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Have I got News For You

Have I Got News for You, or HIGNFY, is a British television panel show produced by Hat Trick Productions for the BBC. It is based loosely on the BBC Radio 4 show The News Quiz, and has been running since 1990.

The show has cultivated a reputation for sailing close to the wind in matters of libel with its satirical, light-hearted format. It is currently (as of July 2012 ) in its 43rd series. The show features Ian Hislop and Paul Merton as permanent team captains whilst the host has changed every week since Angus Deayton was forced to leave the show.

Participants

The original line-up, from 1990 to 2002, was Angus Deayton as chairman, with Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, and comedian Paul Merton as team captains. Each captain is accompanied by a guest, usually a politician, journalist or comedian, or somebody particularly relevant to recent news.

Angus Deayton, joined by regular team captains

Angus Deayton, joined by regular team captains Ian Hislop (left) and Paul Merton (right)

Merton took a break from Have I Got News for You during the eleventh series in 1996, making only one appearance as a guest on Hislop's team. He was replaced as opposing team captain by various people, most notably Eddie Izzard. Merton later explained that at the time he was "very tired" of the show and that he thought it had become "stuck in a rut". Nevertheless, he added that he felt his absence gave the programme the "shot in the arm" it needed and that it had been "better ever since".

In May 2002, following newspaper headlines of his (adulterous) use of a prostitute and illegal drugs, Deayton was ridiculed on the show by Merton and Hislop (along with guests Ken Livingstone and Dave Gorman). The following October, he was fired from the show after further revelations about his private life.

Merton hosted the first episode after Deayton's departure, and was described as "merciless" in his treatment of his former co-star. A series of guest hosts appeared for the remainder of the season, including Anne Robinson, Boris Johnson, and Jeremy Clarkson. Hislop, therefore, is the only person to have appeared in every episode — despite suffering from a burst appendix shortly before one edition and having to go to hospital immediately afterwards.

Despite a search for a permanent successor to Deayton, having a different guest host each week proved successful, with average audience figures increasing from 6 million to 7 million. It was therefore announced in June 2003 that this feature would continue.

Format

Have I Got News for You began on BBC Two on 28 September 1990 and
Another panel with Ian McCaskill and Michael Mansfield QC

Another panel with Ian McCaskill and Michael Mansfield QC

transferred to BBC One in October 2000. "Myself and Ian, we did a disastrous pilot for it," Paul Merton explained nine years later. "It was a beautiful summer's afternoon in 1990. Far too nice to be in a television studio, but I think the BBC had already bought it, so that's how it became a series."

Two series are made every year: the spring series between April to June comprises eight episodes and the autumn series between October to December contains nine, with a one-week break to allow the broadcasting of Children in Need.

Over an hour's worth of material is recorded for each 30-minute programme on Thursday evenings for broadcast on Friday, allowing the programme to remain
Ian Hislop, Claudia Winkleman, William Hague, Stanley Johnson and Paul Merton

A panel featuring (L to R) Ian Hislop, Claudia Winkleman, guest host William Hague, (centre) Stanley Johnson and Paul Merton

topical while the BBC's lawyers have time to request cuts of potentially libellous material. "No reviewer could possibly review it in that time. We started off with an audience of two million, and somebody might have mentioned it to their friend, and then it sort of built up a momentum of its own."

In recent years, the late-night weekend repeat has occasionally contained extra material from the week's recording. This became a permanent feature from the spring 2007 series, with the repeat having a running time of 40 minutes, and being titled (in the TV listings) Have I Got a Bit More News for You.

The programme is recorded at the London Studios, former home of London Weekend Television, although the 2001 Election special episode was recorded at BBC Television Centre on the Friday morning after the election. The quiz aspect and scores are largely ignored in favour of the panellists' witty exchanges and jokes, and the format seems to change frequently.

"There's been a lot of confusion, with people saying, 'Well, they see the questions beforehand,' which we do," revealed Merton in 1999. "But some people say we see the answers, which we don't, because that would rob it of being a quiz."

"There is a certain amount of showbusiness that goes on in putting on a show," continued Merton. "We found very early on that it's worth seeing the questions beforehand so that you can work out your depth of ignorance. If you really don't know, you think, 'Well, I've really got to try and say something here.' It's much better to be doing that for ten or fifteen minutes before the show than be doing it when the cameras are rolling, in front of an audience, going, 'Well, who's he?'"

"Norman Tebbit wrote an article in The Mail on Sunday criticising the whole programme: 'Well, of course Have I Got News for You is all edited. These people, they couldn't improvise live. You put them on a stage, they wouldn't be able to improvise.' Well, when Norman Tebbit said I couldn't improvise, I was... [blows out cheeks and then goes silent]."

Opening

Proceedings usually begin with a one-liner. In the time of Angus Deayton, these took the form of such quips as:

"Good evening and welcome to Have I Got News for You, the show that's done for Friday and Saturday nights what ten pints of lager does for Sunday mornings."


"Good evening and welcome to Have I Got News for You, the show that does for comedy....." More recently, with the guest presenters, these have been amusing comments referring to the hosts themselves, such as

"Good evening and welcome to Have I Got News for You. My name is Boris Johnson and when I last appeared on this show, I complained that it was fully scripted and rehearsed. I'd now like to contend, in the strongest possible terms, that it isn't."


"Good evening and welcome to Have I Got News for You. My name is Dara Ó Briain. Yes, it's only a week after the General Election and already an immigrant is doing this job... You really should have listened to Michael Howard."


"Good evening and welcome to Have I Got News for You. My name is Alexander Armstrong, and if I seem familiar to you, it's because I'm a regular on ITV. Footballers' Wives, Coronation Street, Emmerdale. You name it, I've done some adverts in the middle of it."


In one episode, guest host and British Indian comic Sanjeev Bhaskar opened the show in Punjabi.

Following this, "In the news this week...": three video clips are displayed, each supplied with a scripted, humorous caption from the host who then proceeds to introduce that week's guests, with a jocular remark for each.

Main Section

The main section of the show comprises several rounds, although, as noted above, this is liable to change. They usually consist of the following:

"Film Round", in which silent news video clips are played to the teams, who then identify them and add their own views, including rants and jokes on vaguely relevant subjects. "Tabloid Headlines", in which the panellists must identify and comment on the stories of the week from sufficiently pun-filled tabloid headlines. In recent series, this has sometimes been replaced with either the "Picture-Spin Quiz", where a picture is spun around and the teams have to guess what news story it is related to or the "Wheel of News", in which the host spins a wheel and the teams have to guess how the resulting person or object is relevant to the week's news. In some cases it could even be some kind of topical buzzer round, but is sometimes replaced with a quiz game pertinent to the current guests, for example a mock Mastermind game when Magnús Magnússon appeared and a "Kick Blair's Butt" quiz when Boris Johnson MP guest hosted for the first time. "Odd One Out", where four personalities, characters or objects are presented to a team, whereupon it must identify the interloper, and the topical, amusing or ridiculously obscure link between the other three. In one episode, Merton's "Odd One Out" selection consisted of 16 images and in another, the round comprised four photos of Michael Howard. "Missing Words", where newspaper headlines are displayed, with choice words blanked out. The panellists then suggest what these could be. Also usually featured is an obscure "guest publication" from which some of the headlines are taken. In the past, these have included Goat World, Arthritis News, International Car Park Design and Diarrhoea Digest. Examples of Missing Words are "I'll take Edward up the _____", "Church may be forced to sell _____" and "PM sucked into _____". Occasionally, just after the final scores are read out, there is a Caption Competition, where potentially amusing pictures are shown, to which the panellists are invited to provide an apt headline.

Rounding off

Deayton typically rounded up the scores with amusing summaries, such as "This week's dog's dinners are [...], while this week's dog's bollocks are..." He also awarded 'prizes': for example "So, for our winners: the chance to go to Michael Portillo's constituency and see the count. For our losers: the chance to retype that sentence without the spelling mistake." The host then thanks the guests and ends with "I leave you with news that...", providing scripted, satirical captions to a further few pictures.

Memorable moments

The series being a comedy show, has had many funny and notable moments during it's long broadcasting history, including Roy Hattersley being replaced on Paul Merton's team with a tub of lard and the two team captains and guests tormenting and teasing Angus Deayton after he appeared in the papers regarding revelations about his private life. Deayton opened the show by admitting that he was this week's loser. Other moments included Paul miming threatening to hang himself whenever Sir Teddy Taylor spoke and Ian Hislop and Paula Yates' famous argument during which she called him the 'Sperm of the Devil'. Another time included when the two teams played a game of Countdown and another when they had a parrot called Colin on, which refused to speak throughout the whole episode until the last minute when it uttered 'Hello' just as Angus was wrapping up proceedings. To see a list of them see: Memorable moments

Running gags

The longest running gag in the programme first emerged in 1992, when Merton revealed that he achieved a CSE ungraded qualification in metalwork at school, in an effort to prove the rather less classical nature of his education in comparison to Hislop's. As of 2008, this gag is still occasionally made. This originates from both Merton's appearances on Just a Minute and his stand-up routine. In the commentary on the original Best of DVD, Merton states that he had a conversation with Stephen Fry about this "stupid metalwork thing", and had trouble convincing Fry that it was in fact true and not just made up for the sake of comedy. John Prescott's alleged appetite and weight is the subject of continual ridicule. On one episode guest host Michael Buerk said, "We've been tip-toeing around John Prescott," as Merton added, "It's a long journey. Some of us are turning it into a sponsored walk."

Controversy

In a 1994 episode, Deayton read out the following: "The BBC are cracking down on references to Ian and Kevin Maxwell, in case programme-makers appear biased in their treatment of these two heartless, scheming bastards." However, the Maxwell brothers were about to go on trial, and on 26 July 1996, the BBC and Hat Trick Productions were fined £20,000 in the High Court for Contempt of Court . In 1996, a book based on the series, Have I Got 1997 for You, noted about Conservative MP Rupert Allason that "...given Mr Allason's fondness for pursuing libel actions, there are also excellent legal reasons for not referring to him as a conniving little shit". Mr Allason then pursued a libel action against BBC Worldwide and Hat Trick Productions over the remark. He lost the case. In April 2003, frequent guest panellist Stephen Fry announced that he was boycotting the show following the sacking of Angus Deayton, a decision described by Fry as "greasy, miserable, British and pathetic". On 23 November 2007, Ann Widdecombe appeared as a guest host for the second time, with Jimmy Carr as Hislop's teammate. However, due to Carr's risque material, Widdecombe vowed she would never appear on Have I Got News for You again. She said, "His idea of wit is a barrage of filth and the sort of humour most men grow out of in their teens. There's no amount of money for which I would go through those two recording hours again. At one stage I nearly walked out." The following week, Will Self appeared as a guest. Self, one of the most regular guests on HIGNFY, said that he would not appear on the show again as well. He said, "I'm afraid that without the reality element, the programme has become just like any other pseudo-panel contest, where funny fellows sit behind desks cracking jokes. Moreover, in the post-Hutton Inquiry era, the BBC seems to have lost its bottle so far as edgy satire is concerned: the sharpest crack I made all evening — and the one that received the most audience laughter — was cut for transmission."

Most appearances

16 appearances

10 appearances

9 appearances

8 appearances

7 appearances

  • Danny Baker
  • Martin Clunes
  • Dr Phil Hammond
  • Boris Johnson

6 appearances

  • Bill Bailey
  • Julia Hartley-Brewer
  • Reginald D. Hunter
  • Fred MacAulay
  • David Mitchell
  • Linda Smith
  • Janet Street-Porter

5 appearances

  • Jo Brand
  • Alan Davies
  • Eddie Izzard
  • Bob Marshall-Andrews
  • Andrew Neil
  • Dara Ó Briain
  • Lembit Öpik
  • John Sergeant
  • Francis Wheen

4 appearances

  • Chris Addison
  • Gyles Brandreth
  • Fern Britton
  • Ed Byrne
  • Jimmy Carr
  • Alan Coren
  • Hugh Dennis
  • Alan Duncan
  • Rich Hall
  • Maureen Lipman
  • Sean Lock
  • John O'Farrell
  • Griff Rhys Jones
  • Nick Robinson
  • Peter Serafinowicz
  • John Simpson
  • Tony Slattery
  • Richard Wilson

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References

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