Long Runners / No 30: Have I Got News For You

Age: 4. It began its TV life in 1990, and there have been 59 episodes so far.

Did it exist in another form before then? Yes, sort of. Radio 4's The News Quiz, which was first broadcast in 1977, is based on a similar format. There are three series a year and it has become one of the network's most popular programmes. Hat Trick, the phenomenally successful comedy production company, saw its television potential and seized it from under the Beeb's nose, giving their producer Harry Thompson the job of revamping it.

Frequency: eight half-hour episodes per series, for two series a year. Thompson says that by 1991 'the BBC wanted it every week of the year, but we refused, as we thought everyone would get fantastically bored with it'.

Ratings: viewing figures rose from 1m for the first programme to about 6.5m for the fourth series onwards. It won the Bafta Best Light Entertainment Programme award in 1992.

Formula: televisual Private Eye thinly disguised as a news quiz. Two teams of two, captained by Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, confront each other against a garish blue-and-red backdrop of a collage of news clippings. Dapper Angus Deayton introduces the programme with a couple of spoof news stories, before presiding over four rounds of ferocious repartee, triggered by film clips, photos and headlines taken from the week's events. Satirical banter is fired back and forth across the semi- circular desk. Deayton then awards points, supposedly according to accuracy and wit, although more often arbitrarily. He's also notable for his arch links between rounds: 'these idle whimseys bring us meandering on to Round Two . . .' is a typical example.

Secret of success: marrying 1980s alternative comedy to political comment.

Hallmarks: a willingness to go further in the expression of its contempt for public figures than any other BBC programme. One whole edition was devoted to the insinuation that Lord Archer of Grantchester was less than 100 per cent honest. Has also (like Private Eye) created its own catchphrases, such as 'allegedly'.

Theme tune: cacophony of ear-splitting sounds accompanied by an equally brash and manic cartoon-strip - Westminster, the job centre, the Royal Family, sport - enough to give you a headache before the show even starts.

Little-known facts: it is John Birt's favourite programme. Despite popular belief, the only parts of the show that are scripted are Deayton's links, which he writes himself. The teams see the material half an hour before the show - not enough time to think up all the wisecracks in advance. Allegedly. Since 1990, the recording time has spiralled, from 32 minutes for seven rounds to an hour for four rounds - due, says Thompson, to 'an expanded capacity for blether' on the parts of Hislop and Merton.

Has anyone refused to be on it? Every cabinet minister invited and most female comedians. Ex-ministers are the exception: Cecil Parkinson is supposed to have confided that his appearance provoked the most positive response he ever had. Probably not saying much.

What about Roy Hattersley? Oh yes - the infamous tub of lard which took his place as Merton's partner last summer. It was the third time that Hattersley had pulled out of the show at the last minute. The stunt was covered in the next day's papers and provoked the MP to write a reply in his weekly Guardian column.

Rivals: in Thompson's words, 'nothing since Crystal Tipps and Alastair'.

Anything that makes you want to kick the set in? Jokes about Deayton's ties, Deayton's forays into advertising, Deayton's private life, Deayton's appearances in the tabloids - who cares?

The bottom line - is it any good? It was excellent. It is still good, but it has become a victim of its own hype. The novelty of the formula has worn off, to be replaced by predictable, triangular wordplay as Merton and Hislop scramble for self-trumpeting wisecracks and Deayton interjects with characteristically dry monotony. Jokes can fall flat and guests are pushed to the sidelines. Perhaps a redirection along the original News Quiz lines, eschewing big egos but keeping the news comedy, is in order. Sophie Barker

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines