Arkell v. Pressdram
How to respond to a frivolous legal threat
The following letter can be found in More Letters of Note. Grab a copy here.
In April of 1971, in an article that lasted a single paragraph, Private Eye magazine alleged that one James Arkell, in his role as Retail Credit Manager of Granada TV Rental Ltd, had for some time been receiving monthly backhanders from a debt collection agency used by his employer. Arkell was less than pleased, and before long a letter arrived at Private Eye’s offices in which his solicitors demanded a retraction and damages for their client. That letter can be read below, as can an uncompromising reply which has since become famous in legal and publishing circles for reasons that 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.”—as have recipients of legal threats in the wider world.
Note: ‘Pressdram Ltd’ is Private Eye’s publisher. Also, there was no “case” legally, despite the name by which the dispute is now known.
29th April 1971
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.
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 is a British satirical news publication founded in 1961 which, thanks to its unflinching commitment to uncovering scandals, is no stranger to legal disputes.