Arkell v. Pressdram

“Messrs Jeffrey Benson and Michael Isaacs of Tracing Services Ltd, currently on bail on charges of conspiracy to create a public mischief, appear to have lost most of the work collecting debts and tracing absconders for the Granada group, to the considerable regret of Mr James Arkell, Granada’s retail credit manager. Ever since last June, when Tracing Services got the contract, Mr Arkell has been receiving £20 every month from Tracing Services, but the payment now appears to have stopped.”

On April 9th of 1971, much to the dismay of one James Arkell, the brief story quoted above was published in Private Eye, a British satirical news publication founded in 1961 which, thanks to its unflinching commitment to uncovering scandals, is no stranger to legal disputes. Indeed, a few weeks after this particular piece hit the shelves, a letter arrived from Arkell’s solicitors which can be read below, as can an uncompromising reply from Private Eye which has since become famous in legal and publishing circles for reasons which will become clear.

Never ones to miss an opportunity, Private Eye published the exchange very quickly, and almost immediately Arkell withdrew his complaint. The magazine have 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.”

Note: ‘Pressdram Ltd’ is Private Eye‘s publisher. Also, there was no “case” legally, despite the name by which the dispute is now known.

(This letter can be found in the More Letters of Note book, special editions of which can br purchased here. If you’d like these letters sent straight to your inbox, sign up for the Letters of Note newsletter. Photo: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo.)

The Letters

29th April 1971

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 issue 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.

Goodman Derrick & Co.

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 would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.

Private Eye