Have I Got News for You
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.
The 36th series is due to begin on BBC One at 9pm on Friday 17 October 2008.
The BBC have signed up for the show to run until at least its 38th series; given that two series are broadcast every year, this would bring it to the end of 2009. However, Hat Trick have announced plans to expand the Have I Got News for You brand to turn it "into a UK equivalent of US satirical website The Onion.
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
, or somebody particularly relevant to recent news.
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.
Have I Got News for You began on BBC Two on 28 September 1990 and 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 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].
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 complain, 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.
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.
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.
- When Roy Hattersley failed to appear for the 4 June 1993 episode — it was the third time he had cancelled at the last minute — he was replaced with a tub of lard (credited as "The Rt. Hon. Tub of Lard MP"), as it was "imbued with much the same qualities and liable to give a similar performance". The Tub of Lard was on Merton's team, which went on to win.
- Future Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who was a journalist and Conservative Member of Parliament at the time, made several memorable appearances on the show. These led to him being asked to be a guest presenter. He was nominated for a BAFTA Television Award for his performance on the show in 2003.
- On the week of the first allegations about Deayton the presenter was made the butt of almost every joke. The host opened the show with: "Good evening and welcome to Have I Got News for You, where this week's loser is presenting it." Merton and Hislop then produced copies of the newspaper, including one printed on Merton's shirt, with the allegation and referred to them throughout the show, to the discomfort of Deayton.
- 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 and litigation
- 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.
- 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 shows featuring William Hague, Martin Clunes and Bruce Forsyth as chairman were also included, as well as a compilation of clips from other presenters' appearances (with only the episode hosted by Liza Tarbuck not represented). There are also several small extra features, including a discussion between Paul Merton and Boris Johnson regarding Johnson's appearance as presenter, filmed during his interview on the Merton-hosted Room 101.
- Have I Got News for You: The Best of the Guest Presenters Vol. 2 (2005), which is nearer in content to the first "Best of" DVD compilation than its direct predecessor. It contains four 45-minute compilations of the Autumn 2003, Spring 2004, Autumn 2004 and Spring 2005 series, rather than complete episodes; although it does contain a bonus disc with an uncut version of Boris Johnson's second stint as presenter. This episode lasts about 80 minutes. "The A to Z of HIGNFY" is also included on the second disk and includes various clips (some unseen) as well as behind-the-scenes content.
Four VHS videos were released, two containing specially made editions of the programme:
- Have I Got News for You (1993), containing clips from the first five series plus the complete 1992 election night special.
- Unbroadcastable Have I Got News for You (1995), featuring guests Eddie Izzard, Richard Wilson and a surprise appearance from Germaine Greer (specially produced).
- Classic Battles & Bust-Ups (1996), three full-length episodes featuring the Tub of Lard, Paula Yates and Germaine Greer, among others.
- Have I Got News for You: The Official Pirate Video (1997), featuring guests Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey (specially produced).
Have I Got News for You
started broadcasting a vodcast
called The Inevitable Internet Spin-off
on 13 April 2007
. These podcasts will take place for the next six series, meaning that the show will be broadcast until at least 2009. They are available from both the Have I Got News for You BBC website page
and the video sharing community YouTube
, where they are regularly featured on the home page and the BBC's official channel. As of the October 2007 series, these are referred to as "webisodes
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 (a lot of whom were panellists during Deayton's time as host). There are only five people who have appeared as a panellist after appearing as a guest host: Paul Merton
, Jeremy Clarkson
, Liza Tarbuck
, Marcus Brigstocke
and Jimmy Carr
. (List complete up to end of Series 35)
Other television shows based on the Have I Got News for You format
Similar television shows based on the Have I Got News for You
format exist in other countries:
- Dutch comedian Raoul Heertje appeared on the original Have I Got News for You 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 "newsleak"; the pun works as well in both languages) has been aired since 1998.
- In Australia, the Doug Anthony All Stars lead singer and comedian Paul McDermott hosted Good News Week (GNW), first on ABC TV and later on Network Ten from 1996 to 2000 and 2008. GNW varied from Have I Got News for You in that there were three team members per team, instead of the usual two. The series was also notable for the number of UK-based comedians that were panellists on the show, including Ed Byrne. The Ten version also had a weekend broadcast, Good News Weekend, taking its format from Never Mind the Buzzcocks. In 2001, the company behind the recently cancelled GNW developed a similar program called The Glass House on ABC TV. This show was cancelled in October 2006. In March 2006, a music-based show of a similar format, entitled Spicks and Specks, started on ABC, hosted by Adam Hills, and the teams being captained by New Zealand comedian Alan Brough and Triple J radio DJ Myf Warhurst. The show started its third season in 2008.
- Sveriges Television of Sweden aired their version of the show called Snacka om nyheter between 1995 and 2003.
- Denmark briefly had a version of the show.
- In Norway the Norwegian Broadcasting Company broadcasts the show Nytt På Nytt (literally: "The News Anew"). It is one of the most popular TV shows in the country with 1.3 million viewers every week.
- Loosely based on the theme of Have I Got News for You, ITV in the United Kingdom aired a show in 2004 called Bognor or Bust, also fronted by Angus Deayton, which discussed current affairs.
- In Israel, a similar show called "Mishak Makhur" ran for 54 episodes.
- In Ireland, RTÉ made one pilot episode of a licensed Have I Got News for You 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 Have I Got News for You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
- Germany had a version called "7 Tage, 7 Köpfe" (literally "Seven Days, Seven Heads")
- Inspired by Have I Got News for You, Pakistan's News, Views & Confused went on air on one of Pakistan’s leading TV channels, AAJ TV from April 11, 2007. The show is hosted by TV personality and journalist Fasi Zaka and co-hosted by eccentric journalist and writer, Nadeem F. Paracha and fashion journalist, Mohsin Sayeed.
- Iceland had a version called Þetta Helst (Translation: "Top Stories") in the mid-nineties, which aired on RÚV (The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service).
- Have I Got News for You: The Shameless Cash-in Book, BBC Books, 1994, ISBN 0-563-37111-0
- Have I Got 1997 for You, BBC Books, 1996, ISBN 0-563-38783-1