Ian Hislop

Ian David Hislop (born 13 July 1960) is an British comedian, scriptwriter and editor of satirical magazine Private Eye. He has also appeared on many radio and television programmes, most notably as a team captain on the BBC current affairs quiz Have I Got News for You.

Early life

Hislop was born in Mumbles, Swansea in Wales, to a Scottish father and a Channel Islander mother of English descent. When he was five months old, his family began to travel around the world in accordance with his father's job as a civil engineer. During his infant years, Hislop lived in Nigeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong. On his return to the United Kingdom, he was educated at Ardingly College, an independent boarding school, where he started his satirical career directing and appearing in revues alongside Nick Newman, and became Head Prefect. Hislop and Newman's association continued when they went up to Oxford, and they later worked together at Private Eye and on a number of comedy scriptwriting jobs. Hislop studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating with a degree in English literature in 1981.


When Hislop was 12 years old his father, David Hislop, died; his mother also died when he was quite young. His mother was born in Jersey and left in her late teens. Hislop did not know his grandparents.

Hislop's paternal grandfather, David Murdock Hislop, died just before Hislop was born. He was Scottish and became a deacon at a Presbyterian church and a school headteacher at Newton Academy in Ayr. In the First World War, he fought in Northern France with the 9th Highland Infantry.

Hislop's maternal grandfather, William Bellows, was originally from Lancashire. He joined the army in 1895 and fought in the Second Boer War with the Royal Lancashire Regiment in major campaigns including the Battle of Spion Kop. He moved to Jersey to serve as a sergeant having signed up in 1906 for another ten years in the army.


Private Eye

At Oxford he founded and edited the magazine Passing Wind, for which he interviewed Richard Ingrams, who was then editor of Private Eye. Hislop joined the publication immediately after leaving Oxford, and became editor in 1986, upon Ingrams' departure. It was revealed in an interview with The Independent that this was despite opposition from Eye hacks Peter McKay and Nigel Dempster, with the former taking the magazine's majority shareholder, Peter Cook, out for lunch in an attempt to dissuade him from appointing Hislop. However, Cook pressed on, and his new editor sacked both McKay and Dempster from the magazine without hesitation.

As editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop is the most sued man in English legal history, although he is not involved in as many libel actions as he once was. The most famous libel case involving Hislop and Private Eye was brought by the publishing magnate Robert Maxwell. After the case he quipped: "I've just given a fat cheque to a fat Czech". However, the magazine's attacks on Maxwell were fully vindicated by the revelations of massive fraud that followed his death. On another occasion, when ordered to pay £600,000 in damages after being sued for libel by Sonia Sutcliffe, wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, Hislop told reporters waiting outside the High Court, "If that was justice then I'm a banana. The award was, however, dropped to £60,000 on appeal. In his many court cases, Hislop has won only once.

Hislop continues to be applauded for his wit and satire. In an interview with Third Way Magazine he said, "Satire is the bringing to ridicule of vice, folly and humbug. All the negatives imply a set of positives. Certainly in this country, you only go round saying, ‘That’s wrong, that’s corrupt’ if you have some feeling that it should be better than that. People say, ‘You satirists attack everything.’ Well, we don’t, actually. That’s the whole point.

Have I Got News for You

Hislop is the only person to have appeared in every episode of Have I Got News for You's eighteen-year history, despite suffering from appendicitis during one episode and having to go to hospital immediately afterwards. His satirical views and broad knowledge of politics complement the wry surrealism of fellow panellist Paul Merton, and this interaction contributes greatly to the success of the show. Hislop often suffixes potentially slanderous statements with "allegedly", although this provides little or no legal protection.

Apart from one episode, where Hislop and Merton swapped places (and dress styles), he has only ever sat in the far right seat (far left from the audience's point of view).

Other television and radio work

Hislop's television debut was on the short lived Channel 4 chat show Loose Talk in 1983, an experience which so traumatised him he included it on his list of most hated items when he first appeared on the BBC show Room 101. Hislop was also a scriptwriter on the 1980s political satire series Spitting Image, in which puppets were used to depict well-known figures, mostly politicians. He even had a puppet of himself, which appeared as a background character in certain sketches.

Along with Nick Newman, Hislop wrote the BBC Radio 4 series Gush, a satire based on the first Gulf War, in the style of Jeffrey Archer. With Newman, he also wrote the family-friendly satirical sitcom My Dad's the Prime Minister. However, when it failed to pull in the ratings, some critics employed the Private Eye catchphrase "piss-poor" to describe the floundering series and accused Hislop of hypocrisy.

Hislop has also presented serious television programmes. These include School Rules, a three-part Channel 4 study on the history of British education; an edition of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?, in which he attempted to trace his genealogy and Not Forgotten, a four-part series on Channel 4 detailing the lives of numerous individuals lost in the First World War. A further programme, Not Forgotten: Shot at Dawn, which offered an insight into British First World War soldiers executed for offences such as cowardice and desertion, was broadcast in January 2007, and a sixth episode, Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn't Fight, challenging the stigma attached to conscientious objectors, is to air in November 2008. He also presented one episode of the BBC's Great Railway Journeys, in which he travelled across India. In May 2007 he presented a programme on BBC Four, Ian Hislop's Scouting for Boys, celebrating Robert Baden-Powell's book that inspired the Scout movement. Another BBC Four programme, Ian Hislop Goes Off the Rails, about the Beeching Report and its impact on the British railway network, was first aired on 2 October 2008, and achieved the second highest audience to date for any BBC Four programme (and the highest for a documentary) with 1.3 million viewers.

He has also written and presented factual programmes for Radio 4 about such subjects as tax rebellions, female hymn composers, scouting and patron saints of Britain and Ireland. In 2007 he became the only person to make a second guest appearance on Room 101. He has also been a comedy scriptwriter for Harry Enfield (providing the Tim Nice-but-Dim character).

In 2003, he was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. He has also appeared in a number of Question Time editions (11 as of September 2008). In one he made an open attack on Jeffrey Archer, who had been imprisoned for perjury, when his wife, Mary Archer, was a fellow panellist. She was noticeably angry that the issue had been raised and criticised Hislop after the recording had finished.

Personal life

Ian is married to bestselling novelist Victoria Hislop, author of The Island. The couple have been married since 16 April 1988, and have two children, Emily born in 1990, and William, born in 1993. They live in Sissinghurst, Kent.

Religious views

In Caroline Chartres' book Why I Am Still an Anglican, Hislop describes himself as an "Atheist with Doubts: a C of E don't know". In 1996 he presented an award-winning documentary series for Channel 4 about the history of the Church of England called Canterbury Tales. Recent works include the Radio 4 series The Real Patron Saints. He still goes to church regularly.

Political views

Hislop has been highly critical of both major British political parties for over 20 years. Appearing on Question Time on 18 September 2008 he apparently expressed support for the Liberal Democrats, stating "I'm standing for them". He also praised Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Vince Cable for his analysis of the ongoing economic and financial crisis.

Hislop has also expressed tentative support for David Cameron's leadership of the Conservative Party on Have I Got News for You. He has been highly critical of New Labour and Tony Blair in particular.


External links

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