Have I Got News For You

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Have I Got News For You (sometimes abbreviated to HIGNFY) is a long-running UK television panel game, on the subject of news, politics and current affairs. 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 the 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. It is a tradition on the show that particularly scurrilous accusations are suffixed with "...allegedly" (in the style of British satirical magazine Private Eye).

The original line-up, from 1990 to 2002, was Angus Deayton as chair, with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and comedian Paul Merton as team captains. Each team is completed by a guest member each week, often a politician or journalist on one side and a comedian on the other. 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. The concept of a different guest host every week proved successful, and is now a permanent feature of the show.



HIGNFY began on BBC2 on September 28 1990 and transferred to BBC1 in October 2000. Two series of (usually) eight episodes are made each year. It is taped on Thursday evening for broadcast on Friday, allowing the satire to remain fresh while the BBC's lawyers have time to request cuts of potentially libellous material. The show likes to cultivate a reputation for sailing close to the wind on matters of libel; it is a tradition on the show that particularly scurrilous accusations are suffixed with "...allegedly" (in the style of British satirical magazine Private Eye). This phrase has permeated popular British culture to the extent that it has now become something of a cliché.

In 1998, a book based on the series (Have I Got 1997 For You) mentioned, in a diary entry 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 [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/49430.stm), meaning that, as pointed out in a later episode of the show, he is the only person in the UK who can be called a "conniving little shit" without fear of being (successfully) sued for libel.

The original line-up was Angus Deayton as chair, with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and comedian Paul Merton as team captains. Each team is completed by a guest member each week, often a politician or journalist on one side and a comedian on the other. Merton took a break from the show during the eleventh series in 1996, making only one appearance as a guest on Hislop's team.

Despite the fact that Merton is a comedian and Hislop a current affairs magazine editor, Merton usually wins. He attributes this to his devious tactic of reading the newspapers each week. Astute viewers will notice that Merton's other major pointwinning tactic is a tendency to jump in and answer questions that were actually addressed to the other team.

In 2002, allegations linking Deayton with prostitutes and drug use appeared in UK tabloids. Merton and Hislop teased Deayton about these allegations on the show (Merton revealing a T shirt with the tabloid headline printed on it), and Deayton did not deny them. On October 29 2002 Deayton was asked to resign from the show. Merton hosted the first episode after Deayton's departure (Ross Noble took Merton's usual place), and a series of guest hosts appeared for the rest of the series. It was announced in June 2003 that HIGNFY would continue to use guest hosts, as the average audience had increased from 6 million in Deayton's last series to 7 million. Former Conservative Party leader William Hague and actor Martin Clunes received particular praise for their work as guest hosts. It now appears that the rotating host position is intended as a permanent feature of the show.

The shows are often recycled as repeats under the title Have I Got Old News For You. Older programmes are sometimes billed with the year in the title, e.g. Have I Got 1993 For You. Current programmes are usually also shown (in a later time slot and on BBC2) on the day after their initial broadcast with the possibility of subtitles. In November 2003, these Saturday editions were expanded to 40 minutes in length, with the addition of material cut out of the Friday programme, and titled Have I Got A Little Bit More News For You. This practice has since been stopped, and the repeats are simply re-runs of the original programme.

Highlights of the show

Missing image
The original team (from left): Ian Hislop, Angus Deayton and Paul Merton on the set of Have I Got News For You
  • One of the biggest laughs of the first year came when the missing headline words round posed the question 'I MADE THATCHER _____ BOASTS NIGEL'. To which Paul immediately replied 'Swallow?,' reducing the rest of the panel to hysterics. Angus jumped in with 'No it's not a question about food...'
  • In the early years of the show, Paul took to insisting that certain women (namely The Princess of Wales and The Duchess of York, amongst others) were 'over-blown tarts'.
  • 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 five year sentence) and from which he had subsequently recovered, seemed a little 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 did not bother to appear for the June 4 1993 episode, 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". It was later announced that the tub of lard had been booked for a return appearance, though this turned out to be a ruse to disguise the appearance on the show of Salman Rushdie. 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 and even Japanese. The final one was in English, but the entire headline was blanked out.
  • Salman Rushdie almost did not get to be on the show. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa promising his execution and Rushdie had to live in hiding under constant police guard. When asked if it was possible for Rushdie to do a quiz show in 1994, the police guards 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.
  • When the late Paula Yates appeared on the program in October 1995 she acted defensively when asked about rumours of breast enlargement surgery. Her uncomfortable demeanour encouraged Hislop to joke about the alleged poor quality of her autobiography and to make some pointed remarks about her husband (Michael Hutchence) 'beating up photographers'. Yates appeared to be genuinely upset and eventually called Hislop the "sperm of the devil", an outburst that earned her more derision. (Presumably she meant to say "spawn of the devil").
  • 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. 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 card with me Hislop" before appealing to the audience "Does anyone like him?". When the audience responded fiercely 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 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 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, saw him facing questions from Hislop about a transcript of a telephone conversation in which a friend asked Johnson to help beat up a journalist. 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 various obscure questions about the then-leader of the Conservative party, Iain Duncan Smith, inevitably ending with up with a final score of zero.
  • When Sir Elton John failed to appear as billed in 1999, he was replaced by a "look-alike" called Ray Johnson (apparently a taxi driver) who made no 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.
  • 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.
  • On one occasion, Paul was asked a question, and proceeded to "think about it" (with a gormless expression on his face). The scene then switched to a "daydream" of Paul and Ian skipping through a sunny field, holding hands and smiling. This rather nonsensical aside drew laughter from the audience, as well as the two guests.
  • 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 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 twins to share joint leadership of a major British political party. This caused a degree of genuine confusion, notably from Boris Johnson.
  • 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 Merton made fun of her famous wink in an episode in 1995, so she gave Hislop five points, before the game even started. Later on, she was reminded by Hislop that it was the anniversary of Robert Maxwell's death, she used to work for him at the Daily Mirror, which Hislop was bound to make fun of her for it. So after declaring that there were no hard feelings, she proceeded to give Merton seven points 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.
  • The final show of the second series using guest presenters 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 completely let himself go and launched a memorable verbal tirade against Kilroy-Silk. Possibly because of this, for a number of weeks after the episode on 22 October, 2004, 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 every episode.
  • 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, if only in jest. 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.
  • 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 return to politics in the 2005 general election.
  • The final episode of the series 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 a skip of coleslaw!"


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 about 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.

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 end of series 29, broadcast 2005)

Most appearances in total

8 appearances

7 appearances

6 appearances

5 appearances

Guest presenters

5 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.

See also

External links


  • "Have I Got News for You?": The Shameless Cash-in Book , BBC Books , 1994 , ISBN 0563371110

nl:Have I got news for you sv:Snacka om Nyheter


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