It was good to see the return of a firm Friday favourite last night as Ian Hislop and Paul Merton slid back into their well-worn team captains’ chairs for a new series of Have I Got News For You.
Can there be any better way to start the weekend than luxuriating over a group of privileged, highly-paid folk giving fellow members of their rich and famous club a very public verbal flogging?
Rival satires come and go, but HIGNFY (as those who live in our increasingly hashtag-dominated world prefer to brand it these days) has outstayed the lot of them.
For 23 years, it’s proved itself to be a show which is happy to head off in any direction, however political, controversial, or unpredictable that may be.
It’s amazing to think that it had to fight for a wide audience, having begun life as a low-key spin-off from a Radio 4 show called the News Quiz.
Scriptwriters on this latest series relish the chance to sharpen their pens and poke fun at the political and showbiz world’s autumn headline-makers, knowing they have the freedom to fire off both barrels in their post-watershed slot.
It’s tough to predict exactly what you’re going to get in each episode; and that’s one of its charms.
But safe to say that, over the course of the 10-week run, Doctor Who is clearly in the crew’s sights, after Messrs Merton and Hislop were spotted filming with a Tardis-like co-star in Westminster a few weeks back.
The Tardis certainly isn’t in need of a popularity surge in the Doctor’s 50th anniversary year, but for others, an appearance on Have I Got News For You can be a stellar career boost.
Take Bruce Forsyth. Eyebrows could hardly have been raised any higher when, in 2003, he was invited to fill a guest presenting slot. Hardly a like-for-like swap for deadpan Angus Deayton . . .
Yet it proved to be the second (maybe even third) coming for the veteran who, in the pre-Strictly Come Dancing world, had plunged off our radar.
The laughably cheesy Play Your Cards Right had been cancelled, the Generation Game was a thing of the past, and there was no sign of a new TV vehicle round the corner requiring OAP Brucie’s old-style music hall talent.
So what does he do? Turn his entire episode into a current affairs-themed parody of all his old gameshows, reminding us how infectious his family-friendly appeal, and big personality, could be.
Another personal fave of mine has to be the legendary Boris Johnson.
Hilarious, bumbly, witty, and downright ridiculous, he made several appearances on the show back in the days when his political career seemed to be parked in the sidings.
There’s no doubt that his popularity as the show’s host helped to boost his London mayoral campaign. Left-field politician on a left-field show = perfect recipe.
But above all, there are two things which set Have I Got News For You apart from other panel shows like Mock The Week, 8 Out of 10 Cats, or Celebrity Juice. It’s fiercely intelligent captains complement each other like fish and chips, and – most importantly – it’s very funny.
Sorry channel Dave, but we won’t need to rely on your much appreciated re-runs for the next couple of months.