How Do We Love ‘Have I Got News For You’? Let Us Count The Ways..

Have I Got News For You celebrates its 22nd birthday this year and an astounding 43 series on the air.

Just think about those stats for a second. This show has been going since 1990. For those of us in our mid-to-late twenties, it’s hard to think of a world pre-Nevermind or Jagged Little Pill and this programme has outlived the careers of the artists behind each of these seminal albums (although for very different reasons, obviously). To rack up 43 series of a TV show is nothing to sniff at, especially since it began life on BBC2 as a broadcast spin-off of a Radio 4 show called the News Quiz, before eventually graduating to a prime BBC1 slot ten years later. In short, I bloody love it and this is why the following paragraphs are essentially a love letter to Have I Got News For You – or ‘HIGNFY’ for those of you who see life through hashtags.

I grew up watching Have I Got News For You. I used to beg and plead my mum to stay up late on a Friday night to watch it and even though I didn’t really understand the jokes, I saw my parents screeching hysterically at one of Paul Merton’s non-sequiturs or Angus Deyton’s deadpan deliveries from the autocue and I’d laugh along too. I even went out of my way to look up what some of the jokes referred to afterwards. This show actually encouraged me to learn new things in the days before the internet was invented (it may have been invented – we were quite poor) and when usually the only appeal of a newspaper was a titillating lingerie advert in the back pages. I’ve spent entire weekends just watching historic clips on YouTube (mainly when I was single) marvelling at the old-fashioned set which somehow still looks the same now and recognising how many of the topics are depressingly similar – recession, civil unrest, newspapers abusing power, a Tory government etc.

Even after all these years on the box, the show remains successful, even recently trouncing Piers Morgan’s much advertised and headline-grabbing Life Stories in the ratings. What sets it apart from the myriad of other panel shows is that it’s actually very funny. Where shows like Mock the Week and 8 Out of 10 Cats seem scripted and merely a showcase for a comedian to rehash a bit of their old stand-up routine, HIGNFY manages to remain naturalistic, laugh-heavy and fresh, despite a format that has barely changed over the course of its run. In fact, it’s the only panel show on TV that makes me consistently chuckle, other than Amstell-era Buzzcocks. It’s a bastion of broadcast satire and arguably the only current programme to do it successfully, apart from the occasional good bit on 10 O’Clock Live.

Look what drugs can do to your hair kids..

Many say that the key to the show’s longevity lies in its guest presenter format, which it adopted after Angus Deayton’s infamous coke-hooker-but-I-didn’t-know-she-was-a-hooker controversy which forced him out of his role as host. It’s true that the programme has had some brilliant guest hosts, most of those being members of the Tory party (more on that in a bit), however the presenter-of-the-week format has arguably become a bit stale of late, with the same reliable faces cropping up again (I’d rather have an angry threesome with Piers Morgan and Fearne Cotton, in front of my mum, than have to watch Alexander Armstrong smug up my television screen again).

The key to HIGNFY’s enduring success has to be its team captains, Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. Paul is essential for bringing the show back to comedy when it’s in danger of veering to close to preachiness and self-importance, and has a surreal wit that baffles some of the more straight-laced political guests. However, for me, Ian Hislop is the star performer. If I can be graphic for just a moment: the man gives me a brain boner. He has a fierce intelligence, knows absolutely everything about politics (meaning he’s rarely outwitted) and has no party political allegiance, meaning everyone is fair game. He’s posh without being a snob and willing to poke fun at his disassociation with popular culture. In short, I think I love him.

To round off this comedy news quiz-based love-in, here is a run-down of my favourite Have I Got News For You appearances (I originally toyed with the idea of a caption competition)..

Boris Johnson
Arguably Have I Got News For You’s best guest host, Boris Johnson proved to be equally hilarious, bumbling, witty and ridiculous. He made multiple appearances on the show in the days when his political life had stalled and it could be said that his popularity as host helped launch his mayoral career. Perhaps if he loses the latest bout of election we’ll see him back (no subliminal message there whatsoever).

Bruce Forsyth
Speaking of the programme’s phoenix effect, a pre-Strictly Come Dancing turn by Bruce Forsyth back in 2003 managed to thrust him back into the limelight. Even though he spent the entire episode parodying his old gameshows and most of his 2010 turn referencing Strictly, the power of his presence made them a memorable and enjoyable affair.

Piers Morgan
Even though he was just a panellist on Paul’s team, Piers’ one and only appearance is worth watching just to see Ian Hislop take him down. Piers came across as smug, over-confident and a little bit dumb and watching Ian destroy him with a single quip is a joy to behold.

William Hague
I’m no fan of the Tories but William Hague made a suitably self-deprecating and witty presenter. Sometimes it’s better when the politicians aren’t in on the joke but Hague was articulate, funny and, most importantly, willing to take the piss out of himself.

Ann Widdecombe
I know, I know, it’s the third Conservative on the list but I can assure you, I haven’t succumbed to the blue side of the force. Ann deserves a mention purely for her cringe-worthy turns as both a panellist and guest host. She simply didn’t get it. Paul Merton notoriously disliked her and it’s always fun to watch a dyed-in-the-wool Tory get a good verbal kicking. It’s a shame that comedian and one-man irritating laugh factory, Jimmy Carr, scared her off ever appearing again.

Angus Deayton
He may have left in ‘disgrace’ but Angus was a master at being master of ceremonies. In my eyes, his tenure as host is unbeaten and he had a deadpan and detached delivery that all guest presenters have tried to emulate since. The episode after his drugs scandal hit the press, where Paul and Ian made him squirm for half an hour, remains some one of the most uncomfortable yet enjoyable pieces of TV to watch.

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