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

Arts and Entertainment

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
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
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
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.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible