Have I Got News For You has always been one of my favourite TV shows, and Paul Merton has consistently been one of the best people on TV. But watching HIGNFY last night all but convinced me the show has finally flown up its own arse. Merton has sat there for the past few shows of the current series looking as if he doesn’t really want to be there, barely speaking for the first ten minutes and only then to parody his trademark surreal free-association to such an extent that last night he suddenly broke off mid-stream and asked rhetorically, “What on earth am I talking about?” which got a bigger laugh than anything he’d been saying. Ian Hislop launched into a savage five-minute rant against Valery Giscard-d’Estaing, EU bureaucracy and Italian corruption, unprecedented even by his standards, ending by saying (I’m paraphrasing) “I know I’m sounding more and more like the Daily Mail, but it does actually make some good points now and then.” I mean, come on, Ian, especially after your own magazine Private Eye has spent so long pointing up the hypocrisy of that reviled paper (the Mail, not the Eye). When this rant itself was then parodied by his team-mate, comedian Mark Steel (“Those bleeding French and their fucking baguettes!”) Hislop’s face went even more po as he accused “the left-wing comedian” of resorting to a cheap laugh by saying “fuck” a lot (which the BBC bleeped out anyway) and for putting words in his mouth (because Hislop didn’t say anything about baguettes). Merton may have run out of steam, but only because the show no longer inspires him, and I really hope he’ll quit while he’s ahead and concentrate on something new. Merton will always be a genius, and is therefore infinitely adaptable, but Hislop isn’t, and although I agree that we need people like him to expose corruption and hypocrisy at the highest levels, if he just ends up losing his sense of humour completely (he made a good start on Angus Deayton’s final show) and turns into the sort of self-righteous vicar he lampoons Blair for being in Private Eye then it’ll be a terrible shame. On top of all that, the show was hosted this week by some totally anonymous character who only proved the sad fact that as long as there’s a script, even the most chinless wonder can read an autocue and get a laugh. TV doctor Phil Hammond all but saved the day. Let’s hope it’s better next week…
One thought on “Merton and Hislop on their way out?”
I probably owe Paul Merton an apology here – according to his Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Merton#Personal_life his second wife was extremely ill around the time this show was broadcast. I didn’t know about this at the time though.
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