Did we like it?
Twice a year, in our best handwriting, we compose a message to whoever is playing the role of Father Christmas at the BBC production meeting comprising one single plea: “Hire a permanent f***ing host for Have I Got News For You!” Sadly, once again our entreaty has fallen on deaf ears, and we have yet another series where the quality will be as capricious as the moods of Nero, often determined by the standard of guest presenter.
What was good about it?
• ITV political correspondent Tom Bradby appearing minus a set of fine cutlery embedded in his back by one of his close working colleagues.
• The otherwise impotent Ian Hislop’s scathing dismissal of John McCain, and his hectoring of Fern Britton to lacerate Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher with blame for the financial collapse.
• Paul Merton’s logical deduction that because ITV viewers required Tom Bradby to perform U-turns in a fancy car to illustrate political U-turns, by the same measure he should “jump off a cliff” to depict a fall in interest rates.
• Merton’s mockery of Hislop over his attraction to Sarah Palin.
• Merton and Hislop weren’t on particularly good form, we even saw Merton recoil from some of his trademark follow-up flights of fancy on a couple of occasions, but this is of little concern because, short of a double lobotomy, the excellent balance of Hislop’s mordant insight and Merton’s unparalleled wit should make the show watchable for the next few months.
What was bad about it?
• The guest host syndrome now appears incurable. For every wonderful Dara O’Briain or Kirsty Young, you get 10 Gordon Ramsays, Charles Kennedys or Anne Widdecombes.
• And this week we got Fern Britton, who delivers comic lines with the same panache and verbal dexterity as an avalanche. One of her first quips was to make a self-deprecating jibe about the ‘controversy’ surrounding her gastric band. A topic of interest only to the blood-stained fingernails of gossip magazines and the coffee-flecked teeth of the tabloids, and the issue of whether she deceived thousands of people about her weight loss is irrelevant as they are the same lazy, gluttonous idiots who lovingly deceive themselves that weight can be shed through miracle cures rather than eating less and exercising more.
• Britton wasn’t helped by the three opening gags, which were pretty weak despite a fertile field of news.
• The member of the audience who was manically applauding as if planted there by one of the production team to generate and control the hysteria levels.
• More examples of rich people speciously empathising with the rest of the country about the ‘financial crisis’, as if they’re on the verge of having their opulent Chelsea townhouse repossessed and their children thrown on to the streets.
• Tom Bradby’s dubious anecdote about how he learned of Peter Mandelson’s kidney operation from his cab driver, who delivered the schadenfreude punch-line of, “There is a God”. Now either, Bradby translated and fictionalised the tale of how he learned of Mandelson’s ailment to the back of a cab so he could concoct a cabbie’s scurrilous dénouement to preserve his political neutrality and ascribe the quip to the stereotype of the gobby London taxi driver.
• Or, perhaps more worryingly the political editor of Britain’s second largest news organisation receives ‘exclusive’ updates on headline political news from the reliable source of London cabbies, when we can imagine that Nick Robinson would have already laid down a lubricant between Number 10 and BBC HQ to oil the path for his greasy mollusc torso, and Daisy McAndrew would have been poised scalpel in hand over Mandelson’s supine frame ready to surgically slice away at his lower back while filing a live report to Sir Trevor.
• The distressing sight of HIGNFY being so reliant on bumbling bear Boris Johnson that the nation’s premier topical news quiz exhumed footage from two months ago when he flummoxed his way through the Olympic handover. It was funny, but we all laughed at the time.