Archives for posts with tag: Ian Hislop

If I was to make a list of my favourite people, I would have to place Ian Hislop near the top. I think Private Eye should be read by everyone, especially around election time, to help them make educated decisions as to how genuine the parties and individual MP’s are being. Beneath his satire on Have I Got News For You, he also offers some searing insights.

Hislop is also a great documentary maker. In the past he has covered the Welfare state, railways and philanthropy. His most recent one is Who Do We Let In? Britain’s First Immigration Row. It positions our current obsession with immigration within the context of Britain’s move from open doors in the mid-Victorian era to the first pieces of peacetime immigration legislation in the early 20th century.

Along the way there were some interesting stories. How Britain was so open doored, it even harboured terrorists to prove its liberalism (the fact said terrorist was French perhaps helped). How Winston Churchill was so incensed by the anti-immigration rhetoric of his colleagues in the 1900’s, we switched from the Conservatives to the Liberals. How Britain became the proud home so thousands of Belgians fleeing the German army during the First World War.

The most interesting moment though was Hislop’s interview with Katie Hopkins about the media’s role in fuelling immigration fear. Hopkins seemed to take pride in her role, claiming that two things sell papers – Maddie McCann and immigration. She also pushed back strongly on the idea that she was pedalling hate, claiming to be merely defending a country she loved, which is strange, considering most of her journalism involves talking the country down in a way that if it was done by a Leftie, would be seen as unpatriotic. Most chillingly though, she laid the blame for her and other right-wing commentators at the feet of Hislop, positing him and the ‘liberal elite’ as Frankenstein, she as their monster.

One of the things that came out repeatedly in the documentary was that history is often a cycle. In this case, a surge of immigration creates fears of crime, cultural clashes and threats to employment. Then those immigrants assimilate, aping their hosts’ habits, before the next generation sees a new set of immigrants, and the fears rise up again.

Hislop did leave us with a lesson, albeit a slightly theoretical one. Although open door immigration wouldn’t work (although other than going against popular opinion he doesn’t say why), open mind would. In other words, be cautious but compassionate. Welcome those who can and will contribute regardless of their background and reach out to those who are without support. Keep out those who are obviously dangerous and try to ensure individual communities don’t get overwhelmed. Most importantly, stick to the facts and don’t get wrapped up in rhetoric. Britain’s history will always make it an asylum of nations. That doesn’t mean it isn’t one that doesn’t function.


A bit of a change of format for this post in that rather than me ranting or extolling a show, I am instead more interested in whether or not Have I Got News For You should move on to a permanent host and who that should be. Following Rhod Gilbert’s successful commandeering of Never Mind The Buzzcocks it seems a legitimate conversation to have, especially as HIGNFY seems to be relying on an ever smaller pool of reliable guest hosts.

So first things first, yes I do think HIGNFY should have a permanent host. Beyond the argument I have made out above about there being just a handful of people who genuinely do a good job at it, there is also the fact that shows like this to me always benefit from a consistent style. Yes, it was a bizarre joy to watch Ann Widdicombe suck the joy out of a room, and the odd novelty host like Tom Baker created a fun edge to it, but there seems so few surprises left to throw up that it makes sense to drop the guest host and allow someone to bed in. So let’s look at some candidates.

First, there’s Alexander Armstrong. An obvious choice as the most frequent guest host, he delivers the set pieces well and handles the more spontaneous moments well. However, I do feel he struggles with the more fractious guests (e.g John Prescott), and his daytime TV hosting has dulled the edge of his wit. Still, reliability is never to be under-rated.

A slightly more controversial choice would be Jeremy Clarkson. Yes, the man is a total arse and more divisive than marmite, but he can hold his own and would relish the more difficult moments the show naturally throws up. His biggest barrier is not actually his recent behaviour, for which I actually think in this era of insincere apologies he is genuinely sorry for, but his connections to the Chipping Norton set, which may make landing punches on (err… I mean, making jokes about) Tories and the Murdoch press rather tricky.

Jo Brand could well be a popular choice. She has the barbed edge of humour required to lift the programme, but also knows where the lines are enough to stop it getting mired in unnecessary controversy. She is also one of the few hosts who handle both scripted and unscripted moments. Also, without wanting to sound like Milli Tant, she would break up the blokey-ness. Brand is also one of the more respected hosts by Merton and Hislop. The problem? Well I can’t see an obvious one, although some might consider her connections to Labour to well-known.

The final contender I wish to present is Victoria Coren Mitchell. Like Brand, she handles the script well, whilst also having quick enough wits to brilliantly ad-lib. Her most recent appearance saw her handle Prescott, always belligerent whenever challenged, beautifully. Mitchell exposed the folly of his arguments whilst keeping the tone light. Again, she seems respected by Hislop and Merton, and unlike some of the other potential hosts doesn’t have obvious political ties. She is my personal choice. One problem – her schedule is perhaps the busiest of the four people I have discussed, so there is a question of whether she can commit to the role.

So, what do you think? Is there an obvious contender I have missed? Or does one of the four above tick your box? Let me know!

There are some genres of television that I watch with trepidation, for instance adaptations of novels I loved, or those highly praised US imports like Damages or Homeland, neither of which I have watched yet for fear of it all going over my tiny little head and sounding like a numpty when discussing it with fans of the shows.

The genre I most fear to watch is TV history. Which is odd, as history is a great love of mine. A well-written article about any era or topic grabs my attention, and if forced to make a list of 10 favourite books at least 3 would be history, most notably Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians. So why do I dodge televised history programmes like the plague?

The reason is consistency. I have missed many a no-doubt-amazing series fronted by Mary Beard or Lucy Worsley after a few traumatic experiences at the hands of other programmes. Because for every series that is impeccably researched and beautifully presented, there seems to be about a dozen dodgy relatives clogging up the schedules. The biggest cardinal sin is the need for mainstream history to be presented by people who aren’t historians, but rather by minor celebs who have a passing interest in a subject and then front a documentary, or a segment on a magazine-type show, about it. Sophie Dahl’s exploration of the life of Mrs. Beeton last year was one example of this. We were distracted from a fascinating biography of one of the most important women in history by Dahl’s insistence on throwing a Victorian dinner party for all her friends. Yet that is a piece of academic virtue compared to shows like Britain’s Hidden Heritage or National Treasures: Live, which seemed to have as its sole aim to make everyone at home go “Oooh, isn’t Britain lovely?” whilst Larry Lamb or Paul Lay dragged us round something-or-other.

So should TV history be left to academics? Well, actually, no. Sometimes, if exactly the right person is picked, you can give a non-academic a challenging brief. Ian Hislop bridges the gap between the two worlds perfectly. This is because, and I think this key to anything to do with history, he has a genuine passion for it. Stiff Upper Lip, exploring how Britain became stoic and unmovable, and if we are beginning to reverse that trend post-Diana, is a wonderful account, with an engaging main narrative and little side-stories. It’s hard to pick one fact of choice, such is the feast we are offered. Maybe that Mary Wollstonecraft’s wish for women to be seen as rational as men was undone by a series of, shall we say, misadventures with men and suicide attempts. That Wellington’s icy nature held Victorian imagination’s more than Nelson’s passion, to the extent where the latter’s dying words had to be changed to prevent him sounding too fey. Or maybe that the fashion for ‘sensibility’ was kicked into touch after a few revolutionaries went a bit mad in France.

There are some quibbles I have. Hislop opened with one of my pet hates, which is vox-poxing the public on the topic. We also had a scene where for some reason he was surrounded by silent schoolchildren, that looked like a boarding school equivalent of Children of the Corn. But these are minor issues in what is otherwise a brilliant programme. I await parts 2 and 3 with expectation, but, rather appropriately considering the topic, a quiet, resolute one.