I have been known to cite the “case” of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971). For example, in the case of murdering quack Francine Scrayen sending legal letters to a critical blogger I advocate that he refers her to this precedent.

But what does it mean?

Pressdram are the publishers of [W:Private Eye], the famous satirical British news magazine. They are constantly being sued for libel, most notoriously by [W:Robert Maxwell] (they were the only ones who dared to call him a crook while he was still alive), [W:James Goldsmith] and other businessmen of, to put it charitably, mixed reputation.

Pressdram was an “off the shelf” company established by [W:Peter Cook] whose shareholders and directors have included [W:Dirk Bogarde], [W:Jane Asher] (both co-founders of the magazine with Cook), [W:Willie Rushton] (and now his son Anthony), [W:Ian Hislop] and others. Between them, Private Eye and [W:David Frost] revolutionised political satire in the 1960s, breaking the culture of deference to the rich and famous and critically examining the conduct of MPs and others.

In 1971 Private Eye published a piece on one J Arkell, credit manager of Granada TV Rental, covering illicit payments. They had (as usual) ample evidence to back their story. Arkell’s lawyers sent this letter:

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.

Private Eye’s response was a follows:

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.

No further response was received and the exchange has passed into legal folklore.

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