It is one of the most unforgettable moments in the history of television. The appearance of a lard tub to replace Roy Hattersley after he canceled Have I Got News For You for the third time was pure comedy gold. Such audacity, such boldness, such irreverence.
The Beeb’s 30th anniversary documentary was one of the few television highlights for me this Christmas. HIGNFY was born (and almost feels like a new world) in a different age, and its longevity in the fourth decade is incredible.
The show first aired around the time I started my studies, and it was a great reference point for understanding the events of the day as a student of politics. Never before had I seen anything like it. With her wit and wordplay, her irreverent putting down of blowhards and blowhards was a total pleasure to watch and the show has been a must see ever since.
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Who needed lecturers while Ian Hyslop and Paul Merton were turning the comedy knife and challenging the boundaries of free expression.
Hyslop: the great satirist, the moral compass, the intelligence fountain, but with a cheeky, self-deprecating way of stopping sermons. Merton: the headstrong, truant son whose surreal flights of imagination and razor-sharp wit always lift the show to the realms of the genius of absurdism.
It’s not shocking that HIGNFY came under fire. On the left, the elite was accused of promoting and turning us into “giggling couch potatoes” who were unable to think too hard. Indeed, as his multiple appearances allowed him to refine his waddling posh-boy persona, it is believed that the show unwittingly helped Boris Johnson become prime minister.
On the other hand, on the right, in particular, Hyslop is often the object of much spite, whose occasional biting rants have been defined as humorless “BBC standard socialism.”
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However, I find it comforting that neither side can say that display for itself. That surely means that they’re doing something right. After all, it’s just entertainment – it’s not compulsory to change the system, and there’s no danger of doing so.
But it is not without its flaws – some episodes are better than others, and between the two regulars and the host, a lot depends on the correct chemistry. Filmed via Zoom calls, the Lockdown episodes proved almost embarrassingly lackluster.
Sadly, storm clouds are forming up and the future is far from clear. None of the standard bearers in the show are getting any younger. Occasionally, Paul seems sour, Ian quite dour. And what is worse, in the BBC comedy production, Director General Tom Davie has vowed to tackle alleged “left-wing bias”
But it’s clearly unfair to say that the show is letting the world’s Johnsons off the hook. The show wasn’t the one that voted him into office. And as the show’s host, Johnson didn’t really show leadership skills – he was hopeless. But if the voters wanted an act of satire at the top, they now have one.
I just wish that the greaseball would now run for the Legislature.
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