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Have I Got News For You is a current affairs-based panel game which has been running for ten years, and remains the most popular game of its kind on British television (radio has its own version, called The News Quiz, which is older by fifteen years).
Originally hosted by the smooth, sarcastic, yet rather sophisticated charms of Angus Deayton1 the game is played by two teams - one captained by Ian Hislop, of Private Eye fame (he also worked on ITV's Spitting Image), and the other by the quick-witted Paul Merton, who is a veteran of many other panel games including BBC Radio 4's Just A Minute and Channel 4 TV's Whose Line is it Anyway2. The two captains are each accompanied by a guest, at least one of whom is usually a politician or political columnist. Some come back again and again, like Richard Wilson, Boris Johnson (a Conservative MP who also edits a magazine3) and Tracey Emin (the artist who was nominated for the Turner prize for the sculpture My Bed). The two teams then have to play a series of different rounds to earn points, the team emerging with the most points4 naturally being declared the winner. These are the usual rounds:
The two teams are played a clip with no sound, and they have to guess what recent news story the clip represents.
The Odd One Out Round
The two teams are each given four people or things, and they have to work out which is the odd one out. One example of this was when a team was given four guide dogs, and three had only attacked their owners, and the fourth was the odd one out because it had killed its owner.
Missing Words Round
'Containing some, more or fewer from our guest publication this evening...' are the words that start this round. The guest publications usually have titles like Egg Cup World, Freemasons Monthly, Total Carp or Cross Stitch Crazy. The teams are given various headlines (the majority from national newspapers) with part of them blanked out, and the teams have to fill in the blanks. This is a source of great amusement to the panellists, who usually try to put in silly answers. So a headline like 'Invincible Ant Defeats ________' would provoke suggestions such as 'Spiderman!' 'Invincible Dec!' and so on.
The Caption Competition
The teams are given a photograph and have to come up with a caption. An example of this would be a picture of a man with a violently ginger beard, and Paul Merton quips 'No, I asked for a ginger beer!'.
The teams often get distracted, and do not always finish the game, because they have got so wrapped up in something else. For instance, one episode was dominated by Paul Merton's debate with Ian Hislop over Ian's nationality. Ian claimed not to be Welsh, despite the fact that his parents are Welsh, and - as he admitted under further questioning from Paul - he was born in Wales. Ian propounded the theory that there were other factors that determined a person's nationality, to which Paul replied:
There have also been many memorable occasions and standing jokes. One of the most recent came from when Iain Duncan Smith became leader of the Conservative Party, and the contestants began to grumble about double-barrelled names. The result of this was that Paul began to call him 'Iain and Duncan Smith', and claim that they were identical twins. This utterly baffled poor Boris Johnson, who once asked, 'I don't understand, what's all this about him being two people?' Later on in the same show, Boris was tested about how much he knew about Iain 'and' Duncan Smith, and the first question he was asked was 'What is Iain Duncan Smith's real name?' Of course, he didn't know, and when it turned out his real name was George, Paul Merton cried out 'There's three of them?!'.
Another show became famous when Roy Hattersley agreed to appear, but had to cancel at the last minute. Consequently Paul Merton was joined by a tub of lard and, apparently, still managed to win.
Have I Got News For You is still one of the most loved quizzes on the television, despite the fact its viewers are also open to criticism from the participants. As Angus once quipped: 'And to all the viewers watching us at home, Matron will be bringing you your medication shortly'.
These memories of Angus Deayton's wit are even more special now, as he was sacked after his involvement in a personally embarrassing scandal was exposed by a tabloid newspaper. Poor Angus was mercilessly grilled on the subject by the team captains the following Friday, in what has to have been one of the stickiest episodes in the show's history. When more bad press surfaced a short time later, the BBC sacked him.
This decision created a great deal of controversy. The programme's fans were outraged, and endless letters were written to many diverse publications including the Radio Times and the majority of the national press. The show has juggled guest presenters6 ever since, with the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Anne Robinson, Boris Johnson and Martin Clunes in Angus' shoes. However, the programme has not been the same, sparkly, blissful half-hour of madness since he left. He is still sorely missed, and will be for a long time.