Miles Kington: Have I got (some very old) news for you

Comedians making jokes about the week's news. Now why did no one think of that before?
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The Independent Online

There was a very puzzling programme on BBC TV at the weekend, called Mock the Week. It was devised, I think, by Dan Paterson and produced by Mark Leveson. (Perhaps it was devised by Mark Leveson and produced by Dan Paterson. Anyway, there were two guys called Mark and Dan, and they had devised this programme called Mock The Week. The idea they had dreamt up was to have a chairman, a nice comedian called Dara O'Brian, and two teams of comedians, making six in all, who would look at the week's news and make jokes about it.

There was a very puzzling programme on BBC TV at the weekend, called Mock the Week. It was devised, I think, by Dan Paterson and produced by Mark Leveson. (Perhaps it was devised by Mark Leveson and produced by Dan Paterson. Anyway, there were two guys called Mark and Dan, and they had devised this programme called Mock The Week. The idea they had dreamt up was to have a chairman, a nice comedian called Dara O'Brian, and two teams of comedians, making six in all, who would look at the week's news and make jokes about it.

Of course, they didn't just make jokes about the week's news. The assembled talent - who included such huge talents as Rory Bremner and Jo Brand - also made jokes about the Royal Family, and imitated Prince Charles. They also made jokes about Blair's dependency on Bush, and on Russell Crowe's accuracy when throwing a telephone. Not really funny jokes, but jokes.

There you have it. Comedians making jokes about the week's news. Sort of. (And the Royal Family.) Not on the spur of the moment, obviously. Only pretending to think of them on the spur of the moment. A lot of them made up beforehand. Some left over from other shows. But the whole concept was an idea of such stunning simplicity you wondered why no one had thought of it before.

And then it occurred to me. I had heard a programme like this before. It's called The Armando Ianucci Charm Offensive. Have you heard it? It goes out on Radio 4. It started about three weeks ago. The chairman, Armando Ianucci, picks items from the week's news and asks his fellow comedians - Clive Anderson, Jeremy Hardy, people like that - to make jokes about them. They're not all spontaneous. Some of them are obviously made up beforehand. But that's to be expected ... I think it's quite good. But topical radio comedy is always better than topical TV comedy.

Oh, that reminds me. There's another programme on Radio 4 a bit like that, usually pretty good, called The Now Show. Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis pick items from the week's news and then they make fun of them. That's not all that happens, though. They also ask other funny men like Marcus Brigstocke and John Holmes to take other items from the week's news. And then make fun of them as well. It's an interesting idea. Been going quite a lot longer than Armando Ianucci's programme, too.

Not as long as The News Quiz, though. Have you come across this? On Radio 4? It's very good. It's been going a long time. The idea is that the chairman, Simon Hoggart, asks various comedians questions about items from the week's news and they then have to make jokes about them. People like Jeremy Hardy and Alan Coren and Andy Hamilton. Funny guys. Occasionally Linda Smith. Funny girl. Making jokes. About the week's news. Nice idea.

I remember now. They also made a TV programme based on it, called Have I Got News For You, which isn't nearly as good as The News Quiz, though a lot better paid. Have you seen it? What happens is that a chairman picks items from the week's news and then asks comedians to be funny about them ...

Have I Got News ... was not the first attempt to translate the format to TV. I myself was involved in a BBC TV programme over 20 years ago, called Scoop, chaired variously by Barry Norman, Richard Stilgoe and, I think, Nick Ross. Among the guests, I remember Graeme Garden, Pamela Stephenson and Esther Rantzen. The idea (are you ready for this?) was that the chairman plucked items from the week's news and asked us to be funny about them. (Pity it coincided with the Falklands War. There wasn't much else in the news. Programme didn't last long.)

Scoop was not the first attempt either. Way back in the 1960s there was a black-and-white TV programme with Richard Ingrams and Tariq Ali and Willie Rushton, on which they were given items from the week's news and asked to be funny about them. It makes you wonder if they would get away with it nowadays. Probably not ...

Oh, I've just remembered what I found so puzzling about Mock The Week. When they say it is devised by Dan and Mark, what is it exactly that Dan and Mark are devising?

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