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.

Look forward to it tonight on BBC1, or the slightly longer version on BBC2 tomorrow.

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).

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30 Comments

  1. Bob Crowe's ghost

    So Bob Crowe just wasn’t posh enough for you?

    I hate this kind of patronising crap put out by writers such as yourself on those deemed not “articulate” or “educated” enough.

    The reason Crowe has his job is that he was elected by his members. He was elected because he has, according to those same members, done the best job possible to support their interests.

    Now that might seem like a really odd thing to a middle class BBC audience. You guys are used to inherited benefits, private educations, posh dinner parties and the like.

    The idea that someone might have a position of power because of their ability to get the job done (even if getting the job done means that sometimes you’re late for Gemima’s dinner party) rather than because of what school they went to or who daddy knows, is just anathema.

    No wonder Merton wasn’t interested. He could stop the very tedious set-up from a mile off.

    “I know Woger, lets get one of those simply awful working class types on so that we can all laugh and laugh at them”

    • IanVisits

      For the record, I wasn’t privately educated, and the only thing I inherited from my parents was genetic in nature.

      It wan’t that he has a working men’s accent – it was that he seemed incapable of speaking in a plain coherent sentence much of the time. To recall the infamous Morcambe and Wise/Andre Previn sketch – he used all the right words, just not necessarily in the right order.

      You seem to have quite a substantial chip on your shoulder, much like Mr Crowe also exhibited last night. You also made the same mistakes about my background as Mr Crowe made about Ian Hislops.

      Maybe both of you need to relax a bit about (incorrect) presumptions of a person’s background and judge them by what they do. I went in to the studio expecting the leader of a union, regardless of his background, to be reasonably articulate and capable of holding a good debate with people.

      The simple fact is – he wasn’t.

    • Scott

      Out of the numerous odd things you say in your comment I’m going to pick one – in what way is being able to hold an articulate debate not “ability to get the job done” for a trade union leader. The job being negotiating with (in this case) the government suggests that being vaguely coherent and, dare I say, clever might be a bit useful or, well, essential. You seem to confuse meritocracy with middle class snobishness.

  2. Rob Wilson

    Like any Trade Unionist…they have Communist Tendancies, and they are not happy until they have destroyed the industry they claim to represent. I have tried asking a question of the RMT as to why they are so militant and confrontational, and just recieved abuse. They don’t do debate or listen to other pionts of view. Totally blinkered.

    • IanVisits

      @Rob Wilson

      I am not so convinced that trade unionists have Communist Tendencies, as I have known some very good trade unions who want a sensible balance between the requirements of a free market, and the needs of the workers who work within it. The RMT is sadly not one of them.

      @Terence Eden

      I agree, and would like the old fashioned unions to modernise. My personal vision of a union I would join is an organisation that acts as an “insurance policy” where I can tap expert advice as and when I need it. For them to act as effectively a second layer of management is just a waste of everyone’s time.

      @EVERYONE

      Obviously it was my middle class, fine food and inherited wealth that lead to me to add an E to the end of Bob Crow(e)’s name throughout the blog posting ;) Thanks to the Fact Compiler for correcting me.

  3. I’m a union member (and also a posh, middle class, well educated, BBC watching, smug, effete manager) – I have mixed feelings about Bob Crowe.

    There is no doubt that he gets an excellent deal for his members – but it comes at a high cost. He is personally despised by a large section of Londoners. His members face ire over his actions and provocations. TfL and the tax-payers face an almighty bill as the result of his negotiations.

    Would I want him on my side in an industrial dispute? Yes. Would I invite him to a dinner party? No. To be honest, I wouldn’t even have a drink with him.

    I think the days of bombastic, hard headed, dogmatic union leadership is coming to an end. Workers still deserve better – but I don’t think that Bob Crowe, Brendan Barber and Mick Rix are the men to take trade unions into the 21st century.

    Every time I try to recruit new members to my union, the number one objection they have is being associated with the strike-fixated bullies of the RMT & CWU. That’s hurting union membership across the board.

    So, when it comes to the next election of your General Secretary, think hard about how you want to be represented. Do you want a union leader who gets a good short-term deal at the cost of building fear and resentment – or one who can build a stable and prosperous future without resorting to bullying tactics?

  4. Not Bob Crowe's (sic) Ghost

    Still doesn’t deflect from my original posting that inviting Bob Crow on there was an obvious set up by a very-likely-to-be posh boy BBC producer.

    As for chippiness – bit of cliche, I’m afraid. You’re original posting came off as incredibly stuck up. Why should satisfying your notion of being articulate should, in any way, shape or form, be a necessary precondition for Bob Crow to get his job?

    I’ve seen the guy interviewed on TV dozens of times and while I can see how he might get up the noses of those who expect better “standards” (and snobbery from the aspiring working class ALWAYS tends to be the worst) I’ve found him a refreshing alternative to the smug, two-faced tosser who’ve polluted the Labour Party.

    And as for Crow being a throwback…. well, in case you haven’t noticed there are plenty in management and ownership in the UK who are far far bigger throwbacks than him.

    But you’ve chosen to attack a union leader rather than them.

    That’s your choice.

    I wouldn’t call that chippiness but there’s another word beginning with c that I might think of using.

  5. Dan

    Ah! Being able argue coherently and get your point across effectively in the environment you find yourself in is a matter of perception! No wonder people find it difficult to negotiate with him – their perception of him is all wrong. An awful lot has become clear.

  6. I was there as well – Crow was a bit flat. It seemed he was really good at taking the flak but not great at giving it out in a coherent way – lots of I hate privatisation and a bit of banter about Millwall…

    It’ll be great to see the edit in a few minutes to see how they play it. Paul was incredibly quiet throughout and in the studio there were a few really awkward silences.

  7. Bob Crowe’s Ghost, how patronising of you! Being working-class and being articulate are not mutually exclusive, you know.

    I’m not sure that suggesting Crow is too naive/dim to spot a set-up is doing him any favours, either. Especially when the ‘set-up’ is letting him freely choose to appear on a well-known, long-running TV entertainment show.

  8. Skeletor

    Bob Crow’s Ghost has educated me – I had assumed all along that Crow was a thick-headed fascist moron, but I was obviously wrong… NOT!

  9. Nikki

    Bob Crow’s Ghost, speaking as a working class northerner, I have to disagree with your statement that ‘poshness’ has anything to do with Bob Crow’s reception on the show. Being articulate doesn’t mean being ‘posh’, it means being able to express your point with clarity and precision /regardless/ of your accent or colloquialisms in your speech.

    Let’s not forget how varied HIGNFY’s audience is; BBC producers are so paranoid about ratings that they’re hardly going to lambast an enormous chunk of their viewing figures by ‘picking on the paupers’.

  10. Greg

    @Terence Eden

    What has really cost Londoners billions of pounds is the collapse of the disastrous public-private part privatisation (PPP) of the tube network. Bob Crow and the RMT rightly opposed this, in contrast to the majority of the political class.

    What I saw on the programme was Jimmy Carr being rude to him, and Ian Hislop making the same joke tired joke about his tough negotiation tactics five times. I think Paul Merton didn’t want to take part in it because unlike the politicians they have on, Bob Crow is not a hypocrite, just someone who stands up for the people he represents.

    The gap between rich and poor has continued to grow throughout a LABOUR government. Who is left to stand up for those on low wages to ensure they get a fair share of the nation’s wealth? Labour are meant to be the party of the poor, yet have failed to close this wealth gap. As the recent book ‘The Spirit Level’ shows, higher levels of inequality in developed countries are very closely associated with unhappy and broken societies (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/13/the-spirit-level). The union leaders you mention are the only ones who are taking this mounting problem seriously.

  11. Rich

    Isn’t the important thing that he just wasn’t funny !

  12. MGM

    Well done to Ian Hislop and Jimmy Carr for a great double-act. This, with Alexander Anderson in the chair, made the programme worth watching this week.

    My heart goes out to Paul on finding himself teamed with this week’s ‘guest’.

    This usually excellent show, guaranteed to make one laugh out loud several times was substantially dimmed by the presence of Bob Crow.

    Incidentally, this week I joined the programme halfway through and not recognising the big chap on Paul Merton’s team, I had to Google to see who he is and what he does. None the wiser really.

  13. waffle247

    I thought the show was pretty average, regardless of his politics Bob Crow seemed to miss the point of the show. Perhaps it was the editing that is to blame but Crow seemed to be more interested in spouting a political tirade than being funny, Jimmy Carr even asked him if he’d ever watched the show before. It seemed pretty weird that Crow was having a go at Hislop just because of where he was educated, Crow came across as incredibly narrow minded at that point. For a guy that supposedly represents a large amount of hard working people I expected him to be much more open minded about peoples backgrounds. Merton, Hislop and Carr were, as always, a good laugh but Crow was boring. What the show needs are people who are funny, Crow was not funny. I hope he is not invited back on.

  14. DJ

    This was the worst episode of HIGNFY I have ever seen. Hislop & co came across as a gang of elitist bourgeois public-school wankers who seemed to be under the impression that Bob runs the tube. And for those complaining he wasn’t funny- he’s not a comedian. he’s a trade unionist, you know, the people who have, over a hundred or more years, worked hard to ensure that pampered arseholes like you have things like holidays, a living wage and rights at work. But I apologise. Obviously Tube workers and RMT members don’t have the same rights and aren’t allowed to fight for them, they must remember that they are just supposed to a bunch of anonymous (mostly brown and black) faces who should shut up and realise they are just there for the convenience of the London bourgeiosie and not allow little things like not being able to afford to rent or buy a house get in the way of city boys and media twats getting to their pointless “jobs”.

  15. David Linden

    So if Hislop and Merton (who did not go to university by the way) are such posh elitists why did he accept to go on the show? I have seen them mocking several Conservatives over the years, its all part of the banter and if you can’t take that and reply in the same way, then your place is not on Have I Got News For You.

  16. Rook

    DJ – us “pampered arseholes” you disparagingly refer to pay the RMT members’ salaries. And yet they are not remotely accountable to us. The most recent tube strike demonstrates that Crow doesn’t live in the same reality as the rest of us. To strike about pay and redundancies during the height of the recession, when loads of people were losing their jobs, is an act of madness.

    This is really besides the point though. HIGNFY is a comedy show. Crow managed to make it awkard and wasn’t funny. FAIL.

  17. A reality check

    @ DJ

    “Hislop & co came were… under the impression that Bob runs the tube”

    No, they were under the impression that Bob is the person that STOPS the Tube from running and that’s the truth regardless of whether you think his reasons are good or not.

    “Obviously Tube workers and RMT members don’t have the same rights and aren’t allowed to fight for them”

    If you work for London Underground; job security, average wages, holiday time and pension benefits are significantly better than the national average. I’m not some “pampered arsehole” as you describe them, in your pathetic way, I am someone who has a worse deal than employees of TfL and I didn’t advocate their agressive strike action.

    “they must remember that they are just supposed to a bunch of anonymous (mostly brown and black) faces”

    You are an abhorant idiot. TfL is made of 37% employees from ethnic minorities.

    “the way of city boys and media twats getting to their pointless “jobs”.”

    If you have a job then you are making a contribution to society! Your over inflated sense of self importance will not change that. Having said that – I bet you are unemployed!

  18. I watch this programme to be entertained –and it failed -
    It achieved nothing except to bring out the usual politics of eny + class divide.
    Crow was dull and appeared to have a huge chip on his shoulder, and as for class, it might be worth having a quick look at Crows salary + decide whether he is working class or not! Best part of £100k p/a inc benefits–very socialist!

  19. Gary

    I wonder if Jimmy Carr was also the wrong guest, as there was no-one on who could advocate for Bob (and did he need it!) and at least help him dig out of his holes.

    Maybe someone more obviously left wing such as Mark Steele would have worked. Would have been especially funny if, as I suspect, they were equally dismissive and derisiory of Mr Crow’s stance…

    Just a thought. Here’s to a funnier show (not difficult) next week.

  20. wtf?

    If you go back and read this blog, you will actually be quite scared and realise how fucked up class tensions are. Here I was thinking we live in a tolerant country, where we respect people regardless of religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality AND CLASS! Apperently we still got a lot to learn on tolerance

  21. waffle247

    So Bob Crow wasn’t funny because he’s not a comedian. Hislop was funny, he’s not a comedian. Go figure. What’s even more hilarious are the comments about “gang of elitist bourgeois public-school wankers “, I sense a slight chip on the shoulder Mr “WTF”. The one who brought up peoples backgrounds and began slinging mud was Crow. Crow earns more money in a month than I get in a year ffs! He’s in the top 10% of earners in the country and wants to give Hislop a hard time just because Hislop got an education and went to university. If there was a wanker on the show it was Crow and his “I’m working class so I’m better” prejudice bullshit. His attitude showed him to be exactly what he is, an arrogant “I worked hard to get here, listen to my poor boy makes good sob story”. So what if he didn’t have the best start in life, he earns a fortune and acts like a prat. He sounds like pretty good bourgeois wanker material to me.

  22. waffle247

    ooops sorry Mr “WTF” I meant Mr “DJ” sorry.

  23. Georgie

    @greg – I think you’ve tried very hard, but haven’t quite grasped it.

    Who is left to stand up for those on low wages to ensure they get a fair share of the nation’s wealth? Labour are meant to be the party of the poor, yet have failed to close this wealth.

    The basic premise of socialism is that equal share of the wealth is based upon effort. Many people have a problem with the RMT because they expect a GREATER amount of the nation’s wealth, for LESS effort: Lazy bastards expecting the same pay as people who work their socks off.

    Nice try though, at least you tried.

    Bob Crow is a real shame for the members of the RMT. He is costing them respect and legitimacy. Have you noticed noone moans about his £125,000.00 a year salary!!

  24. Jota

    While I’d agree this show wasn’t that funny, and the Bob Crow was a bit of a fish out of water, the abuse of Crow is quite amusing.

    Crow has made the RMT one of the fastest growing unions, whilst others decline.

    Crow has backed his members over and over, rathr than protect his wider popularity.

    Crow’s members have defied the pay cuts and job losses because they, like him, are prepared to fight.

    I wish my union was led with such grit and determination.

  25. Chris

    “but I don’t think that Bob Crowe, Brendan Barber and Mick Rix are the men to take trade unions into the 21st century.”

    Brendan Barber a militant? Are you having a laugh? Do you want unions to be completely immasculated?

  26. In light of taking 2 hours to do a journey that should have only taken me 15 minutes this morning to get to work I am not looking forward to seeing this episode of HIGNFY on UK Gold!

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