In a new interview, the hosts of the BBC One panel show say that the lack of female guests is down to women not wanting to appear.
The long-running BBC One panel show Have I Got News For You is known for its sharp, satirical take on politics and current affairs. It also has a reputation for having, like many panel shows, a seriously skewed gender make-up. While a handful of women have appeared on the show several times, the faces on the panels are overwhelmingly white, male and (usually) middle-aged. Out of 11 politicians to present the show in 28 years, just one – Anne Widdecombe – was a woman.
However, according to the show’s team captains, the lack of women on HIGNFY can be attributed to the fact that fewer women want to take part.
In a new interview with Radio Times, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton said that the show’s producers always try to recruit more women, but are usually turned down.
“The producers always ask more women than men,” said Merton. “Right from the early days, that’s been the case.”
Hislop added: “Everyone you think should have been asked has been. Really, they really have.
“There was a period where people said, ‘Why haven’t you had [Dawn] French and [Jennifer] Saunders on? Why haven’t you had the following people?’ And you say, ‘Well, it’s not compulsory.’”
He continued: “On the whole, women are slightly more reticent and think, maybe modestly: ‘I can’t do that.’ Maybe more men in public life say: ‘Yes I can do that.’”
Comedian Jo Brand, writer and presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell and BBC Radio 4 host Kirsty Wark have been guests on HIGNFY more than any other women. In November, Brand was widely praised for shutting down Hislop’s comments about the Westminster sexual harassment scandal. In the process, she demonstrated exactly why diverse viewpoints are important on panel shows.
Hislop had described allegations of sexual misconduct in Westminster as “not high-level crime”, prompting Brand – who was acting as guest host for the episode – to cut in.
“If I can just say – as the only representative of the female gender here today – I know it’s not high-level, but it doesn’t have to be high-level for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons,” she said.
“Actually, women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down.”
Hislop swiftly backpedaled on his remarks. “As you point out, with four blokes sitting around you we’re hardly in a position to say, ‘That’s rubbish’,” he said.
Brand had previously shared her thoughts on why women tended to be more reluctant to appear on panel shows. Writing for The Guardian, the comedian highlighted several reasons, including “they won’t get a word in edgeways”, “they may be edited to look stupid” and “they may be patronised, marginalised or dismissed”.
She added: “Many women find their first appearance on a comedy panel show to be their last. Second chances seem to be given less often to the female of the species.”
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