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Hislop takes a swipe at the EU on BBC TV – and it will be on again tonight

Last night, on Have I Got News For You, a British TV comedy quiz show held in high regard, one of the regulars, Ian Hislop, who also edits Private Eye (but who presumably pays rather less attention to the Private Eye home page), launched a spectacular attack on the European Union and on the idea of Britain being any part of it. The gist of it was that Europe was being dealt a new constitution by a man (Giscard d’Estaing) who would be in prison if he were British. “It’s as if Jeffrey Archer was in charge of Europe.”

Left wing comedian Mark Steel tried to take the sting out of the attack by implying that Hislop was attacking all French people. (“And how about those bloody Italians, crooks all of them, …” etc.) He played the xenophobia card, in other words. But Hislop wasn’t attacking all French people and saying they were all crooks, just Giscard, and, in general, the kind of people who become French Presidents. He steam-rollered right over Steel, not least because this is Hislop’s home turf and both he and Steel knew it.

I can’t remember much of the wording of the attack, and I don’t have it on tape. But in any case, it was the ferocity and the protracted nature of it that was astonishing, rather than the details. Everyone else looked rather embarrassed. Ian, easy boy, you can’t say this kind of thing on TV, BBCTV, BBC comedy TV, said their faces (but not their mouths). But he just raged on regardless.

To Americans who may doubt the significance of all this, Hislop is a much loved figure in Britain. For years now, he and Paul Merton have been swapping gags and banter on HIGNFY, and whenever Hislop has been on the receiving end, he has taken it like a good sport. As editor of Private Eye, Hislop has been involved in savaging many dishonest and unpopular public figures – Jeffrey Archer being only one of many, and unlike politicians, he is considered honest. Whether this is true is beside the point I’m making; the point is, he’s a considerable British personality. So when he lays into the EU as a racket run by racketeers in a manner fit to bust, that has got to count for something, public-opinion-wise.

You had the feeling that Hislop has been waiting for the right moment to throw all his chips onto the table and make his anti-EU pitch, and if that’s right then it is very interesting that he reckons now to be the moment.

One other thing. I say that I don’t have this on tape. By this evening, assuming all goes well, I will have it on tape, because the show is being repeated tonight on BBC2 TV tonight, at 10.05 pm.

21 comments to Hislop takes a swipe at the EU on BBC TV – and it will be on again tonight

  • There certainly is something about the sorts of people who become president of France, yes.

  • dave fordwych

    Yes, what was most interesting was the reaction of the others in the studio.If Hislop had attacked the Tories or the US or Eurosceptics they would all have joined in with varying degrees of relish. The atmosphere in the studio could hardly have been more shocked if Hislop had endorsed paedophilia.
    It may come to be seen as a defining moment.Let’s hope so.

  • Liberty Belle

    What was the reaction of the audience? Did anyone applaud? Was there a deathly silence? Details, please!

  • Brian, Hislop wiping the floor with Steel…well, it was like porn for me. I think I’m going to transcribe the exchange after the repeat.

  • It was one of the most brilliant 60 seconds of television I’ve seen in ages. The audience seemed rather awed and did applaud, if I recall correctly. That Mark Steel guy came across like a total Marxoid asshat – which in essence is what he is – trying to laugh it off but faltering when he realised Hislop was being deadly serious.

  • Tony

    Is there a transcript anywhere?

    I read this post last night and turned over at about 10:15pm – missed it 🙁 Saw Mark Steel looking gutted. heh.

  • Johnathan

    I have been in two minds about Hislop. On the one hand, he always struck me as the sort of leftist, Cambridge educated smart-ass who take a swipe at everything. On the other hand, my opinion of him went up 100 pct when I saw him conduct a highly intelligent and amusing travel documentary in India.

    Actually, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Hislop decided to bash the EU. As editor of Private Eye, surely that nest of corruption is the ideal target for the editor of a satirical mag.

    As for Mark Steel, he is a raving Marxist who believes in the usual transnational progressive blather. I missed the show. Brian, do me a favour – can I see it on one of your LA Friday evenings?

  • G Cooper

    I admit that when I read Brian Mickelthwait’s piece on Hislop’s comments, I thought he was possibly exaggerating. Understandably, and out of sheer relief, because of the scarcity of anyone on the BBC daring to adopt an anti-EU position. But he wasn’t. In fact his retelling of the tale was very accurate.

    The loathsome polemicist Mark Steel was so badly wrong-footed that I’ll be surprised if he and Hislop were speaking after the programme finished – and Hislop’s magisterial put-down of him at the end of the programme, when Steel accused him of Xenophobia, should leave the hapless ‘comedian’ with one of those little pin-prick moments of acute embarrassment that you fret about when you wake-up at 4 am.

    Ms. Belle asks what the audience’s reaction was. I found that very telling. They didn’t really laugh and, in fact, didn’t really react much at all. Hislop wasn’t messing about here. There was real venom in what he said and it verged on uncomfortable viewing – he wasn’t playing it for laughs and he didn’t get many.

    Like an earlier contributor I, too, was surprised by this. In my opinion Private Eye has gone so far down hill since Hislop took over from the sainted Richard Ingrams that it’s a wonder it still exists. I simply hadn’t expected to see so much backbone in someone I’d dismissed as an invertebrate, a long while ago.

  • Liberty Belle

    G Cooper, What was the magesterial put-down Hislop offered at the end of the programme? Have some mercy on those of us who can’t get British TV!

    Re Hislop’s vertebrae – Actually, I remember a case, where Hislop had been travelling on a tube at night and there was a gang of louts tormenting an old black lady and Hislop looked around to see whether there were any signs of the other men catching one another’s eye with an eye to ganging up to stop them (he was going to join in), but they all pretended to be reading and unaware of what was happening. So he fumed for a few minutes, then got up by himself and went over and berated the louts and held his own for a couple of minutes, but they started pushing him around and he had to go and sit down again, ignominiously, without having saved the old lady, and everyone else pretended they hadn’t noticed anything. But the louts got off at the next stop. He wrote a piece about it in, I think The Sunday Times, and there was genuine fury spitting out of it. I don’t think he’s spineless at all.

    But I do think Private Eye cratered after Richard Ingrams left.

  • A friend of mine (now deceased, so I can’t ask him where he got the information) told me that Hislop is quite a devout Christian. That I do find surprising.

    I’m cobbling together a rough transcript from my notes (couldn’t tape it), will post when complete.

  • G Cooper

    Ms. Belle – sadly I have now wiped the tape and didn’t watch it till 2am Sunday morning, anwyay – by which point I was so tired that I have far from perfect recall.

    From what I can remember, Steel tried to put words into Hislop’s mouth, no doubt attempting to portray him as a recationary xenophobe. Hislop, very firmly, rounded on him (he was his ‘team member’ too, which added to the luxury of the moment) and pointed out exactly what he hadn’t said.

    Steele, smouldered though, personally, I’d have preferred a little spontaneous human combustion.

    Perhaps someone with a transcript can help us out?

  • Liberty Belle

    G Cooper – “the luxury of the moment” … what a perfect turn of phrase. I want my “luxury of the moment”! I want my schadenfreude!

    Jackie D – However roughly cobbled … please post for all of us who aren’t in Britain but who are depending on you … Watching an ‘alternative’ (meaning, ‘alternative to funny’) comedian slashed by Ian Hislop in the cause of saving Britain’s sovereignty would be just so cool! If Ian Hislop is reading, he knows where his duty lies…

  • Okay, sorry for the length (and anyone who taped it can clear up any missing/inaccurate bits — I was working from hastily scribbled notes, here):

    HISLOP: This is about us becoming the United States of Europe…to be led by Giscard d’Estaing, who in this country would be in jail…It’s as if Jeffrey Archer was in charge of Europe. He’s one of those charming French leaders they come out with, oh, every time. The idea of him presiding over the Constitution of Europe is absolutely ludicrous.
    Sorry, I am sounding quite like the Daily Mail, but just occasionally, they’re right…

    …This is about whether or not to have a referendum over Europe, and Tony Blair doesn’t want us to have one, for a very good reason — he’d lose. So we can have a referendum about anything else — over local council elections, whether to have a monkey in Hartlepool, anything — but over Europe…nah, not important.

    [STEEL intimates that HISLOP was attacking all Europeans out of some xenophobic madness — “And how about those bloody Italians, crooks — all of them!”]

    HISLOP: Well, if you mean [all the politicians] who were forced to resign [and were indicted] because of their corruption, yes, that’s rather a good point, actually.

    [STEEL continues on, shouting “Fucking Italians! Fucking crooks!”]

    HISLOP: Oh, look at the left wing comic, shouting “fuck” to try and get a laugh — tiresome and irrelevant.

    [Banter not worth noting]

    HISLOP: You do realise that under Article 14 of this [Constitution], we’d all have to pledge loyalty to the European Commission? So on the basis of the last five minutes, I’d be locked up in Greece on a charge of spying.


    MERTON: Don’t applaud now!

    After the quiz results (HISLOP and STEEL are the winning team), MERTON and his teammate PHIL HAMMOND comment on how nice it is that HISLOP and STEEL have made up, saying things were a bit tense there for a bit.

    HISLOP [gesturing to STEEL]: The vintage old left used to be anti-Europe, too — he’ll come round.

    STEEL: What vintage old left?

    HISLOP: Tony Benn [and his lot].

    STEEL: Tony Benn never said [in passable Benn impersonation], “Bloody baguettes! Bloody disgrace!”

    HISLOP: Funnily enough, I didn’t say that either — you just made it up. It’s one thing to come on here and say “Journalists make it up,” but that’s the most deviously twisted argument I’ve heard in…oh, the last five minutes. I’ve had more baguettes than you’ve pretended to have hot pot dinners, mate.

  • G Cooper

    Jackie D:

    Now that was impressive! Thank you.

  • Tony

    Thanks for that Jackie – made my Monday morning (now, just need to get up …)

  • Liberty Belle

    Jackie D – Thanks so much for that! All of us who don’t have access to the show are in your debt. Thank you. That was a great and cheering effort.

  • Sad fact is, I got as much out of it as anyone. I was hoping the exchange might make one of the papers, but all I can see is a feature in the Sun about what a crook Giscard d’Estaing is. Shame they had to ruin the effect by labelling him a “love cheat,” too.

  • Liberty Belle

    Giscard’s a French politician; why state the obvious? Although, I have a sneaky liking for “love cheat” but it should have been the more conventional tabloidese “love rat” or better yet, “love weasel”.

  • Alan

    Over the past couple of years, the show has become rather predictable; ridicule / laugh at the royal family, the conservatives, George Bush and America. This weekend’s show was priceless for Ian Hislops comments. He used the same sarcastic tone that he employs against the usual targets for his rant at the EU. The audience didn’t know whether to laugh, applaud, whatever. Paul Merton (who I think has been below par in recent shows) looked very uncomfortable.

    I just wonder if there were any other comments that were edited out by the producers.

    I bet this is one clip that doesn’t make it to the “Best of HIGNFY” video from the BBC. (Well we can hope)!

  • Liberty Belle

    Ian Hislop’s email address is:

  • G Cooper

    Alan writes:

    “Over the past couple of years, the show has become rather predictable; ridicule / laugh at the royal family, the conservatives, George Bush and America..”

    Which is what makes Ian Hislop’s comments so refreshing, because that trend is just what, in my opinion, has greatly diminished Private Eye.

    I don’t mind my side being lampooned, but I grow weary when that is all there is – which is what makes The News Quiz, The Now Show and their like such predictable listening. Sadly, Private Eye seemed to have fallen into that trap too, so I’d more or less assumed this was Hislop’s worldview. This was reinforced by the way it was so clearly being used as a platform by trades unionists and sundry pressure group agitators (transport collectivists, eco-misanthropes and the like).

    Just as an aside, am I alone in concluding that, though he is clearly a wretched human being, Angus Deayton is irreplacable as the programme’s presenter?