The satirical news panel show Have I Got News For You has been cancelled by the BBC.
If you greeted that piece of information with hysteria, disappointment or perhaps a dribble of urine running down your corduroy chaffed thigh, then there is no need to worry. The BBC have not cancelled HIGNFY, nor would they have plans to. Nonetheless, the Death of Have I Got News For You is upon us, whether you like it or not, sitting there with your fetid Aussie wine and M&S nibbles, in your dressing gown. Granted, it’s not a quick, painful and obvious death. But its been suffering for a while now, courtesy of a bout of flu, but no matter the current crop of in-vogue germs strutting their stuff about global aerospace, HIGNFY’s problems have been endemic.
In truth, it all began with the dismissal of Deaton. Now, the dismissal of Deaton was done for the right reasons et cetera et cetera, no need to get into that, but HIGNFY has since become a bit of a circus. Of course there’s an irrepressible joy at seeing Brian Blessed rolling out the vowels like the gravy train’s delayed at Yeovil Junction and there’s been many other enjoyable guest hosts, but the novelty factor devalues the content. Ian Hislop remains a difficult man to like, a caricature of the old guard, public schoolboy whose idea of mischief is to recite newspaper stories with a false sense of righteousness, until he trails off somewhere half way through, lost under his own new found modesty.
Paul Merton remains Paul Merton, playing a maverick from a bygone Vaudevillian age, which is all nice and fun, but he isn’t a satirist, and his wandering streams of consciousness and lightning retorts only further detract from the content of the show. One wonders whether the BBC, in an age of ever increasing scrutiny, has shifted its quota for satirical content silently to Mock the Week, that brilliant, low rent, ghastlier stand-up vehicle of a show, and left HIGNFY hanging on the laurels of cheeky banter and desensitised caption competitions; I mean really, is mocking the way Gordon Brown’s foggy eyes drift listlessly like a zombie across the picture satire? Is that what it boils down to?
HIGNFY needs to galvanise. After 12 years (is it twelve years?) of mocking Labour for inadequacy, the Tories for the size of their inheritance and the Lib Dems for trying too hard, this is all getting a bit much. It’s become too reverent, and reverent satire must not exist, it can’t exist, and HIGNFY runs the risk of simply sending up the whole charade of government as some kind of invite only, nice-but-dim socialite club with its homegrown brand of expensive yet innocuous corruption, rather than cut to any kind of politicised discourse. They need to reinstate a regular host. Alexander Armstrong was touted. He’ll do. He’s smug enough. And let’s be happy that when the Tories swing the election and deprive our fair, small and invariably miserable country of art funding and empowerment and pride, our consolation prize will be years of memorable comedy, art and culture. And this, of course, will lead to the immediate resuscitation of HIGNFY as a spotlight of the primetime BBC schedule. That is if it isn’t already dead.