The veteran BBC show Have I Got News for You is ‘due to become BBC television’s only satirical comedy show’. This is the likely result of The Ranganation – also a panel show which dissects the week’s news – reportedly being cancelled.
Satire at the BBC has been vanishing alarmingly quickly. Only last week the corporation announced the end of Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, amid dwindling viewership. Mock the Week was cancelled last year, while The Mash Report was put to bed in 2021 (to be revived as Late Night Mash on Dave, only to suffer the double indignity of being cancelled again earlier this month).
This represents something of a crisis, even if a BBC insider told the Times that it was still committed to satire: ‘It is definitely not dead but we need to make room for the fresh, new voices and formats.’ But this entirely misses the point. The BBC doesn’t need a new format – Have I Got News for You and Mock The Week worked just fine only ten years ago. It needs a change of mentality.
Jon Thoday, whose company Avalon is behind ITV’s Spitting Imagereboot (also cancelled recently, surprise), raised fears that the corporation may be wary of the genre because of political pressures: ‘Satire is a really important thing for challenging the status quo and government in a country that should stand for free speech. The BBC, with a history going all the way back to That Was The Week That Was, should be doing it.’
Satire should indeed lampoon those who rule. Except BBC satire has for years shirked this duty. It no longer challenges the establishment – in academia, the civil service, the unelected House of Lords, the BBC itself. It’s instead been a staple of BBC satire to punch down, to mock and deride the conservative, middle-class, Brexit-inclined middle-Englander – hence that punchline which even panellists got bored of parroting: ‘It would be like a headline in the Daily Mail.’