Friday 9 November marks an historic landmark – the 10th anniversary of the very first guest host on the perennially popular Have I Got News For You, an experiment which has endured.
When Angus Deayton departed in October 2002, Paul Merton was the first to take the host's seat on short notice for just one programme. He has now occupied all three roles of team captain, guest and host. The anniversary show, the 178th with a guest host (not counting Paul), will see Damian Lewis take the hot seat for a fifth time.
The very first guest host was Anne Robinson on Friday 8 November 2002, during series 24. Since then there have been 84 different guest hosts taking the reins to date, including MasterChef's Gregg Wallace and John Torode, the only double act to share the job so far.
The current series sees Alexander Armstrong in the chair for a record-breaking 21st time, whilst new hosts include Clare Balding, Sir Roger Moore and others to be announced. Series 43 saw notable first-time host appearances from Tony Blair's controversial spin doctor Alastair Campbell, making his much anticipated hosting debut, and William Shatner who gave a particularly memorable performance - especially as he confessed he had never seen the show before landing in the hot seat.
Amongst other memorable guest hosts brave enough to face Ian Hislop and Paul Merton's off-the-cuff lightning wit have been Bruce Forsyth who ran a game called 'Play Your Iraqi Cards Right', kickstarting his career again at the BBC, didgeridoo-playing animal lover Rolf Harris who played the Stylophone, Tom Baker, formerly the Doctor, who gave a madcap, charmingly unhinged performance, matching Brian Blessed's earlier appearance in which he roared his way through a shouty, sweary, infinitely memorable episode. Boris Johnson - who hosted four times in comically chaotic fashion before putting himself out of the running when he became Mayor of London - is the only guest host to have been nominated for a BAFTA for Best Entertainment Performance, although he went on to lose to Jonathan Ross. William Hague hosted the show on three occasions and subsequently became Foreign Secretary. From the Labour government, the show has had memorable appearances from Robin Cook, Alan Johnson and John Prescott, the latter struggling terribly to pronounce the word vasectomy.
The youngest guest host has been Charlotte Church who was just 17, whilst the oldest has been a closely run thing with Bruce Forsyth narrowly beating 81-year-old hosts Nicholas Parsons and William Shatner after hosting for a second time at the ripe old age of 82.
Hosts who have memorably struggled in the chair include Neil Kinnock, who was given a very rough ride by Labour supporting comedian Linda Smith, and Gordon Ramsay who reneged on his promise to buy everyone dinner at Claridge's should he fail to read the auto-cue correctly. Ann Widdecombe was appalled by panellist Jimmy Carr and threatened to walk out, whilst Greg Dyke revealed why he runs television rather than presents it.
The prestigious HIGNFY host's chair has been taken by two knights (Sir Bruce Forsyth and Sir Trevor McDonald), two OBEs (Joan Collins and Moira Stuart), two CBEs (Rolf Harris and Ronnie Corbett), six MPs and one intergalactic space traveller. Ian Hislop is the only person to have appeared in every episode - and in front of every guest host - despite suffering from a burst appendix shortly before one 1994 edition and having to go to hospital immediately after the recording.
Ian Hislop comments: “We’ve had some classic TV moments with guest hosts. I love the new face in the seat each week. It keeps the show fresh and Paul and me on our toes. Some of the more memorable hosts have included John Prescott, who was great and Boris Johnson who was a revelation. But Sir Brucie when he did ‘Play Your Iraqi Cards Right’ – it was a low point for British television, but it was incredibly funny.”
Paul Merton adds: “I look forward to elements of the animal kingdom being invited to host the show. If I can put one warthog in the presenter’s chair then my life will be fulfilled.”
The series continues at 9pm on Friday nights until 21 December, with the extended repeats, Have I Got A Bit More News For You, screening on Monday nights at 10.35pm.
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We’ve had some classic TV moments with guest hosts. I love the new face in the seat each week. It keeps the show fresh and Paul and me on our toes."