The BBC’s Have I Got News for You is one of those television shows, which largely thanks to its rotating guests and the topicality of the news is a programme that has many highs, and some lows. Quite often the presence of a key guest or host will make or break the show.
Anyone who watches the show regularly will probably still be grinning after they had Brian Blessed on last year. At last nights recording, the potential for an outstanding episode existed as the villainous leader of the RMT, one Bob Crow was invited on as a guest. In addition, to add proverbial sauce to the gander, they had the usually highly sarcastic Alexander Armstrong as host and the currently somewhat controversial Jimmy Carr as the opposing guest.
All was set for a battle of wits such as has rarely been seen.
The show actually started quite well, as when the guests walk onto the stage one at a time, the clapping turned to boos and hisses as Bob Crow appeared. You could tell it was largely a London based audience! The introduction that was recorded for broadcast had some booing, but far less than the prerecorded segment.
Also, slightly unusually based on recent shows, the comedian was partnered with Ian Hislop, and the political guest was partnered with Paul Merton. However, as the recording progressed, it was clear that there was absolutely no chemistry between Paul and Bob as would normally be exhibited within the show.
All told, we got a very mixed programme that seemed to have had much of the life drained out of it on one side, while most of the action came from Ian Hislop and Jimmy Carr, who were on very good form.
There were the expected jibes at Bob Crow and his penchant for calling strikes at the drop of a hat, and a joke was made where they stopped recording for a negotiated tea break. However, the expected biting satire seemed very muted. There have guests on the show before who have been practically shredded by the regulars, but they seemed to be wearing kid gloves last night – and Paul Merton seemed utterly disinterested in the whole proceedings.
There was however a good section where they have a mock up of a tube train animation to introduce several picture based questions. The view of a lobster driving a tube train was alarming – although I bet they wouldn’t go on strike as often. Hmmm!
Bob Crow though was a surprising disappointment.
Considering that he is an elected leader of a union, you would expect him to be reasonably articulate and able to hold a good debate. Actually, he spent much of the evening either one a one-track diatribe about capitalism and Europe, or talking in a garbled manner that was so difficult to understand that you could almost see the question marks popping into existence over peoples heads as they listened to him.
There was a bit of sniping about Ian Hislop’s background and education and it was difficult to be sure if it was jocular banter, or genuine nastiness. That Ian Hislop slightly snapped back at one time suggested, sadly, the latter.
His one track mind on the issue of Europe and some bizarre conspiracy theories he came out with reminded me very much of a former Tory MP, Teddy Taylor – who also appeared on HIGNFY some years ago and spent most of the evening on a one-track diatribe about Europe. As then, so last night – in that the audience was laughing at Bob Crow, not with him.
To be fair, he got some genuine laughs, but they were rare and often prompted by comments by the other panelists.
The show is typically about two hours of recording then compressed down to the 25 minutes used on TV. Normally, a lot of outstanding material is discarded in the editing, although I have been to a few recordings, where one guest was noticeably poor and the editing has been very sympathetic to make them look a lot better than they really were.
That we had a fairly boring Bob Crow sitting next to an almost invisible Paul Merton lead to a very one-sided episode, and it will be very interesting to see how the editors are able to create an interesting, and even handed TV show. I suspect either an average show, or a “classic” where they leave in the worst ramblings of Bob Crow and make him look a complete fool.
Update: Jimmy Carr was taking photos during the early part – one of the guests here. I also spelt Bob Crow with an E throughout the entire blog posting. No idea why! (he says, quickly blaming late night typing).