Ade Teal is a cartoonist and satirist, having worked on Spitting Image, QI and a selection of national newspapers. He speaks to The London Word about his book The Gin Lane Gazette, a fictional 18th-century newspaper containing the most scandalous true stories from the period.
Teal got the idea for a book dealing with the popular history of London and caricature following his stint as a political cartoonist.
He chose London as it was and still is seen by the well-to-do as the centre of the universe, says Teal.
The title Gin Lane is a reference to the famous print by William Hogarth depicting the evils of the spirit, and is also where the fictional newspaper is located.
It is also a nod to the sudden proliferation of newspapers in the 18th century.
Scandals of the time included prime ministers dueling in Hyde Park; peers of the realm who sat the unburied corpses of their cherished mistresses at their dinner tables; and celebrity courtesans who ate 1000-guinea banknotes stuffed into sandwiches, simply to make a point.
So what was the point he was trying to make?
‘In a roundabout way, that there is nothing new. We like to think how different we are from our ancestors, but in reality we are not really. Tabloid gossip appealed to them as much as it appealed to us – in fact even more so. Their in-girls then were the modern equivalent of Katie Price. Courtesans were the master manipulators of the press.’
‘There’s a lot about 18th-century people we would recognise and vice-versa.’
The book is full of elements of a modern newspaper, with sports reports, obituaries. Everything in it is deadly accurate, and painstakingly researched, he says.
But with the internet eroding newspaper sales, does he think there will still be a place for the political cartoon in the future?
‘The British are very good at taking the piss out of the great and the good – so I think for that reason they will always need to exist. Whether newspapers will is another question.’
Not surprisingly, Teal is something of a London history buff. ‘London is such a magnificent, bustling city. And it’s so layered. You could stick a pin anywhere in a map of London and find some compelling history. That is what is so amazing about it.’
‘Areas such as Soho and Lincoln’s Inn are particularly vibrant,’ he says. ‘The point is that the popular bits of London today were as popular then as they are now. The same action was happening in the same places. ‘
So what does he think Hogarth would see as the scurge of modern society? ‘I suppose you could say class A drugs. But even that is not as prevalent as gin. One woman sold her baby’s clothes in order to buy gin. At one point one-in-five houses were a gin shop. So something like crack cocaine really isn’t comparable.
‘Having said that, although there were lawless areas it would have been a relatively safe place to live – it wasn’t as bad as people think it was, anyway.’
The Gin Lane Gazette is available from Amazon for £8.96 and from Waterstone’s bookshop.