Have we got news for you ... (but not in a brown envelope)

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You could almost have felt sorry for Neil and Christine Hamilton as they were ripped to shreds on Have I Got News For You last night. But not quite.

There is something about Mr Hamilton's forced smile and air of indignant innocence that would probably stop you stepping in if he was getting a kicking from three unemployed coal miners, let alone being given a not- so-gentle ribbing by three highly paid satirists.

Mr Hamilton only agreed to appear on the show at the last minute. The programme makers Hat Trick did just want his wife, who throughout the election campaign showed herself to be the talking half of their weird double act. But they both showed up as one guest on the show, perhaps to double the pounds 750 appearance fee.

You could tell exactly how much of the show was going to be turned over to baiting the Hamiltons when it started with the show's host Angus Deayton wearing a white suit - as made famous by Martin Bell, Mr Hamilton's successful rival for the Tatton constituency.

Mr Hamilton wore a red bow-tie for the show, a sure sign that he is planning a comeback career as a media eccentric. It would only be fair - after all Martin Bell has his old job so Mr Hamilton could have his.

The forced smiles stayed in place for all of the show, even when the specialist publication that the show gets its missing headlines from was The Ritz hotel's in-house magazine - the hotel where Mr and Mrs Hamilton so famously stayed at the expense of its then owner Mohamed Al-Fayed.

It has to be said that Mr Hamilton did have one good joke and like all the others in the show it was directed against himself. When Mrs Hamilton was asked who should be the next Tory leader she refused to be drawn. But ever-modest Mr Hamilton suggested himself: "I think I could successfully unite the party because they would all be against me."

The show's regulars, Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, and even the other guest Maureen Lipman, could not resist continuous digs at the couple but they resisted the temptation to snap back, even when handed a pair of stuffed brown envelopes at the end of the show.

It may be that the Tatton defeat and the campaign itself - compete with soap stars, foreign correspondents, towering transvestites and David Soul - has nudged the Hamiltons past the point of caring about insults.

They are either now far more thick-skinned than when they used to keep libel lawyers on their BT Friends and Family list, or they have realised that fame will not last much longer and are making the most of it. In which case the joke was on us.

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