Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Have I Got News For You (with link)

Friday, 26 October 2012

UPDATE: The episode is on BBC iPlayer here, and the extended version will be shown on Monday at 10.35pm.

  So, last night I recorded another Have I Got News For You - quite an odd evening it was, too. Conrad Black (the disgraced ex-owner of the Daily Telegraph) was the other guest, which worried me quite a bit because he’s been pretty scary and gruff on the news programmes he’s done recently. Do google his appearances with Adam Boulton and Jeremy Paxman, if you didn’t see them, and you’ll understand my concern…

  It’s also a pretty serious news environment at the moment, which seemed potentially dangerous with such a serious guest in the other spare seat. I wondered whether the producers, having netted the controversial Lord Black, might be rather sorry that they’d already booked me and wishing they had a comedian instead. Certainly, I felt the pressure to try and be a bit funny, which wasn’t very relaxing with the papers so dominated by the continuing story of Savile, Newsnight and the BBC.

  For those who have seen the Paxman and Boulton interviews, Black’s approach to Have I Got News was unexpected. I won’t say more, as you might want to watch the programme and find out, but I think we were all a bit surprised by his manner. It was clever, I can certainly say that.

  I had an exchange with Ian (on the subject of the Savile story) that I’m nervous about, because it’s a nuanced point, and (especially after the online row about my Sherlock Holmes column) I know how easy it is for nuanced points to be misunderstood and make people angry. I was very grateful that the studio audience was clearly smart, and listened quietly without jumping to the wrong conclusions, but I’m sure that some people will (accidentally or deliberately) think I’m somehow defending Jimmy Savile and give me a hard time for that. I can certainly say: that is most definitely not what I’m doing.

  So, I’m nervous because of the sensitivity and danger of the subject, and the stick one can get when misunderstood, but proud to have said it anyway because it’s what I think and I haven’t heard anyone else express it.

  At any rate, that was a very serious debate with Ian, and that’s one of the reasons why it was an odd evening - although HIGNFY is one of those special comedy shows which can take serious debate. The mood in the studio was tense, because of Conrad Black and because of the current news agenda, but as a viewer, I think I’d like it. A bit of tension and a spiky mixture of comic and serious can make really interesting viewing, and I very much hope that’s what this will be. And thank heavens for Ian and Paul, whom I’ve always found very kind and welcoming; Paul’s brilliant jokes and Ian’s combination of huge knowledge and strong moral line were godsends in this strange terrain, as was the blessed charm of Alexander Armstrong in the host’s chair. Although Ian and I disagreed, I respect his viewpoint completely, not least because he’s one of the most truly decent men you’ll ever see on television. Having said that, if they invite me on the show again next series, and I find myself in a light & jolly news week with a friendly comedian in the other guest chair, I can’t say I’ll be sorry.

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Val at 6:18 am on October 26th, 2012

I’m intrigued now. I must record this, though we’re out at the theatre.
Looking forward to it already.

Jonathan Pratt at 8:55 am on October 26th, 2012

Victoria, I was in the audience last night and thought that you put your opinion across very well.  Not the easiest of panels to be on in a week of difficult news stories!!

Smylers at 9:13 am on October 26th, 2012

Was Conrad Black also effectively your first employer, as owner of ‘The Daily Telegraph’ when you wrote your teenage column?

The Tim at 11:32 am on October 26th, 2012

…You mean like two weeks ago with Clare Balding when Ian and Paul suddenly showed their serious side when talking about the Savile allegations. I found that quite touching…Look forward to seeing it tonight.

Pauline at 3:25 pm on October 26th, 2012

I can’t wait now. I love having my brain shaken by smart people. I’m French, and here we have a hard time mixing funny and controversial ideas these days. You should never complain about having too many news panel show games, because in France we don’t have any ... and it’s boring.
PS: I’ve just finished your book. I know nothing about poker, but I found it so touching and funny, it was great.

Katie B at 8:48 pm on October 26th, 2012

I think you’re always great on the show - it’s fab to see a confident, humourous female, holding her own (so as to speak) in the company of those men!

Trish at 8:51 pm on October 26th, 2012

SERIOUSLY OFFENDED and unimpressed by your thoughtless comment defending the BBC tonight, as though it were somehow immune from blame because it’s ‘not a person but an institution’. In fact SO offended that it’s the first time I EVER comment on anything online!!! Your excuse of feeling “nervous…but proud because that’s exactly why it was a difficult line to take…and I haven’t heard anyone else express it” shows your complete lack of research and understanding!!! - 45.10mins into this Exposure documentary and Esther Rantzen, Savile’s old friend and director of child line says the SAME THING as you did before she REALISES, once she has actually LISTENED to the victims, how WRONG she was!! (not finished yet)

Trish at 9:01 pm on October 26th, 2012

Your comment makes me understand why these women - I mean girls - were so afraid to come out with their statements for so long. I mean, FUCK, so-called modern, young, intelligent (- or certainly blessed with an expensive education, judging by the way you sound!!) women such as yourself defend the very (VERY) accountable PEOPLE on the other side even now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IMAGINE WHAT THE CLIMATE WAS LIKE IN THE 60s and how little they would have believed teenage girls and what they said against a BBC star…not so hard to imagine after seeing your comment on TV.
p.s. I didn’t have a clue who you were until tonight, or who Savile was until a couple of weeks ago, but I suppose the beauty of the internet is I feel you’re not immune from hearing criticism!

Eleanor Collins at 9:05 pm on October 26th, 2012

I understood your point on pulling Jimmy Savile,Newsnight, but we need to know why it was pulled.  I found myself saying, as I was getting ready this evening, “now then, now then, now then…” and realized I was paraphrasing a sex-offender…that man was part of the national consciousness for nearly 50 years and this was funded by TV licence payers.  Vulnerable children and teenagers were exploited by the power of celebrity; created by the BBC.  Do you think that he would have got away with his actions, or even had such access to victims if he had worked in a factory? 
Amazing news about you and David- saw him all loved up last week on Wossy, but didn’t realise it was you.  Would choose both of you for dinner guests. Wishing you both everything you wish yourselves.

Margo at 9:14 pm on October 26th, 2012

Trish, I think you’re slightly missing Victoria’s point. She wasn’t saying she could see why the BBC wouldn’t broadcast the allegations because he was a celebrity, but because he had just died. I think she’s right the BBC would have been in the wrong either way. I was at the recording, in the longer discussion Victoria was saying she wishes they had been able to broadcast the programme while he was still alive and able (forced) to answer for himself.

Victoria Coren at 9:21 pm on October 26th, 2012

Hi Eleanor. I think you’re absolutely right, it all comes down to the reason. If they pulled it to cover up something at the BBC itself, that’s very sinister. But if (as I assume and hope) it was because they thought it would be wrong to publish such vile allegations about someone who had just died if they could not publish when he was alive - to destroy his name when he was neither there to answer charges nor when time had passed and he was colder in the grave - that’s very different and (to me, anyway) understandable.

  Ultimately I suppose I’m shocked that it’s the BBC which is in the firing line every day over this, when hospitals were giving the man keys. Direct private access to psychiatric patients and ill children? That seems to me so much more terrifyingly wrong, whether someone’s a paedophile or not, than being a bit delicate about broadcasting a programme. 

  I wish that all the anger and energy currently being directed at the BBC was being directed into questions about children that are vulnerable now, today, in institutionalized care, who can still be protected (and offenders who can still be stopped and punished).

Trish at 9:30 pm on October 26th, 2012

Margo - please read my comments again so you may fully absorb and understand them. As this woman’s friend, no doubt, you find it easier to see her point of view than that of the 300 women’s who were abused. However, as the educated person I’m sure you are, you will no doubt understand that death does not make an angel out of a man. Why in fact, I’m sure quite a few dead people are spoken of with disdain every day! I’m sure nobody spoke of Hitler with any love in your history classes…did you feel sad about that? Yeah, weak comparison no doubt, but hey, it’s in response to a weak argument.

Donald at 9:36 pm on October 26th, 2012

I originally set out to use this space to frame an argument around your Savile point but it has thrown up such a welter of questions that I would require much more time and space than you allow. On that basis alone I thank you for making me think more challengingly about this story than at any point since it first broke. I think Mr Hislop won the argument, but it seems from Margo’s comment that the edit treated your part of it unfairly. I’ll watch the repeat with interest.

Margo at 9:38 pm on October 26th, 2012

Trish - I’m not her friend, I mean I was in the studio audience for the recording.

The Tim at 10:04 pm on October 26th, 2012

Yes, Vicky, I agree with you totally (for once) that they were right to pull the Panorama program last year. Ian missed the point of what you were saying – what the BBC should have done previously was a separate issue to whether they should have broadcast it at that time.
I really liked the stare followed by the smile after AA’s sexist remark (probably true ‘though).
Trish, you’re taking Victoria’s argument to its extreme in order to refute it – it’s called the slippery slope fallacy whose exponents invariably end up mentioning Adolf Hitler as a last resort.

David H at 10:45 pm on October 26th, 2012

Loved the offer of £100 to see George Osbournes O level maths paper.

On this weeks Only Connect you mentioned problems with squirrels attacking bird feeders. The answer I found is to get a dedicated squirrel feeder from a garden centre, Squirrels will find this easier and use it which means thay leave the trickier bird feeder alone. Everyones a winner!

Nathan Wilson at 5:49 pm on October 27th, 2012

I’ve watched the episode in question and only the most deluded and/or biased viewer could misconstrue your remarks.
Overall a very interesting episode.

J at 6:23 pm on October 27th, 2012

I felt you came across very well last night, and do agree that it was perhaps right to be pulled due to those being harsh accusations when the man isn’t even around to defend himself (but if it WAS a cover up it is very wrong, as you’ve said here).
However, your comments did remind me of something you’ve said previously where I felt as you felt on last nights HIGNFY. I in no way mean this as an attack, but I’m referring to an article you wrote about Amarillo Slim. Similar accusations (although I admit he was still around to defend himself against the charges), and at the time I felt it a bit harsh to write the article a week after his passing, but “let it go” as I was afraid I was perhaps just being too sensitive as I’m sure you meant no harm. (continuted)

J at 6:41 pm on October 27th, 2012

...but now comparing your comments from last night to your article, I’m confused. I’m sure you meant no harm but I felt it was harsh to “dig up” those old charges against Amarillo Slim as he had just died. Granted, as I said, he was able to defend himself against the charges, but not from your article.
Just thought your comments conflicted a bit. But please don’t take this as an attack. I DO agree with you Re: Savile and thought you handled HIGNFY quite well, just felt your comments conflicted. And I apologise for digging up old articles of yours but last night did make me think that was exactly what was troubling me about your article.

palladian at 11:20 pm on October 27th, 2012

You do most certainly deserve a HIGNFY when the heaviest news of the week is an elephant farting in Cameron’s face on a visit to Burma.

Mind you - although I totally disagreed with you about your Savile/Newsnight comment - you are also more than capable of being there when the news is grimmer than grim.

Intelligent feminism is never not wanted.

Victoria Coren at 12:44 am on October 28th, 2012

Hi J. Thanks for your posts; I can see why you would compare the two cases, but for me it’s very different for many reasons. Amarillo Slim had been to court, faced charges and put in a guilty plea (which was on the record, and in his obituaries). That’s very different from never having faced trial or been able to put up a defence.

  The piece I wrote was attempting to deal with these official facts; I wasn’t outing him as a child molestor (or even calling him that), but talking about the confusion of not really knowing what was what. And I’m not a public service broadcaster, with all the attendant responsibilities that go with that!

  But I do understand why you’d compare them and I think it’s interesting. For anyone who wants to consider it, the piece I wrote about Amarillo Slim is here.

Donald at 7:38 am on October 28th, 2012

I understand that the BBC would regard the broadcasting of allegations about Savile immediately after his death as insensitive, but from the corporation’s conduct afterwards it seems that it had no intention of broadcasting them at any time. That makes sense from the standpoint of wanting to protect his reputation in the eyes of the law, since he would be no more able to answer the charges five months after he died than five days. It’s a difficult question, but on balance I take the side of Savile’s alleged victims whose cases were pursued and then left in the lurch.

Pete at 9:47 am on October 28th, 2012

That was an interesting and brave point of view about Savile.
Ultimately the decision to broadcast the programme depends on how convincing you find the arguments in the piece.
If you believe the testomonies of the women, backed up with the other evidence then you must broadcast the programme as soon as it is ready to be aired, regardless of the timing with Savile’s death.
However, if you have some doubt then it is reasonable to pull the programme/delay it. It was a tough call to make - but for me the arguments were convincing enough and therefore the programme should have gone out. Of course that would be a bold decision but if you look at the effects of the ITV documentary -  in particular the possible apprenhension of living offenders - then surely it would have been the right one?

Pat Young at 11:42 am on October 28th, 2012

Dear Victoria
During this program you mentioned, in passing, that sqirrels pinched your bird seed from your garden. There is a solution to this. You can get a “squirrel baffle” from a firm called Gardman that fits around a bird feeding station pole. A few minutes on the net will find it. It does work from personal experience.
Pat Young

simon at 9:58 am on October 29th, 2012

“Yes it is” (in answer to Black’s question as to whether a lack of a dedicated train for the chancellor represented progress in the UK) was one of the best delivered lines i’ve seen on the show in a long time.

J at 6:41 pm on October 29th, 2012

Hi Victoria, thanks for your reply.  I guess what was troubling me about your article was, while you didn’t accuse him of anything, you did bring up the fact that he had been previously accused. And he wasn’t around to respond to that. To be fair to you though, you did include in your piece his previous response (which is unlikely to have changed even if he could have responded). I respect that. It was a good piece and fair of you to argue both sides, I just felt it was a bit too soon to bring up things if he couldn’t respond.

Also, note to your moderator: I’m having trouble getting comments to load on mobile devices. The heading “COMMENTS” loads but not the comments themselves.

Roddo at 9:19 pm on October 29th, 2012

Thought your point about Savile/Newsnight was brave but entirely valid and well put. Everyone seems to want to beat up the BBC over Savile. There did seem a tense atmosphere mainly because IH and AA seemed determined to humiliate Conrad Black at every opportunity which felt close to a sort of pious torment of someone unable to respond. Much to my surprise I ended up feeling a bit sorry him. At least you and Paul added some much needed humour. I think you would be good at chairing it sometime.

mike c at 11:04 pm on October 29th, 2012

Hi Victoria,
a long time fan of HIGNFY, I always look forward to your appearances on the show. Your a perfect panellist.
One moment that tickles me and I have seen it many times, is your reaction to Jo Brands joke regarding her “mivvy”. Your expression and laugh at this is a great moment is perfectly girly.
May I wish you all the happiness in the world with your engagement and all future endeavours. x Mike

paul at 11:31 pm on October 29th, 2012

Thought you was fantastic on the show, just watched it.
Came across as confident, intelligent and very funny. A combination that seems extremely rare in women I am sad to say.
Never heard of you before and will now keep my eyes open for your guest spots.
Love some of the drama queen comments here.

MDW at 10:37 am on October 31st, 2012

Not been here for a while and just wanted to say congratulations on your engagement. I always watch HIGNFY and it always delivers, I think anyone who listened carefully will fully understand the point you were trying to make. There are lots of reasons big organisations make the decisions they do at the time they make them, people make mistakes but we should never forget who the real villain was and who the victims were.

Look forward to seeing you as the new Dobby in any future Peep Shows

Clive at 6:03 pm on November 1st, 2012

Not really a controversial opinion, mind you Sir Jim did seem to suck the oxygen out of the room and get away with all sorts. I think the Beeb may have pulled it to avoid messing up their Christmas schedule, and/or holding fire on a national institution (and I don’t mean Broadmoor) but it looked iffy. One solipsistic reason for being unhappy at all this is we can’t look at those old TOTP clips with him presenting in the same way anymore. Actually, watching those reruns of 1977 shows on BBC4 is somehow - along with being caught on Vicky’s blog page, or being seen watching the Girls Aloud Promise video - more embarrassing than being caught watching porn. Then again, the office can’t sack you for it.

Mike at 4:57 am on November 2nd, 2012

Just watched HIGNFY and sympathize with your comments. The week before with JS as the lead topic was toe curling. The comment over Sherlock Holmes was OTT. Welcome to the 21st C.

Clive at 1:45 pm on November 5th, 2012

It seems going against the grain runs in the family. Vicky, please pass on my warmest regards to your brother Giles for dissing the new Bond film, Skyfall. Why are we being invited to cherish a churlish sociopath? Because he’s patriotic, and we’re patriotic? Reading the five-star reviews, I know how Morrissey felt in slating Wills & Kate, Jubilee year and the Olympics… Utter rubbish. And I speak as a Bond fan of sorts. Well, out of sorts.

Jon at 4:17 pm on November 7th, 2012

A bit late to comment, but that was a terrific episode. Please take up any further offers you get from them! Its been a bit… patchy of late, the Balding one felt like it had been co-opted into a BBC propaganda piece, but the two I’ve seen with you on thus far have been on top form, in no small part due to your contributions.

Ben at 12:34 am on November 11th, 2012

1) You were fine on HIGNFY. You were always going to be eclipsed by Lord Black but you handled yourself well, spoke with courage and conviction on the saville affair and got a good laugh out of it too. My wife was abused and I am easily made tetchy by mindless shreiking, but I would rather disagree with your articulate thoughts than hear nothing but a series of illconceived rants uncontested in a single mindless direction.
2) I enjoyed your article on elementary, I agree with every word (including the ones you couldn’t publish). It’s lazy, uncreative, not remotely feminist buggering up of something perfectly good when something new would have been a) better b) less pathetic.
I appreciate, as always, your honestly, courage and intelligence.

Victoria Coren

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