parody ever, and the best anywhere at catching the contradictory soul of Reader’s Digest: its All-American universalism, its fondness for “characters” and even greater fondness for conformity, its fascination with new inventions and suspicion of new ideas. Punch’s “Digest” is as artfully crafted as “The N*w Y*rk*er” and much more incisive, though not nearly as famous. To help remedy that, I’ve posted all six (on three) pages here.

Redigested Digest, part 1
Alarm and affirmation: “Digest,” part 1

The “Digest’s” only flaw was bad timing: It was the centerpiece of a long-planned issue about the United States scheduled to coincide with the 1956 Presidential election. Eisenhower’s easy win turned out to be the third-biggest story that week, however, after the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the climax of the Suez Canal crisis. The issue hit the stands just days after the U.S. forced the U.K., France and Israel to end their attack on Egypt, which demolished Britain’s remaining claims to be a Great Power and caused a brief but steep drop in Anglo-American amity. Not the best time to market 30 pages of mostly good-natured kidding about Uncle Sam’s worldwide reach.

Redigested Digest, part 2
Quiz and gee-whiz: “Digest,” part 2

None of the standard sources explain why Punch basically abandoned press parodies after the mid-50s, but the drought continued under Bernard Hollowood, editor from 1958 to 1968. It only ended in 1971, when Hollowood’s successor William Davis devoted most of an issue to parodying Playboy. Like “The N*w Y*rk*r” before it, “Punch Goes Playboy” sold out and inspired a run of similar features. But that’s a subject for another post. — VCR.

Redigested Digest, part 3
Catastrophe and condensation: “Digest,” part 3

The New Yorker’s “Paunch,” 1934

Punch and Paunch covers

The covers of Punch for August 30, 1933, and The New Yorker’s 1934 parody.

Parody Of: Punch. Title: “Paunch.” In: The New Yorker, January 13, 1934, pp. 17-24. By: Thurber, Benchley, White, Irvin, etc. Availability: Sometimes findable on eBay, Abebooks, etc.; archived online at newyorker.com (subscription required).

January 13, 1934, New Yorker cover

TNY, 1/13/34

“By humorous [art] we do not mean comic stuff, captioned by a wisecrack, no custard-pie slapstick stuff,” Harold Ross wrote potential contributors to the brand new New Yorker in 1925. “We want our things to be humorous from a sophisticated viewpoint. . . . We want to record the situations of everyday life among intelligent and substantial people as do the English magazines, notably Punch, except that our bent is more satirical, sharper.” How much sharper can be seen in the January 13, 1934, issue, which devoted eight pages to “Paunch,” The New Yorker’s longest and most elaborate parody of another publication.

And about the only. E.B. White created a double-page spoof of Manhattan newspaper features for the November 17, 1928, issue that looks like a collage of clippings from the originals. Just weeks before Pearl Harbor, Russell Maloney and Rea Irvin linked two of Time Inc.’s favorite subjects — cheesecake and catastrophe — in a black-humored, three-page “photo” essay called “Life Goes To The Collapse of Western Civilization” (Oct. 25, 1941). Otherwise, The New Yorker’s parodies — even Wolcott Gibbs’s famous Profile of Henry Luce in Time-style (“Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce,” Nov. 28, 1936) — look like pages of The New Yorker.

Three other New Yorker parodies

First pages of The New Yorker’s spoofs of newspaper features (1928), Time (1936) and Life (1941).

“Paunch” appeared when the real Punch was at low ebb, a plight most critics blamed on Sir Owen Seaman, its editor from 1906 to 1932. Seaman’s morale-boosting during the First World War burnished Punch’s image, but he was a Victorian by temperament and no fan of the slangy, quick-witted, disrespectful and often absurd humor of the Roaring Twenties. “He did not see Punch as an organism or plan ahead, looking to see the way humor was changing, learning from successes and failures in the past,” R.G.G. Price says in A History of Punch (Collins, 1957). “He saw Punch as a National Institution and about as liable to change as the Nelson column. Its function was to act as a fixed point for a bemused public until a normal condition of stasis was resumed.” In practice, this meant freezing Punch’s cover in 1847, its layout in the 1860s and its prejudices in 1897 (the year Seaman joined the staff). Price, a longtime Punch insider, tries to accentuate the positive in his semi-official history, but his account of Seaman’s last decade is damning:

It is difficult now [1957] to realize the hysteria with which Punch was reviled in this period and beyond. . . . It was not even wholeheartedly on the side of reaction. It was tolerant, avuncular and patronizing. Criticism came from Right and Left, though every attack on class changes, Americanization of English speech, modern art or the modern girl was received with clucks of approval in hunting lodge and rectory and in the sad sitting rooms where daughters of military men gave music lessons. . . .

[Seaman’s] Punch has an air, at times, of providing jokes for those who found joking difficult. . . . The more one thinks about this policy the odder it seems. For a humorous periodical to be aimed at the unhumorous was as absurd as for a musical periodical to be aimed at the tone-deaf, but it is quite clear, by the tone of the correspondence from some of the older readers. . . that Seaman’s Punch did arouse a frenzied and deadly loyalty among bores, the naive and the prematurely old. [A History of Punch, p. 225-9]

Seaman reluctantly handed the editorship over to E.V. Lucas at the end of 1932, but “Evoi,” as he signed his Punch work, was no revolutionary. The Punch mocked in “Paunch” was essentially Seaman’s, and it showed all of its 93 years.

"Two pages from "Paunch"

“Paunch” teased Punch’s obesessions with Hollywood films and gangland Chicago in “Charivaria;” James Thurber’s “Beast” and Franklin P. Adams’s “Caterpillar” mocked its prose and verse.

The New Yorker, on the other hand, was at the top of its game in 1934. Its circulation was around 125,000 and climbing, and in the six months from January through June it ran more ad pages than the Saturday Evening Post, which had led the field for decades. Its original rivals, Judge and the pre-Time Inc. Life, were dying, and Norman Anthony’s lowbrow Ballyhoo wasn’t in the same class. The New Yorker’s masthead featured — or would have featured, if it existed — James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Franklin P. Adams and Ring Lardner in addition to White, Gibbs and Irvin. All contributed to “Paunch,” infusing it with more A-list comic talent per square inch than any other parody in history. (Citation needed.)

Belcher cartoon and parody

Cartoonist George Belcher in Punch (left) and in Rea Irvin’s parody.

The New Yorker didn’t trumpet “Paunch’s” authors at the time, but its online index says Thurber wrote “The Happier Beast,” a sendup of the cozy woolgathering that subbed for wit in too many “light” essays. Benchley downshifted his usual befuddled persona into complete ninnyhood for a featherweight dialogue called “Hyacinths for Pamela.” Gibbs, The New Yorker’s film critic, aped English insularity in “Mr. Paunch’s Cinema Review.” “The Mall,” by White, and “The Intent Caterpillar,” by Adams, nailed two of Punch’s favorite forms of bad verse: the sticky-sentimental and the mechanically clever. Uncredited newsbreaks and fake ads sent up Punch’s long-winded quips, its fixations on Chicago gangsters and Hollywood films, and — most hilariously — its tin-eared attempts at American slang. Though “Paunch” wasn’t promoted on the cover, the issue it ran in became the first in The New Yorker’s nine-year history to sell out on newsstands. (The second sellout contained Gibbs’s Time parody, which suggests a demand for such things.)

Two images from "Paunch"

Thurber’s “Laocoon;” Yanks imitating Brits imitating Yanks in a fake ad.

Irvin did most of the drawings, moving from elaborate crowquill to charcoal in the styles of Bernard Partridge, E.H. Shepard, George Belcher and others. The ringer is Thurber’s “Laocoon,” a spoof of Punch’s fondness for allegorical political cartoons based on classical myths. Nothing like Thurber’s doughy men and garden-hose snake would have appeared in the real Punch of the time, which may be the point: It’s a deliberate wrong note played outside Punch’s narrow range of “good” cartooning.

Punch's 1954 New Yorker parody

Revenge, served cold

“Perhaps because of its nearness to the original, this parody was not received with much merriment in the Punch office,” R.E. Williams understates in A Century of Punch Cartoons (Simon & Schuster, 1954), “but when the magazine wholesalers phoned in to ask if they would be sued for libel if they handled the issue, the answer was a dignified negative.” Revenge came years later in the form of another parody, also eight pages, in the April 7, 1954, issue of Punch, called “The N*w Y*rk*r.” It sold out, too. — VCR

“A Word with Punch,” 1847

Word with Punch cover

Parody Of: Punch. Title: “A Word with Punch.” Date: November 11, 1847.
Parody By: Alfred Bunn. Format: 12-page magazine. Contributors: Albert Smith, Shirley Brooks, George Augustus Sala. Availability: Nowhere online;  held by the British Library and a few other collections.

Strange as it seems, the first (known) magazine parody was conceived not by professional humorists but by one of their victims. Punch’s first star writer, Douglas Jerrold, was nicknamed “the Little Wasp” for his stinging humor and slight frame. In 1843, he began skewering a flamboyant theatrical impresario named Alfred Bunn, whom he called “the Poet Bunn” for his supposed literary pretensions. Jerrold never explained why Bunn was chosen, but for four years Punch ridiculed his productions, his management of Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters and, especially, his 1846 breach-of-contract suit against soprano Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale.”

Bunn in Punch, 1845

“The Poet Bunn” seen by Punch, Oct. 11, 1845.

In October, a fed-up Bunn met with editor Albert Smith and writer Shirley Brooks of The Man in the Moon, a year-old humor monthly, who had their own quarrels with Punch. With another Moon man, George Augustus Sala, they created a twelve-page “squib” that turned the tables on Bunn’s chief tormentors at the magazine: Jerrold, editor Mark Lemon and writer Gilbert á Beckett. “A Word with Punch” isn’t an exact replica — there’s no political cartoon and too little art in general — but it’s close enough to make browsers look twice. It’s about the size and heft of Punch, with the same two-column format and the same price, three pence. The cover blares the word “Punch” in the real thing’s distinctive lettering below the much smaller “A Word with.” Below that, Mr. Punch stands glumly in a pillory amid discarded toys resembling his contributors while dog Toby hangs from a gallows.

Fake Warren's Blacking ad from A Word with Punch

A fake ad twists Lemon.

On the back, a parody of the famous Warren’s Blacking ad shows Lemon reflected as an ass; another ad offers old issues of Punch “in any quantity, and at any price, on the premises.” Inside are several columns of Punch-like anecdotes, puns and poems, but the heart is Bunn’s seven-page takedown of Jerrold, Lemon and á Beckett, called “Wronghead,” “Thickhead” and “Sleekhead” respectively. With relish and in detail, he exhumes their many theatrical flops, reprints their favor-begging correspondence and nit-picks their verse for faulty images, a blood sport back then. He calls Lemon “The Literary Pot-Boy” because he once ran a tavern. After quoting a bankruptcy petition from 1834 listing thirteen(!) failed magazines á Beckett had owned or edited, he tut-tuts:

Editor of thirteen periodicals and lessee of a theatre into the bargain! And all total failures! Poetry, prose, wit, humour, conceit, slander, sarcasm, and every order of ribaldry going for nothing! Where has been the public taste? – the people ought really to be ashamed of themselves for persisting in not buying so much genuine genius!

Caricatures of three Punch men

Mr. Punch’s “puppets” in Bunn’s parody.

He grudgingly acknowledges Jerrold’s “infinite ability” before calling him “one of the most ill-conditioned, spiteful, vindictive and venomous writers in existence. … [W]hatever honey was in his composition has long since turned to gall.” After all that, speaking directly to Punch, he warns:

In carrying out the purport of this little squib, I have confined myself … to matters of a literary nature…. Your puppets, who have assailed, ridiculed and caricatured me for years, without any reason whatever, will not … abandon this branch of their trade now that I have given them reason…. In that case, I am prepared to pay back any compliment I receive with the highest rate of interest allowed by law, and shall let you, and perhaps them, into a secret or two worth knowing.

Ever the showman, Bunn had 10,000 handbills printed to promote the parody and arranged for national distribution. It appeared on November 11 and may have sold as many as 6,000 copies.

Real Punch covers from the 1840s

Richard Doyle’s 1846 and 1847 Punch covers; the latter was used until 1956.

The response from Punch was … silence, at least in print, though there were reports of staff being dispatched to buy up all the copies of “A Word with Punch” they could locate. The attacks on Bunn ceased immediately and were never renewed, and the “secret or two” he claimed to know stayed secret; one Punch biographer called it “the only defeat of its kind in the magazine’s history.” As a bonus, two months later the courts ruled for Bunn against Jenny Lind, who had to pay him £2,000 damages. — VCR

Playboy Parodies 3: Foreign, 1963-2017

Lawboy coverPlayboy has launched dozens of international editions since 1972, but only a handful of foreign parodists have returned the favor. In 1963, students at Toronto’s Queens University Law School put out a 12-page tabloid called “Lawboy.” A collection of local in-jokes printed on newsprint and seemingly laid out at random, “Lawboy” barely qualifies as a Playboy parody, but it deserves a nod as the first to circulate entirely outside the U.S.

French-language Montreal humor magazines Croc and Safarir spoofed Playboy with more panache in 1990 and 2001, respectively. Croc’s 15-page “Playbec” offered an unclothed Jessica Rabbit and an exclusive interview with the Holy Trinity (two-upping 1983’s “Playbore,” which had only Jesus). Safarir’s self-titled spoof began on the back cover with buxom singer-actress Annie Dufresne crossing her eyes behind a feather boa; she also starred in the interview-pictorial that filled six of the feature’s 12 inside pages.

Playboy parodies from Montreal's Croc and Safarir

Toontown’s Jessica Rabbit and Montreal’s Annie Dufresne in Croc and Safarir.

Munich writer Hans Gamber self-published more than a dozen full-length magazine and newspaper parodies in Germany in the 1980s and early ’90s, beginning with a 1984 takeoff of Playboy’s German edition called “Playbock” (literally, “play-buck,” i.e., play money). His later targets ranged from Der Spiegel to the Asterix books; the former grumbled about trademark infringement, the latter took him to court over it and won. Gamber’s last magazine parody in 1992 was a second “Playbock,” notably thinner and less polished than the first. Both mixed original content with translated pieces from U.S. humor mags, including National Lampoon and 1983’s dueling Playboy parodies. Not one to waste material, Gamber later mined “Playbock” and his other men’s mag spoofs for a best-of collection cleverly called “Playback.”

Playbyte in NatLamp and Playbock 2

NatLamp‘s 1988 “Playbyte” and its German reprint in 1992’s “Playbock.”

“Wookieerotica,” from Australia, is a thick, perfect-bound “1970s style men’s magazine” from the Star Wars universe that doubles as souvenir program for a similarly themed burlesque show. The stripping was originally a sideline to the parody: “Since we were creating the costumes [for the magazine photos], we thought we’d put on a one-night show for a hundred of our friends and fans,” director/editor Russall S. Beattie told the Huffington Post’s David Moye in 2018. Star Wars Burlesque debuted in 2011 and instantly sold out; a revised and expanded version has since made five Australian tours and been seen by more than 50,000 people. This past summer, the company made its U.S. debut with a new edition called “The Empire Strips Back.”

Pages from Wookieerotica

Fur, girls, girls and more fur in “Wookieerotica.”

The show’s success slowed work on the magazine, but Sydney publisher Giant Panda King finally issued “Wookieerotica” in 2017 for $50 Australian ($36 U.S.). What that buys is easily the best-looking fake men’s mag ever published; over half the pages are artistic studies of the show’s performers waving lightsabers, posing nude in Admiral Ackbar masks and suchlike fan service. The ads for fake products like Imperial Strike cigarettes and Smirhoth vodka are well-observed, droll and deadpan.

Playboy was the pinup magazine of the ’70s and I wanted that,” Beattie told HuffPo. “I wanted the articles, I wanted ads, I wanted the reviews. Now we took that, and we parodied Playboy just as much as Star Wars.” Actually, there’s very little Playboy in “Wookieerotica” beyond a few borrowed phrases and an eye for female beauty. Most of the regular columns and features are absent; those that remain look more like standard Upscale Magazine Design than anything specific to Playboy or the 1970s. Significantly, “Wookieerotica” is plastered with disclaimers that it’s “not sponsored, endorsed by, or affiliated with” anything connected to Lucasfilm or Disney. There’s nothing similar about Playboy, nor does there need to be.      — VCR

Playboy Parodies, Part III: Foreign

A. Canada
“Lawboy,” Queens University Law School, Toronto, March 1963 (16)
“The Best of Playboar,” Razorback Press, Toronto, 1984 (64 + 4)
—— [reprint], Firefly Books, Willowdale, Ont., 1996 (64 + 4)
“Playbec,” in Croc, Montreal, Dec. 1990 (15)
“Safarir,” in Safarir, Montreal, Aug. 2001 (12 + 2c)
“The Very Best of Playboar: Special Edition,” Playboar Press, 2018 (84 + 4)

B. Great Britain
“Pl*yb*y” (for July 2078), in Punch, July 13, 1966 (4)
“Punch Goes Playboy,” Punch, Nov. 10, 1971 (34 + 4)

C. Germany
“Playbock,” by Hans Gamber, et al., MAYA Verlag, Munich, Winter 1984/85 (106)
“Playbock,” by Hans Gamber, et al., SAGA Verlag, Munich, 1992 (68)

D. Australia
“Wookieerotica,” by Russall S. Beattie, et al., Giant Panda King, Sydney, 2017

William Hone’s “A Slap at Slop,” 1821.

Front page of A Slap at Slop.

Parody Of: The New Times (London). Title: “A Slap at Slop.”
Parody By: William Hone. Date: 1821. Pages: 4.
Contributors: William Hone (writer), George Cruikshank (art).
Availability: PDF of pamphlet version online here.

Portrait of William Hone

William Hone, 1780-1842.

William Hone may have been the original pop-culture fanatic. Born in London in 1780, he was drawn to the printing trade and radical politics while still in his teens. In the 1790s he was a disciple of free-thinker William Godwin and briefly belonged the London Corresponding Society, one of the pro-French groups targeted in The Times’s 1794 self-parody, “The New Times.” In 1810, he began writing and publishing attacks on the authorities that were scathing, witty and abundant — 175 separate titles between 1815 and 1821.

Hone collected printed ephemera most of his life, from old-master prints to election handbills, and he was fascinated by parodies. He loved to present his radical satires as if they were children’s stories, advertising circulars and — most notoriously — books of religious instruction. Around 1817, he issued three political satires modeled on three core documents of the Church of England: the Catechism, the Liturgy and the Creed. In one, “The Late John Wilkes’s Catechism,” he even parodied the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Lord who art in the Treasury, whatsoever be thy name, thy power be prolonged, thy will be done throughout the empire, as it is in each session. … Turn us not out of our places; but keep us in the House of Commons, the land of Pensions and Plenty; and deliver us from the People. Amen.”

Seeing an opening, the Tory government charged Hone with three separate counts of blasphemy, claiming it was prosecuting him not for his politics but for mocking religion. The trials were held on consecutive days in December 1817, all before the same judge but with different juries. Acting as his own lawyer, Hone won three acquittals and national fame as a champion of free speech. His most effective tactic was showing jurors dozens of religious parodies similar to his own that had not been prosecuted. Collecting these whetted his interest in the subject, and he spent the next 20 years gathering material for a book. Unfortunately, the book never materialized, and his collection disappeared after his death in 1842.

Hone's Buonaparte-phobia

“Buonaparte-phobia.”

Hone never copied a specific publication in detail, but a few times he came close. One such was “Buonaparte-phobia, or Cursing made Easy” (1815), a half-sheet poster mocking The Times’s nonstop abuse of Napoleon. Hone made The Times look ridiculous simply by knitting the more spittle-flecked passages of its anti-Boney editorials into one 3,000-word rant. He attributed these attacks to a “Dr. Slop,” after the incompetent obstetrician in Tristram Shandy, but their real author was a quarrelsome and widely disliked reactionary named John Stoddard. Originally a lawyer, Stoddard began contributing to The Times in 1810 and was named editor in 1814. His duties included writing the “leading article” (i.e., lead editorial), but his “style was as violent as it was personal,” the paper’s official history said: “In 1814 The Times was ridiculed as a magazine of curses.” Essayist William Hazlitt, who despised Stoddard’s politics despite (or because of) being his brother-in-law, wrote in 1823 that Stoddard’s Times “might be imagined to be composed as well as printed with a steam engine.”

The Times axed Stoddard at the end of 1816, suspecting him of disloyalty. Two months later, he reappeared as editor of a rival paper, The Day, which he soon renamed The New Times (no kin to the 1794 parody); the real Times sniffily dismissed it as “the New, or Mock, Times.” In 1820, Hone renewed his attacks on Stoddard with a reprint of “Buonoparte-phobia,” followed by a four-page, broadsheet parody of The New Times titled “A Slap at Slop and the Bridge-Street Gang.” (The latter was a pro-government propaganda group whose real name was the Constitutional Association for Opposing the Progress of Disloyal and Seditious Principles.)

Slap at Slop pages 2 through 4

“A Slap at Slop,” first edition, pages 2-4.

Like the 1976 film Network, “A Slap at Slop” anticipated media trends that seemed outlandish but later became standard. Its front page consisted entirely of ads, as was the custom, but Hone gave them the bold headlines and large illustrations previously seen only in posters and handbills. “My first intention was to parody Slop’s paper, ‘The Slop Pail,’ or ‘Muck Times,’ throughout,” Hone wrote. “But … what could I do with thoughts as unquotable, as confused, as ill-conceived, as ill expressed as that puissant Lord’s — without depth or originality — as plentiful and superficial as duckweeds…. Under the stringent necessity of varying my original plan, … I have parodied some of the features common to the Slop Pail, and supplied … a Sketch of HIS LIFE — filling the remainder of the sheet in my own way.” In that sketch, Hone described Stoddard as a man who “mistook passionate heat for the enthusiasm of genius, a habit of loud talking for talent, a ranting way of writing for reasoning, and pertinacity of manner for firmness of character.”

Hone’s “own way” ranged from pure nonsense to blackest humor: One fake ad pictured the Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo and current Tory leader in the House of Lords, as a turbaned “Indian juggler” forcing Britannia to swallow his sword. “Wanted To Go Abroad,” said another ad, “a stout, active, stone-hearted young man, of a serious turn, as an apprentice in the military business, and to assist as a missionary. Apply at the Bishop and Bayonet, Westminster.” Directly below that was a picture of “A Nondescript” — a creature made up of mitres, crowns, boots and other symbols of authority — accompanied by several hundred words of pure gibberish.

Real and fake Warren's Blacking ads

A real Warren’s Blacking ad (left) and the “Slap’s” parody, both drawn by George Cruikshank.

The “Slap” also contains the earliest known parody of a national ad campaign. Robert Warren’s Shoe Blacking had made itself famous with a drawing of a cat startled by its own reflection in a freshly polished boot. In Hone’s version, a rat sees himself wearing a judge’s wig — a hit at politician Charles Warren (no kin to Robert), a former radical who had cynically turned Tory in exchange for a Welsh judgeship worth 1,000 Pounds a year. The fact that one of the Tory leaders had given his name to the Wellington boot must have been an irresistible set-up for Hone and his illustrator, cartoonist George Cruikshank. It didn’t hurt that Cruikshank had also drawn the original ad.

Cruikshank cartoon of Southey and Prince of Wales

Poet Laureate Robert Southey and King George IV, as seen by George Cruikshank.

On inside pages, Hone parodied Robert Southey’s overblown ode to the late King George III, “A Vision of Judgement,” as “A Vision of Want of Judgement.” Southey was a fire-breathing radical who moved right relatively young; by 1813 he had ingratiated himself with enough Top People to be named Poet Laureate, much to his old comrades’ disgust. Cruikshank’s illustration shows the poet serenading his new muse: an overweight, underdressed  George IV strumming a lyre. Hone also mocked Southey’s naked careerism in an ad for “Golden Ointment for the Eyes,” which the poet testifies is “astonishing! I immediately looked two ways at once, and saw my way clear to the Laureateship. I have seen in the dark ever since!”

Topical humor seldom outlives the issues that inspired it, and many of the jokes in “A Slap at Slop” have become the stuff of footnotes. What comes through undiminished is the force of Hone’s personality. He hated unearned privilege, militarism and servility, and he loved working people, old paper, liberty and forceful writing. And he really, really, really didn’t like John Stoddard. — VCR (edited 4/11/18 to correct info on Charles Warren)

 

Punch’s first “Pl*yb*y,” 1966

Hugh Hefner on Punch's 1966 Playboy cover

Punch’s view of Playboy in 2078, by Norman Mansbridge.

Parody Of: PlayboyTitle: “Pl*yb*y.”
Parody By: Punch.  Date: July 13, 1966. Pages: 4.
Contributors: Alexander Frater, Norman Mansbridge, William Hewison.
Availability: Occasionally sighted on eBay.

July 13, 1966

Punch at 125.

Two months before the Harvard Lampoon used the same asterisk-specked title, the 125th birthday number of Punch contained a brief parody of Playboy called “Pl*yb*y.” British magazines Queen and Country Life were targeted in the same issue, and in each case Punch tried to imagine what “its contemporary” would look like when it too had survived for a century and a quarter. Although Playboy wouldn’t reach that milestone until 2078, “Pl*yb*y” showed both magazine and editor-publisher Hugh Hefner looking much as they did in 1966 — with a few twists. In Punch’s 2078, Hef stays young with rabbit glands, the King of England is a novelist with a whipping fetish, and the 11,651st chapter of the “Playboy Philosophy” is a roundtable discussion of society’s outdated taboo against premarital nail-biting (which future-Hef boasts has always had a “positive, attractive, romantic image” in his magazine).

“Pl*yb*y” makes no attempt to duplicate Playboy’s uncluttered layout, allowing it to cram a full-size cover, the “Philosophy,” the King’s short story, some “Advisor” queries, a cartoon and a house ad into four pages. Writer Alexander Frater gets off a few mild jokes but doesn’t build on them, and he seldom captures Playboy‘s distinctive blend of over-alliteration, ankle-deep sophistication and lust for shiny objects. The fact that “Pl*yb*y” supposedly dates from the far-distant future is sometimes noted and sometimes ignored; in any case, it’s irrelevant to the intended critique of Playboy‘s squeaky-clean, All-American hedonism. (The Queen and Country Life parodies, set it 1986 and 2022 respectively, are sharper and funnier.)

Page 2 of Punch's 1966 Playboy parody

The “Hewsokolini” signature is cartoonist William Hewison’s nod to Erich Sokol and Eldon Dedini.

The most effective bits in “Pl*yb*y” are Norman Mansbridge’s cover caricature of Hefner and William Hewison’s mashup of fellow cartoonists Dedini and Sokol. Hewison, who was then Punch‘s art editor, also included an anniversary-related inside joke for cartoon buffs: As his two lovelies survey the pinup-strewn bachelor pad of their would-be bedmates, one says, “We won’t get much action here — these boys prefer the shadow to the substance.” “Substance and Shadow” was the caption of a famous cartoon by John Leech that Punch had run in July 1843 under the heading, “Cartoon, No. 1” — the first use of that word to describe a piece of satirical art.

Punch took on Playboy again in 1971 with a full-length parody that sold out in the U.K. and was reprinted in the U.S. the following year. I hope to get around to it sometime soon — or at least before 2078. — VCR

“The New Times,” 1794

The Times' self-parody 1974

The Times parodies itself, 1794

Parody Of: The Times (London). Title: “The New Times.”
Parody By: The Times — and the Tories.  Date: Sept. 6, 1794. Pages: 1.
Availability: Reprinted much reduced but still legible in The History of the Times, Volume I: The Thunderer in the Making (London: Times Publishing Co., 1935).

The earliest known parody of a specific publication was a full-page self-parody in The Times of London on Sept. 6, 1794.  Like the Boston Globe’s April 2016 vision of Donald Trump as president, “The New Times” was set in a future dominated by the worst imaginable leadership — in this case, French revolutionaries and their English sympathisers. Reformers across Europe had hailed the French Revolution in 1789, but after five years of guillotines and chaos most Britons considered it a Bad Thing. So did The Times, which was only nine years old in 1794 but had already adopted an omniscient tone and an unswerving conservatism.

“The New Times” filled all of page 3 of the four-page Times, displacing the usual news and commentary. Like The Times‘s real front page, it consisted mostly of government announcements, theatrical notices and ads. Instead of the customary lion and unicorn in the real Timess nameplate, “The New Times” displayed a guillotine surrounded by crossed pikes hoisting the cap of liberty and a blood-dripping severed head. The paper’s date was given as the “First Year of the Republic, one and indivisible, Saturday, June 10, 1800.”

In the 1800 of “The New Times,” pubs serve wine instead of beer, Parliament has been destroyed, and St. Paul’s Cathedral has been converted into a “Temple of Reason.” A brief notice celebrates the discovery of a method for “making bread of decayed bones,” and the shipping news blandly records the arrival of “a French brig, laden with guillotines for use of the fleet.”

An exchange-rate table from "The New Times"

In the 1800 of “The New Times,” zero interest in the pound.

The humor of “The New Times” is pitch-black and savage, and much is still funny in an Onion-like way. The dozen or so English radicals mocked by name in its columns were probably less amused, since many of them were awaiting trial for High Treason. These included the well-known polemicist John Horne Tooke and the left-leaning Unitarian minister Jeremiah Joyce, who was depicted in “The New Times” celebrating the destruction of Parliament. (Fortunately, all were eventually acquitted.)

Real Times front page from 1794.

The real Times in 1794.

The inclusion of Tooke, Joyce and other defendants was no accident, for “The New Times” was created by the same government that prosecuted them. The parody’s author is unknown, but the official History of The Times says it was sponsored by Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, who was Home and War Secretary under William Pitt and head of the Tory Party’s dirty tricks division. According to scholar Marcus Wood, Pitt and Dundas “built up a propaganda machine which attempted to discredit radical thought and to magnify the dangers of radical activity.” It seems to have worked: The Tories came to power in 1783 and held it for the rest of the century.

Much of Dundas’s propaganda was slipped to friendly newspapers, who published it unaltered; in return, the papers received inside scoops, government contracts and other goodies. Times founder and publisher John Walter, for example, was appointed Printer to His Majesty’s Customs and given 300 pounds a year. “The tradition of journalists selling their consciences to politicians was old when Walter established his daily newspaper, and its age had deprived it of infamy,” the anonymous author of the History noted dryly. Infamous or not, one fruit of that tradition was the first high-profile newspaper parody. —VCR