Have I Got News For You: Best of the Guest Presenters Review
Have I Got News For You has been running in the UK since 1990, when its brand of up-to-date satirical humour caught the public's attention. It started fairly small and over the years has built itself into one of those shows that everyone knows about, whether they watch it religiously or not. The make-up of the series is a fairly familiar one to Radio 4 devotees, where news satire has an established tradition of entertaining audiences with programmes such as I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue. For those unlucky few who aren't familiar with the format, it operates around a host and a pair of team captains, the latter two each joined by a guest which changes from week to week. In the case of Have I Got News For You, the usual presenter was Angus Deayton (who previously starred in One Foot in the Grave) and the team captains are experienced improvisational comedy star Paul Merton and editor of Private Eye Ian Hislop. For over a decade this setup remained the same and worked remarkably well, with the three regulars playing off one another for comedic purposes. Recently, however, the programme has undergone a bit of a change; Deayton was sacked after the tabloids reported that he had taken cocaine and slept with a prostitute.
The decision by the BBC to let Deayton go was met with strong controversy; the programme is widely loved and – understandably – people didn't want anything to affect the group dynamic. Perhaps in response to this, instead of immediately replacing Deayton with a new regular host, the BBC chose to change presenters each week, allowing a number of different guest presenters to have their turn in the hot seat. It's that decision that has allowed for this 2-disc release – a compilation of some of the best moments from the 2002 and 2003 series of the show, the era of the guest presenters. (Last year a DVD compilation of best moments from the Deayton years was released, so this is essentially a bringing-up-to-date of the 'Best of' discs.)
The first good thing to report is that these 2 DVDs carry a hefty amount of footage. The first disc contains 4 entire episodes of Have I Got News For You, as well as a long montage of clips from other shows in the two series being covered. The second disc includes an extended edition of one episode (with all the bits that were edited out in the process of whittling it down to its standard broadcast airtime) as well as interviews with the team captains and some of the guest presenters themselves. It's unquestionably a good deal for a DVD release of a television show, as some of which lately have been all too disappointing in length considering the capacity of the medium.
So, the first disc. Presented in full are the episodes hosted by Boris Johnson, Bruce Forsyth, Martin Clunes and William Hague. I was actually quite taken aback that they'd included full episodes on what I had assumed would be a montage DVD, but this was a very pleasant surprise. The truth is, when considering a purchase of this DVD, I'm certain the average person wonders whether a satirical news show has any staying power when watched long after the news was topical. I'm pleased to report that it certainly did for me; I laughed a great deal at the interactions between the guests, team captains and guest presenters – and was of course fairly happy to realise that I remembered all of the news stories covered. As for the guest presenters themselves – for this is, after all, what the DVD is primarily about – Bruce Forsyth was hilarious, taking his old game show charm and applying it to a fairly risky format for him. Martin Clunes was a very competent host, proving his comedic timing as well as ability to handle the team captains' rambunctiousness with aplomb. And William Hague did fairly well considering that he isn't noted for his leadership nor his comedy. (It certainly requires a healthy ability to laugh at oneself in order to sit in between Merton and Hislop!) As for Boris Johnson... more of him later; I certainly enjoyed the show he hosted, however much a fish out of water he seemed!
Following the full shows, we are taken into a montage of other guest presenters. These included Anne Robinson, Charles Kennedy, Paul Merton, Charlotte Church and Jeremy Clarkson. The good thing about this montage was twofold: one, it wasn't over quickly; and two, they were good enough to generally show a full round of the show from each presenter, rather than simply switching from one joke to another. There's a real sense portrayed of how each guest presenter handled the role. The gags work, even well after the fact, and there's a hell of a lot of laughs to be had from this DVD regardless of whether you feel the show isn't the same without Deayton or not. Personally, I quite liked the guest presenters, even though I did miss some of the banter between regulars from the previous seasons. It's also fun see how the format of the show was tweaked to get in some very personal jokes for some of the guest presenters. Boris Johnson, for example, was given a round entitled 'Kick Blair's Butt', while Bruce Forsyth entertained the audience with 'Play Your Iraqi Cards Right'... his episode also featuring a conveyor belt round with huge flashbacks to his erstwhile show The Generation Game.
The video quality is excellent to my eyes, presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen (matching the show's aspect ratio as it is currently recorded). The colours are also vibrant without being oversaturated, simultaneously managing 'true' blacks (that aren't dark grey, in other words) and very natural skin tones. As it's not precisely the kind of series that lends itself to special effects or a graphics-intensive approach, there's nothing all that flashy to report... just a nice, sharp picture with no ghastly visual glitches. (It's a very recent TV show though, so if any major flaws had been present in the DVD it would have been a little strange.) And can I say how nice it is to watch Have I Got News For You in widescreen!
As might be expected, the soundtrack is just your usual stereo mix, as a news satire programme isn't exactly the kind of television format that benefits from Dolby Surround. It's a fairly basic TV show setup, in fact, with no desperate need for wizzy sound effects... although there is sufficient use of stereo separation and left/right directionality for the viewer to tell from which side of the room a given comment comes (not that it's that hard to recognise the distinctive voices of Paul Merton and Ian Hislop). I suppose the main thing is that all the voices are clear and distinct throughout (well, apart from some mumbling by Boris Johnson where I had to turn the volume up!). On a related note, both discs include English subtitles for the hard of hearing which cover not only the episodes themselves but also all of the extra material, a welcome addition.
As expected, the second disc contains the special features of this release. Firstly there's 'The Full Boris', an hour or so of taped material from the episode Boris Johnson presented. It's the first time I've been exposed to the editing process for this show, as we see an unexpurgated episode in its full glory and can see which bits were cut in order to produce the final aired episode as seen on the previous disc. It's a slight shame there's no commentary explaining the whole procedure, but it's certainly good to get a glimpse of this editorial process. Naturally, Boris Johnson was a highly amusing presenter who oft-appeared somewhat befuddled, allowing for a lot of good banter and some superb comedic moments (especially some of Merton's facial expressions).
There's more Boris, fear not! He also takes part in a clip from Room 101, another television show presented by Paul Merton. In this particular clip, Johnson and Merton discuss the former's appearance on Have I Got News For You and how the experience was for both of them. It's good stuff and quite entertaining, as well another interesting insight into how Have I Got News For You is put together.
After this interview with Boris Johnson, we are treated to a few more interviews in the form of interleaved segments featuring Martin Clunes, William Hague, and Bruce Forsyth. Basically each covers how he got to become a presenter on the show, what he thought of the experience, and how he personally found it. It's particularly engaging in the cases of Hague and Forsyth, neither of whom were natural replacements for Deayton. Forsyth's initial nerves at appearing on such a trendy programme was particularly interesting – as were Hague's comments about politicians appearing on humorous shows such as Have I Got News For You. Good stuff all around.
The final special feature is a fairly lengthy chat between Paul Merton and Ian Hislop where they discuss the whole reasoning behind having guest presenters in the first place and then proceed to go through each guest presenter one by one and give their thoughts on how they did, or recount anecdotes from the filming process. This is where some of the most interesting information can be found, as might be expected. It's rather more revealing than we're used to the team captains being and, frankly, it's just nice to see them sitting down for a chat about their long-running series.
Your enjoyment of this DVD release will depend on a number of key factors – whether you like topical news satire quiz shows, how strongly you feel losing Deayton affected the dynamic of Have I Got News For You, and your love of compilations. I think this release does a good job of showing what each guest presenter was like on the show, with a competent mix of full episodes and montage sequences. I am an unrepentant fan of the show and I found the insights into the production of the series depicted on the extras disc really fascinating. And yes, the material is certainly very funny, despite the obvious time lapse since the news being shown was current. Overall I think this makes a very good companion to the previous Have I Got News For You DVD release, although it is a shame that it's lacking the full-length commentaries and trivia notes provided on the other release.