The fiftieth series of Have I Got News For You drew an unprecedented number headlines before it was aired as soon as Jeremy Clarkson was announced as the show’s guest host. His appointment did rather show up the hypocrisy of the BBC since his sacking; they’ve been more than willing to repeatedly air his programmes to millions of viewers and have now allowed him to host one of their biggest comedy shows, whilst still insisting they’ve done the right thing. Clarkson knew that there would be no easy ride on the show famous for its mauling of guests caught up in scandals (see Angus Deayton, John Prescott and Alastair Campbell).
Regular team captains, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, oddly pulled most of their punches. This left it to guest panellist Richard Osman to give Clarkson a tough time. Unfortunately, most of his efforts seemed to miss the mark. The (clearly prepared) punchline of ‘Amazon past-their Prime’ seemed to illicit only groans from the studio audience. Although, Merton’s slapstick performance when ‘keeping Jeremy happy’ was terrific and saved the programme from more interminable awkwardness.
Ian Hislop was remarkably easy going during the show; perhaps he too has lost some of the bite from previous years. His speech about the Ashcroft/Cameron book was interesting, but not great comedy show material. Hislop’s alleged involvement in the Piers Gaveston club was brought up and clarified for those nervous that the bastion of political satire had been involved in some of the (rumoured) initiations. It was interesting to see Hislop being made to appear uncomfortable, when most had expected Jeremy Clarkson to be under the most scrutiny.
Whilst not necessarily anyone’s fault, the editing process of HIGNY had never been more blatantly obvious. The show is recorded over several hours, which are then cherry-picked for their best moments, but this episode was quite clearly edited on a knife-edge. Just listen out for slight changes in voice tone or body movements to see what I mean. The final moments had such a clear edit that I can’t help but think there was some last minute deletions going on.
There were plenty of gems still to be found; including a neat riff on the ‘Ronnie Pickering’ video and some good gags about Rebekah Brooks. Monday’s extended edition should hopefully allow the material to flow less jarringly.
Overall, this wasn’t HIGNFY’s finest (half) hour. However, it still provided a neat blend of political satire, slapstick and incisive political comment that is sorely missing on TV. Not too bad for a show entering its twenty-fifth year.