Arkell v Pressdram [1971]

In April 1971, Private Eye carried the story of how James Arkell, a retail credit manager, had dispensed with the services of two bailiffs who were on bail on charges of conspiracy to create a public mischief — despite the fact that he had for the previous year been in receipt of a monthly kickback from their company for putting debt-collecting work their way. It was not an especially spectacular story, but the subsequent letter from Mr Arkell’s solicitors Goodman Derrick and the Eye’s response set an important “legal” precedent which is often cited as Arkell v Pressdram:

Dear Sir,

We act for Mr Arkell who is Retail Credit Manager of Granada TV Rental Ltd. His attention has been drawn to an article appearing in the issues of Private Eye dated 9th April 1971 on page 4. The statements made about Mr Arkell are entirely untrue and clearly highly defamatory. We are therefore instructed to require from you immediately your proposals for dealing with the matter.

Mr Arkell’s first concern is that there should be a full retraction at the earliest possible date in Private Eye and he will also want his costs paid. His attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply.

Yours etc.

The Eye’s response:

Dear Sirs,

We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell.

We note that Mr Arkell’s attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you could inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.

Yours etc.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Private Eye immediately published the exchange, with the case soon falling apart and Arkell withdrew his complaint (“Mr Arkell has now, albeit belatedly, complied with the suggestion made to him at an earlier stage of the proceedings.”). The magazine has since used the dispute as shorthand when responding to threats e.g. “We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v Pressdram”.

N.B. Pressdram Ltd is Private Eye’s publisher. Also, there was no legal “case”, despite the name by which the dispute is now known.

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