Have I Got News for You is a British television panel show produced by Hat Trick Productions for the BBC. It is loosely based on the BBC Radio 4 show The News Quiz, and has been regularly broadcast since 1990. The show has cultivated a reputation for sailing close to the wind in matters of libel and slander with its topical and satirical remit.
Have I Got News for You is often cited as beginning the increasing domination of panel shows in British TV comedy, and remains one of the genre's key standard-bearers. In recognition of this, the show received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 British Comedy Awards. It was the first time the honour had been bestowed upon a collective instead of an individual or double act. In 2016 they also received a BAFTA in the Comedy and Comedy Entertainment Programme category.
For its first 10 years, the programme was shown on BBC Two. In 2000, the BBC moved its nightly BBC One news bulletin, the BBC Nine O'Clock News, from nine o'clock to ten o'clock (now known as the BBC News at Ten) after ITV moved their long-running ten o'clock bulletin, News at Ten, to eleven o'clock. This left a gap in the schedules, and Have I Got News for You was moved as a result to 9pm on Friday nights on BBC One, where it has remained since, apart from two series in 2010 when the show was broadcast on Thursday nights.
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 was accompanied by a guest, usually a politician, journalist or comedian, or somebody particularly relevant to recent news.
Merton took a break from Have I Got News for You during the 11th series in 1996, making only one appearance as a guest on Hislop's team. He was variously replaced as opposing team captain by Clive Anderson, Alan Davies and Eddie Izzard (with another two episodes featuring an equal-billing double act as the opponents of Hislop's team). 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".[note 1]
In May 2002, following newspaper headlines of his sex with a prostitute and use of illegal drugs, Deayton was relentlessly ridiculed on the show by Hislop and Merton (along with guests Dave Gorman and Ken Livingstone). Following a second round of revelations about his private life later in the year, leading to further mockery, Deayton was fired in October, two shows into series 24.
At short notice, 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 series, including Anne Robinson, Boris Johnson, and Jeremy Clarkson. Despite an initial 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 permanently.
Hislop is the only person to have appeared in every episode — despite suffering from appendicitis during one 1994 edition and having to go to hospital immediately afterwards. Merton is one of three people to have played all three roles of the show's format at various points: he has been captain of his own team, was the first post-Deayton presenter (series 24, episode 3), and has also been a guest on a team (Hislop's team, in series 11, episode 1). The others who have occupied all three positions are Clive Anderson and Frank Skinner, who have both stood in for Merton as team captain (in series 11, episodes 3 & 6 and series 36, episode 5 respectively). Anderson also filled in for Merton at the last minute for the special live edition for 24 Hour Panel People for Red Nose Day 2011. (Martin Clunes could be considered the fourth person to have done all three roles, after sitting in Merton's usual seat in series 11, episode 4, but with his teammate being Men Behaving Badly co-star Neil Morrissey, the duo were given equal billing, with no captain).
Apart from Merton, there are twelve other people who have appeared as a panellist after being a guest host: Clive Anderson, Gyles Brandreth, Marcus Brigstocke, Jimmy Carr, Jeremy Clarkson (who subsequently appeared as a guest host again), Alan Johnson, Charles Kennedy, Richard Madeley, Richard Osman, Robert Peston, John Prescott and Liza Tarbuck. The only guests to have also worked on the production off camera are Kevin Day and John O'Farrell who have both had stints on the writing team.
Alexander Armstrong holds the record for both most appearances as guest presenter, as well as most guest appearances in total, having appeared 30 times in the central chair. He has never appeared in any other role. Andy Hamilton holds the record for appearances as a guest panellist, with 20.
Many guests have appeared on the programme multiple times. The list below includes guests who have appeared as presenter or panelist, and does not include the two video-exclusive releases, Have I Got Unbroadcastable News for You and The Official Pirate Video, nor the various Comic Relief specials.
List complete up to 13 October 2017.
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 said 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. At first, the number of episodes per series was inconsistent. However, a pattern soon formed whereby 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 in the middle to allow the broadcasting of Children in Need.
The 39th series, broadcast in early 2010, moved the show to a Thursday night slot. The 40th series remained in this new time slot, despite one episode being broadcast the day after due to the Royal Variety Performance; both series featured an extra episode, with the spring series now featuring 9 episodes and the autumn series 10 episodes.
Over an hour's worth of material is recorded for each 30-minute programme for broadcast the following day, allowing the programme to remain topical while the BBC's lawyers have time to request cuts of potentially defamatory material. As for its popularity, Merton explained that it was mostly word-of-mouth: "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 show business 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.' Merton said of this: "Well, when Norman Tebbit said I couldn't improvise, I was... [blows out cheeks and then goes silent]."
The main section of the show comprises several rounds, although, as noted above, this is liable to change. Since the show originally aired, several rounds have been dropped from the original format, but a typical show will usually consist of the following:
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 £10,000 each in the High Court for contempt of court. The risky nature of the joke was readily apparent on the night itself, with Hislop and Merton humorously claiming that Deayton might genuinely have to prepare himself for a spell in prison because of it.
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". Allason then pursued a libel action against BBC Worldwide and Hat Trick Productions over the remark, but lost the case.
In April 2003, three-time guest panellist Stephen Fry announced that he was boycotting the show following the sacking of Angus Deayton. Fry described Deayton's disposal 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, owing to Carr's risqué 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 frequent guests on HIGNFY, said that he would not appear on the show again either. 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 edition of 26 April 2013 prompted over 100 complaints to the BBC and Ofcom for its perceived anti-Scottish stance during a section discussing Scottish independence. Ian Hislop had suggested Mars bars would become the currency of a post-independence Scotland, while guest host Ray Winstone added, "To be fair the Scottish economy has its strengths – its chief exports being oil, whisky, tartan and tramps."
Four VHS videos were released, two containing specially made editions of the programme:
The Very Best of Have I Got News For You (2002), a compilation of highlights from the first 12 years of the show, from the beginning up until the episode made after Deayton hit the tabloids. The running time is just over three hours long, and there are several hours of extras, including, among other things, running commentary of the whole presentation by Merton and Hislop. Also featured is a clip of Sir Terry Wogan on Room 101, nominating the programme as one of his pet hates. (Wogan's appearance came during the period when Room 101 was hosted by Nick Hancock and not HIGNFY's own Paul Merton.) In addition, interviews with political figures (taken from the Channel 4 Politics Awards) reveal their opinions on the series.
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 Martin Clunes, William Hague and Bruce Forsyth as chairman were also included, as well as a compilation of clips taken from other editions from the first two series with guest hosts (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 appearance as the celebrity guest 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 again 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 disc. Each letter is used to stand for a different term or name often associated with the show, each highlighted by various example clips – except for the "problem letters" of X, Y and Z, which just lead into a selection of random outtakes. This feature also includes some behind-the-scenes content, with Marcus Brigstocke guiding the viewer around the studio and backstage, on a recording night.
During the late 1990s, the website haveigotnewsforyou.com, run in association with Freeserve, featured interactive versions of the show's games, including the missing words round and the caption competition, with prizes up for grabs.
Have I Got News for You started broadcasting a video podcast, The Inevitable Internet Spin-off, on 13 April 2007. It was initially planned to run for six series, from series 33 to 38, taking it to the end of 2009. Referred to as "webisodes", episodes are available via both the BBC iPlayer and YouTube.
From the beginning of Series 37, a new internet feature, Have I Got News for You, News... for You, was introduced. A short programme featuring typical opening and closing sequences (without the presence of a live audience) as well as other short sketches, it has so far been presented by Alexander Armstrong, and run fortnightly, bridging the gap between series 37 and 38.
Similar shows based on the Have I Got News for You format exist in other countries: