Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Reply Given in Arkell v. Pressdram

I have been asked about the leading case of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971), which I referred to here.

This case is well known among lawyers and journalists, especially the phrase "I refer you to the reply given in Arkell and Pressdram".

But it really deserves to be better known, and so I set it out below.

(I have taken the text from here and background is here.)

Solicitors' letter to Private Eye:

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 reply:

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 correspondence was received.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Joe said...

Private Eye are heroes

and so are you

Zeno said...

Who said lawyers don't have a sense of humour? :-)

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Simply glorious! Gotta love The Eye!

I remember, years later, Ian Hyslop, as the then new editor of The Eye, standing on the steps of the High Court, after having lost one of its myriad libel suits pressed by Robert Maxwell; The Eye had just been asked to stump-up something in the region of £250K in damages to Maxwell - a sum it could then, or now, ill afford.

Now surrounded by microphone-thrusting reporters, and other lost-libel-case-carrion-feeders, and patently worried about from where (or whom - usually Peter Cook's wallet stepped in on these occasions) - he was going to get the the money, Hyslop was asked his immediate response to the size of the damages and replied, in punishing pun:

"Well, all I can say at this time is that it's a big fat cheque - and naturally I'm not referring to Mr Maxwell..."

John Collins said...

Tragically Maxwell topped himself to avoid facing the music for crimes far worse than Private Eye reported.

Later on Sonia Sutcliffe sued, got some ridiculous damages and Hislop famously said "If that's justice, I'm a banana".

And it proved in the end that she had indeed covered up for her infamous husband. I wonder if she ever had to pay back her ill-gotten gains?

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

Blogged on it here following your report on the Osler case:

PJH said...

Some background to the article that caused the case wouldn't have gone amiss...

ivan said...

I always presumed from the description "Arkell v Pressdram", and the description of Arkell as "the plaintiff" that some proceedings were actually instigated. But the description here makes it sound like all that happened was that some lawyers dashed off the above letter, Eye said f. o. and that was that. So was there actually a case, or has a mythology of a case built up around that brief correspondence?

In the wiki article, they give just the final sentence of the solicitors' letter, where it looks odd. But taken in the context of the complete letter, it doesn't seem to be very different from "if you retract and apologise grovellingly enough we may let the matter lie there," which seems a fairly normal thing to say.

Jack of Kent said...


As far as I am aware it refers only to this exchange.

Using such a portentious sounding case name is part of the (in-)joke.

Neil Howlett said...

I don't think this is a case that went to court or was reported. I believe that the origin of this story (other than via chat in El Vino's) is that it appeared in a footnote in Geoffrey Robertson's book 'Media Law' (a good read even if it didn't this). Certainly that's where I first saw it many years ago. He acted for Private Eye in many cases. The point is that Private Eye knew the threat of proceedings had no basis, or were prepared to take the risk. It isn't clear if the response was from Private Eye itself or their lawyers. In these PC says I'm not even sure a solicitor could say things like that.

Penglish said...

The Clevelands Brown response is almost as good, assuming it's genuine. It's available in on the web, including at

"Attached is a letter that we received on November 19, 1974. I feel that you should be aware that some asshole is signing your name to stupid letters."

Mike said...

It may help to explain that Pressdram is the company that owns/owned Private Eye but a wonderful retort never-the-less!

Private Eye said...

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 collection debts and tracing absoners for the Granada group, to the considererable 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.

Craig. said...

Just superb - I've not seen this before but is truly hilarious!