Have I Got News For You

Saturday, December 11, 1999 by

To the best of my knowledge, no one talks about Have I Got News For You anymore.

Tonight the 18th series drew to a respectable close. There is a consistency to the programme that has remained throughout its 10 year run. Deayton began with another variation on his endless “… unless of course you’re watching the Sunday repeat” joke, and the audience verbally smirked – much as they ever do. Hislop has described HIGNFY as a pleasant verbal joust, and the sense of membership to a gentlemen’s club certainly pervades the programme these days. Tonight’s guests (Lord Deedes and Will Self) were cut of typical HIGNFY cloth – Deedes: slightly eccentric and never-quite-sure of what programme he’s on, Self: understanding of the rules and keen to display his ability to play comedic hard ball with the big boys. As usual, the eccentric was the originator of most of the better laughs, and once again suspicions were raised that these old duffers know exactly what they are doing.

Of course, the jokes are scripted. Well they might as well be. Deayton recycles with regularity “meanwhile back at the quiz”, and at least once or twice a series there is a “Lee and Herring’… and that was just the teachers’” type joke. Merton’s comedic talent doesn’t require a sense of humour, more an ability to create suitably juxtaposed images quicker then your colleagues and on a more regular basis. Therefore, when coupled with a guest who exploits a similar vein (as tonight), he remains dormant electing to chase the punchline only when sure he will win. Hislop on the other hand, continues to use each broadcast as an opportunity to campaign. There was a time when we believed that he (editor of Private Eye, Oxbridge graduate, friend of Peter Cook) must be funny. Now, however, we have come to accept that his wit is seldom more sophisticated than a biscuit-registering Neil Hamilton. Yet, we find the little fella rather endearing all the same.

For a programme that has consistently attained high viewing figures over such a period of time,HIGNFY‘s memorable moments have been few and far between. Hislop’s gauche cross-examinations of undesirable intruders spring to mind. Paula Yates’ short shrift was memorable not so much for her reaction, but for Hislop’s bloody-mindedness. Tom Baker trivialising the entire proceeding lives on in the memory too (and not just for Who related reasons). Yet there are few other “TV’s Greatest Hits” type episodes. None the less, in the face of its downmarket competitors, HIGNFY has stuck rigidly to the format it has made its own, resisting the urge to undermine for the sake of a cheap gag. Mark Lamarr always took too much delight when the Buzzcockers chose to stand on their desks, or swap teams. Undermining your own rules is not particularly rebellious, nor is it revolutionary TV. Nor is it funny. Nor is Sean Hughes. Nor is Nick Hancock.

Jonathan Ross did tell a particularly amusing anecdote on this week’s They Think It’s All Overthough.


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