Have I Got News For You
Have I Got News For You (often abbreviated to HIGNFY) is a long-running UK television topical panel game. Produced by Hat Trick Productions for the BBC, it is a comedy programme rather than a serious game show: the banter between the guests and their sardonic remarks are more important than the scores, which are only ever briefly referred to. The format is loosely based on that of a popular radio show, The News Quiz, but cultivates a reputation for sailing close to the wind on matters of libel.
The original line-up, from 1990 to 2002, was Angus Deayton as chair, with Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, and comedian Paul Merton as team captains. The captains are accompanied each week by a different guest, often politicians, journalists or comedians. Merton took a break from the show during the eleventh series in 1996, making only one appearance as a guest on Hislop's team. Following allegations linking Deayton with prostitutes and drug use in UK tabloids in 2002, Deayton was asked to resign from the show. Merton hosted the first episode after Deayton's departure, and a series of guest hosts appeared for the remainder of the season. Hislop, therefore, is the only person to have appeared in every episode of the show despite suffering from a burst appendix shortly before one edition and having to go to hospital immediately afterwards.
Having a different guest host each week proved successful, with average audience figures increasing from 6 million with Deayton to 7 million with the guest hosts, and it was announced in June 2003 that it would be a permanent feature of the show.
HIGNFY began on BBC Two on September 28 1990 and transferred to BBC One in October 2000. Two series of around eight episodes are made each year. Over an hour's worth of the show is recorded for each 30-minute programme on Thursday evenings for broadcast on Friday, allowing the show to remain topical, while the BBC's lawyers have time to request cuts of potentially libellous material. The regulars have commented that if a guest says anything funny, it is usually kept, while they themselves are cut ruthlessly.
As for the show itself, the quiz aspect and scores are largely ignored in favour of the panelists' witty exchanges and jokes, and the format seems to change frequently and at a whim. Proceedings usually begin with some manner of witty one-liner that rarely manages to elicit any kind of response from the audience. 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." More recently, with the guest presenters, these have been amusing comments referring to the host themselves, such as, "Good evening and welcome to Have I Got News For You. I'm Boris Johnson and when I first appeared as a guest on this show, I complained that the whole thing was scripted and fully rehearsed. I'd now like to complain in the strongest possible terms that it isn't" (see "Controversy" below). Following this, "In the news this week", several video clips and/or photographs and displayed, each supplied with a scripted, humourous caption from the host. The chairman then proceeds to introduce that week's guests, with some kind of funny comment for each.
The main section of the show consists of several rounds, although, as noted above, this is very liable to change. They usually consist of the following:
- The "Film Round" goes first, 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.
- The "Spinning Headlines" round, in which the panelists must identify and comment on the stories of the week from the relevant, sufficiently pun-filled tabloid headlines.
- This slot is the most frequently altered, usually being some kind of topical buzzer round, but is sometimes replaced with a quiz game relevant to the current guests, including a mock Mastermind game when Magnus Magnusson appeared, a "Kick Blair's Butt" quiz when Boris Johnson MP guest hosted for the first time, and "Play Your Iraqi Cards Right" when Bruce Forsyth hosted the show. In recent series, it's also become the "Picture Spin Quiz", where pictures are shown from an unusual angle and the panellists have to guess what the story is that the picture is related to.
- Next comes the "Odd One Out" round where four personalities, characters or objects are presented to a team, whereupon they must identify the odd one out among the four, and the topical, amusing or ridiculously obscure link between the other three.
- After that tends to come the "Missing Words" round, where newspaper headlines are displayed, with choice words blanked out. The panelists then suggest what the missing words could be. This round usually features an obscure 'guest publication' from which some of the headlines are taken. In the past, this has included "Goat World", "Arthritis News" and "International Car Park Design". Examples of Missing Words include "I'LL TAKE EDWARD UP THE _____", "Church may be forced to sell _____", "PM sucked into _____".
- Occasionally, or, in other words, if there's time to fill, there's a Quick Fire Caption Competition, where a potentially amusing picture or two are shown, to which the panelists are welcomed to add captions.
Despite the fact that Merton is a comedian and Hislop a current affairs magazine editor, Merton usually wins. He attributes this to his ingenious tactic of reading the newspapers each week. Astute viewers will notice that Merton's other major point-winning tactic is a tendency to jump in and answer questions that were actually addressed to the other team.
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...", and awards 'prizes' ("So, a night with Pamela Anderson for our winners; a night with Clive Anderson for our losers." or "for our winners a chance to go and see Michael Portillo at his count, for our losers the chance to retype that sentence without the spelling mistake") The host then thanks the guests and, starting with "I leave you with news that...", provides scripted, satirical captions to a further few pictures and video clips, and ends with "Goodnight".
Featuring some from The Very Best of "Have I Got News For You" DVD.
- One of the biggest laughs of the show's first year came when the missing headline words round posed the question 'I MADE THATCHER _____ BOASTS NIGEL'. To which Paul quickly suggested, 'Swallow?,' leaving the rest of the panel incapable of providing further comment. After a while, Angus jumped in with, 'No, it’s not a reference to food.'
- When forced to apologise to Ernest Saunders for suggesting his bout of Alzheimer's, which got him released from prison (after 10 months of a 5-year sentence) and from which he had subsequently recovered, seemed a bit too convenient, the show (via Angus) added that Saunders was a swindler and con-artist. As Saunders had originally been jailed for fraud, he could hardly complain again.
- In a rare example of Merton being the butt of a joke, Hislop and Deayton started a rumour in 1993, that Deayton, who had recently been voted "TV's Mr Sex" had been "shagging Merton's wife," who was, at the time, Caroline Quentin. The joke was accentuated by light-hearted flirting between Quentin and Deayton when she made guest appearances on the show. In one edition of HIGNFY, the panel discussed Merton being mistaken by several members of the public for disgraced footballer Paul Merson. Merton explained that this had resulted in phone calls which had awoken his wife. Hislop was quick to chime in, apologising for any inconvenience caused to Quentin, but Deayton forgave him, claiming they had not been disturbed.
- When Roy Hattersley failed to appear for the June 4 1993 episode (it was the third time he'd cancelled at the last minute), he was replaced with a tub of lard (credited as "The Rt. Hon. Tub Of Lard MP"), as "they possessed the same qualities and were liable to give similar performances". The tub of lard was on the same team as Merton, and they won – much to the chagrin of Hislop. This was despite the fact that Merton's team's questions were made deliberately hard, especially those directly posed to the tub of lard. The Missing Words round also featured foreign headlines, in languages such as French, German, Russian and even Japanese. The final one was in English, but the entire headline had been blanked out.
- For Series 7, Episode 8, in 1994, it was announced that the tub of lard would be making a return appearance, though this turned out to be a ruse to disguise the appearance on the show of Salman Rushdie, who almost didn't get to be on the show. When his police guards were asked if it was possible for Rushdie to do a quiz show in 1994, they at first refused, but when they heard it was HIGNFY they changed their minds because they liked the show. Rushdie later said his son was more impressed that he had been on HIGNFY than of anything else he had done.
- In a 1995 episode, featuring Mike Yarwood, a noted British impressionist, the panelists were instructed to do impressions of various famous people. By a method of "random selection", the first one that the panellists had to do was Harold Wilson, which had been intended for Yarwood, but Paul Merton, wanted to do it himself, as he claimed, "We need the points!". Also in that round, Ian Hislop was memorably made to do a startling realistic impression of bald pop star Jimmy Sommerville, whom, it had long been joked, he resembled. Hislop noted afterwards, "I can't see myself doing Question Time again."
- When Piers Morgan was a guest in 1996, he came across as very thin-skinned and demanded the others (and in particular, Hislop) cease their "vindictive attacks" on him. Clive Anderson scathingly joked that the Daily Mirror was now, thanks to Morgan, almost as good as The Sun, and when asked by Morgan "What do you know about editing newspapers?" swiftly replied, "About as much as you do". In what was not Morgan's finest moment, he used a joke that Eddie Izzard had used the week before, with a significantly diminished response from the audience. Hislop pointed out that Izzard got a laugh because "People like him". Morgan responded to this by attacking Hislop saying, "Don't play the popularity line with me, Hislop," before appealing to the audience: "Does anyone like him?". When the delighted audience responded loudly in favour of Hislop, Morgan appeared to be well and truly vanquished and somewhat humiliated.
- Shortly after a high profile fall from grace amidst accusations of sleaze, ex-Conservative MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine were panelists in a 1997 edition where they managed to come through pretty well despite numerous jokes about the scandal that had engulfed them. This appearance was widely felt to have launched the couple as minor celebrities.
- Conservative Member of Parliament and journalist Boris Johnson has had several memorable appearances on the show, which arguably raised his public profile and later led to him being asked to be a guest presenter. The first, in 1998, Johnson seemed to take the ribbing in good humour and eventually admitted defeat and announced that he wanted it 'on the record' that he'd 'walked straight into a massive elephant trap'. In a later appearance in 2001 he was suddenly subjected to a spoof round of Mastermind where he was asked his name and questions on the then leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, ending up, rather amusingly, with a score of 0.
- On one occasion, after he was asked a question, Paul looked upwards (with a thoughtful expression on his face). The scene then switched to a "daydream" of Paul and Ian skipping through a sunny field and smiling. This rather nonsensical aside drew laughter from the audience, as well as the two guests.
- When ex-MI5 agent David Shayler was a guest on the show in 2000, a large television set was placed on the desk, showing him in a studio elsewhere – supposedly in Paris, where he was in hiding from Official Secrets Act charges. Merton, upset by the idea (a guest on a two second delay worked against his theory that comedy is based on timing) actually switched the set off at one point. Later, in protest, he left his seat, and proceeded to shake hands with audience members in the front row, before collecting a newspaper and settling back down to read it. In addition, the feed was "interrupted" at one point by a five-second sequence involving a naked woman and a ferret. All were disappointed when Shayler reappeared.
- When Sir Elton John failed to appear as billed in 2001, he was replaced by a "look-alike" called Ray Johnson (apparently a taxi driver) who made very little verbal contribution. Each time the scores were recapped, captions appeared on the screen, advertising, praising or saying something about Ray, whilst at the same time, saying something derogatory about Elton, for example, how Ray would never let anyone down, "unlike Elton. Bastard." Ray was credited as Ray "Elton John" son.
- The first real 'guest' presenter was Anne Robinson, and at the beginning of the show, during her opening greeting, she pointed to the fact that since she used to work for Robert Maxwell (she used to work for him at the Daily Mirror for a not insubstantial fee, as Hislop did not hesitate to point out), Hislop was bound to make fun of her for it. So after declaring that there were no hard feelings, she proceeded to give Merton four points straight off the bat, and did it again later on, when Hislop duly delivered the goods. Not that that saved her. Merton then went on to tease her for both The Weakest Link ("I only watch the last five minutes because The Simpsons comes on afterwards. It's nice to see some animation on the television screen".) and her famous wink, saying that it made her look like she'd had a stroke.
- On one episode, the panelists were discussing the new James Bond film Die Another Day and the fact that there was an invisible car in it. Merton was genuinely confused by this and spent a good deal of time discussing how pointless it would be to have one. He concluded by saying, "I'm sitting in an invisible car right now," and turning on his chair and pretending to speed off. He kept up the theme with the next question which referred to Prince Charles's absense from something or other. When asked where he was, Merton said, "He was having sex with a goat. It was an invisible goat."
- The final show of the second guest-presented series, in 2003, was hosted by Bruce Forsyth. Forsyth's game-show trademarks and cliches were parodied during the show, including a round entitled Play Your Iraqi Cards Right and, instead of the usual Odd One Out round, a round in which the contestants had to remember a number of items on a conveyor belt (including the ubiquitous cuddly toy), and then work out the connection between them (a parody of a similar game in The Generation Game). Forsyth has attributed his recent renewed success to his appearance in the programme.
- In 2004, Robert Kilroy-Silk was fired from his position as host of a popular daytime chat show (entitled 'Kilroy') by the BBC following an article he had written for the Daily Express about Arabs, which was widely condemned as racist. He appeared on HIGNFY a few weeks later and, after several verbal jabs from Ian Hislop during the show, Paul Merton launched into a memorable verbal tirade against Kilroy-Silk. (See also 'Running Gags' below)
- The 3 December 2004 episode was chaired somewhat unsuccessfully by Neil Kinnock. He struggled to keep on top of things at times, and was subject to pretty rough handling all round, particularly from Will Self, who notably accused him of hypocrisy for accepting a position in the House of Lords.
- The 22 April 2005 episode, after the election of the new pope, featured Merton repeatedly talking about him having "the eyes of a killer", under the pretense that if he said it often enough the editors would have to include it at some point (which they did, many times over). At one point he accused the pope of injuring a man with a frozen sausage. Various verbal jabs were also made towards Michael Winner, who was at the time the star of eSure's dubious Calm Down Dear insurance commercials, who was on Hislop's team. His use of the lame catchphrase led Merton to observe, "Thank God we've got that out of the way".
- The 29 April 2005 episode was chaired by veteran presenter Nicholas Parsons. Sections of the show were changed to emulate Just a Minute (the Radio 4 comedy quiz hosted by Parsons on which Merton is a panellist) and Sale of the Century. When the ageing Parsons later became confused over which question to ask, guest Chris Langham asked him: "Would you like your tartan rug now?"
- The 13 May 2005 episode contained a segment modelled on British TV quiz show Blankety Blank. The section, entitled "Blunkety Blunk" parodied disgraced ex-Cabinet minister David Blunkett and his rapid return to the cabinet following the 2005 general election.
- The final episode of the series("Season" in the US) on 3 June 2005 featured Merton expressing his amusement at KFC selling "buckets" of chicken, and suggested that they sell "a trough, a whole trough of chicken...and a ditch of chips and coleslaw in a skip!"
- 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. As of 2005, this gag is still occasionally made.
- It was a tradition on the show that particularly scurrilous accusations were suffixed with the word "allegedly" (in the style of British satirical magazine Private Eye). This began in 1991 when Merton asked if the laws were such that anything could be said provided the word "allegedly" appeared.
- In the early years of the show, Paul took to insisting that certain women (namely The Princess of Wales and The Duchess of York, among others) were 'over-blown tarts'.
- The issue of Jason Donovan's sexuality cropped up frequently in the early years, following his libel suit against magazine The Face.
- Angus Deayton was frequently referred to as "TV's Mr Sex" after an article described him as such in Time Out magazine.
- After an article appeared in a newspaper about Deayton's life with 70s singer Stephanie de Sykes, Merton spent a whole series claiming he actually lived with Eric Sykes.
- Deayton's choice of a brown suit for one episode in 1992 led to huge ridicule, after which Merton would refer to any article of clothing he wore as "brown".
- After Merton's then-wife Caroline Quentin made an appearance, Merton spent future episodes castigating Deayton for supposedly "knocking off my wife".
- John Prescott's appetite and weight is also the subject of ridicule.
- Merton occasionally jokes about Hislop constantly losing, or being out of touch with popular culture.
- Ian's magazine Private Eye is also sometimes the subject of a joke, usually involving the number of lawsuits the magazine has received, or the number of readers it has.
- During Jonathan Aitken's time in prison, he was referred to as "Prisoner CB9298".
- A recurring clip is of Charles Kennedy attempting to bowl and missing the pins completely.
- Throughout a whole series, Paul Merton managed to slip at least one reference to jetpacks into each episode.
- John Simpson's experience with drugs is often referred to, notably during the Tub of Lard episode, where Paul Merton asked, "Am I in one of John Simpson's trips? I'm sitting here with my tub of lard answering questions in German!"
- After Jeffrey Archer was convicted of perjury in 2001, Merton referred to him as "Jeffrey Archer, the liar" at every available opportunity.
- During his spell as leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith was subject to a great deal of criticism on the programme. In particular, Merton insisted that he was in fact two people, Iain and Duncan Smith: the first pair of identical twins to share the leadership of a major British political party. This caused a degree of genuine confusion, notably from Boris Johnson, MP. On discovering that his full name was actually George Iain Duncan Smith on one episode, Merton cried, "There's three of them?"
- Possibly due to Robert Kilroy-Silk's performance in a 2004 episode (see Choice Moments), for a number of weeks afterwards a clip of Kilroy-Silk introducing his TV show Shafted with the words, "Their fate is in each other's hands, as they decide whether to share, or to shaft" (with appropriate hand gestures) was played in each episode at the flimsiest of excuses.
- A recurring joke in the latest series was that Ian would be the next actor to play Doctor Who. In the final episode, a picture was shown of Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper morphing into Ian and Ann Widdecombe.
- In more recent series, Paul has taken to saying "Don't you know" in a phoney posh accent. He most recently used it during a discussion on the dispute between Burberry and the ferret clothing retailer, Ferret World, by saying that if he were a ferret, he would wear a top hat and silver cane and go around saying, "I'm a ferret, don't you know."
- Similarly, when a joke is made about the Germans, Ian 'complains' in a rather camp-sounding German accent. A recent example was in Series 30 during a discussion on how England fans are supposedly going to go to the 2006 World Cup finals in germany wearing T-shirts displaying the catchphrase "Don't mention the war!" in German. Ian responded with "Even with ze football you still keep saying ze same joke!"
- Boris Johnson MP has achieved near mascot status on the show.
- Paul often feigns ignorance by starting to answer specialised questions obviously intended for his guest, memorably when complex economics-related problems were recently put to the BBC's economics editor, Evan Davis.
Controversy and litigation
When the late Paula Yates appeared on the program in October 1995, she feigned outrage and offence at Hislop's verbal jabs about her being married to Michael Hutchence, whom he accused of "beating up journalists", and the alleged poor quality of her autobiography, and Merton's and the host's script's jokes concerning her breast enlargement surgery. Yates eventually called Hislop the "sperm of the devil" (she presumably meant "spawn of the devil"), an outburst that earned her more derision. (Including Ian Hislop saying, "Even your insults emanate from the genitals.") Hislop was, afterwards, criticised for being intrusive about a woman's body, although the actual recording shows that he did not say anything on that subject.
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, 26 July 1996, the BBC and Hat Trick Productions were fined £20,000 in the High Court for Contempt of Court .
In 1998, 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 , meaning that, as pointed out in a later episode, he is the only person in the UK who can be called a "conniving little shit" without fear of being (successfully) sued for libel.
After a not entirely successful first guest appearance in 1998, during which he was questioned by Hislop about a secretly recorded telephone conversation in which Darius Guppy asked him to help beat up a journalist, future Conservative MP Boris Johnson alleged that many of the supposedly ad lib lines on the show were in fact scripted, writing, "The whole thing is a fix ... Before you say that I write as one stitched up, let me confess that I was made to seem a bit of a chump." Tony Parsons, in the Daily Mirror, agreed: "what bothers the hurt hack [Boris] is not that there's a bit of preparation behind HIGNFY, what bothers him is that he was completely unprepared to go on the box and end up looking like a prize wally." In later appearances, Johnson apologised for suggesting this and the supposed scripted nature of the show has become yet another running joke. It is now accepted that the host has a script, Autocue and all, but the teams only turn up on the evening of the recording, and get to see the questions a couple of hours in advance. Of course, even this isn't always much help, as Boris can testify.
Two DVD sets are available:
- The Very Best of "Have I Got News For You", 2002, a compilation of highlights from the first 13 years of the show, from the beginning up until the episode made after Deayton hit the tabloids. Just over three hours long, and another several hours of extras, including, among other things, running commentary of the whole presentation by Merton and Hislop.
- "Have I Got News For You": The Best of the Guest Presenters, 2003, which, as well as including the normal half-hour cut of Boris Johnson's first guest-hosting, also included a bonus disc: "The Full Boris", which showed a far longer cut of the same episode (lasting slightly under 60 minutes). Slightly longer versions of the episodes featuring William Hague, Martin Clunes and Bruce Forsyth as chair were also included, as well as clips from other presenters' appearances, except for Liza Tarbuck. There are also several small extra features, including a segment discussing the above mentioned episode cut from Johnson's appearance on the Merton-hosted Room 101.
In addition, "Have I Got News For You": The Best Of The Guest Presenters Vol. 2 is scheduled for release in the UK on 28 November, 2005. Contents are yet to be confirmed, but the DVD cover says that a Boris Bonus Disc will also be available with this release. The cover also seems to suggest that the DVD will contain episodes hosted by Neil Kinnock, Ronnie Corbett, William Hague, Marcus Brigstocke and Jeremy Clarkson, as their faces are on the cover.
Appearances and guest presenters
Many guests have appeared on the programme more than once, and, since the departure of Deayton, many celebrities have acted as guest presenters on the show. (List complete up to the start of series 30, broadcast 2005)
Most appearances in total
6 appearances as host
4 appearances as host
3 appearances as host
2 appearances as host
1 appearance as host
TV shows elsewhere based on the HIGNFY format
Similar shows based on the Have I Got News For You format exist in other countries.
- Dutch comedian Raoul Heertje appeared on the original HIGNFY in May 1995. A year later he became team captain in the newly launched Dutch version of the show: Dit was het nieuws ("This was the news"). The show gradually developed into a very successful programme. Dutch Wikipedia info
- In Finland a show called Uutisvuoto (literally: "news leak") has been aired since 1998.
- In Australia, Paul McDermott hosted Good News Week, first on ABC and later on Network Ten. The Ten version also had a weekend broadcast, Good News Weekend, taking its format from Never Mind The Buzzcocks.
- Sweden and Denmark also have their own versions.
- In Norway the Norwegian Broadcasting Company broadcasts the show Nytt På Nytt (literally: "The News Anew")
- Lightly based on the theme of HIGNFY, ITV in the United Kingdom aired a show in 2004 called Bognor or Bust, also fronted by Angus Deayton, which discusses current affairs.
- In Ireland, RTE made one pilot episode of a licensed HIGNFY clone, with Dermot Morgan as the presenter sometime in the early 1990s. It was never named or made into a full series. However, a topical news and current affairs quiz appeared entitled Don't Feed The Gondolas, which was comparable to a cross between HIGNFY and Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
- UK Gameshows Page: Have I Got News For You?
- Hat Trick Productions (very little HIGNFY content)
- The H2G2 edited entry for HIGNFY
- Fan site
- A list of all episodes of HIGNFY
- BBC Article on Angus Deayton's 'mauling'
- Off The Telly's "I Hope The Lawyers Are Getting All This!" - the Have I Got News For You story by former HIGNFY webmaster Matthew Rudd (3 parts)
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- "Have I Got News For You": The Shameless Cash-in Book, BBC Books, 1994, ISBN 0563371110
- "Have I Got 1997 For You", BBC Books, 1996, ISBN 0563387831