Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

The Last Heresy: an adventure (listen here)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

  Update: you can listen to this episode for a week or two here.

  According to a survey published in the newspapers a few weeks ago, the presenters and contributors on Radio 4 are 82% male. That is, 82% of them are male. Not.. you know..

  Anyway, if that’s the traditional order of things, then Heresy wouldn’t be Heresy if we didn’t make THIS episode.

  The guests on the final show (broadcast on Wednesday night at 6.30) are Sue Perkins, Cerys Matthews and Maureen Lipman. With me hosting.

  According to received opinion, of course, the show should therefore be far less funny than the others in the series. Observational, sure. Chatty, yep. Charming, witty: it’s all possible. But funny? Well, just look at the existing panel shows on radio and TV: all-male is fine. One woman on an episode makes a lovely change, adds to the tone nicely. But two? Or more? That must kill it. Surely. Otherwise, you’d see it sometimes.

  The statements we’ll be arguing against, for our final show are:





  I’ll be very interested to know what people make of it. I’ll tell you what I found interesting myself: it is, without a doubt, the least serious episode of the series. You might imagine (whether your universe leaves room for funny women or not) that this would be the episode most likely to address the questions fully, talk whole-heartedly, come at ideas from personal experience for deeper truth. It’s absolutely not like that at all. It is the most playful episode, and the one with the silliest jokes. My theory is: with no added pressure on any of the panellists to “represent” female humour (as there is on a normal panel show - there can’t not be - there’s pretty much NEVER more than one woman on a show, and I know myself that you can’t help feeling some kind of pressure to prove something - or at least, some deep fear of proving something else), they just relaxed completely and had fun.

  On last week’s show (as explained in the previous Heresy post) I lost my cool at one point and shouted at the audience. In this final episode, I lost my cool in a completely different way, under assault from some RELENTLESS Perkins teasing about a joke I was attempting to make. The joke had no chance after that. But I loved Sue’s sororial confidence in taking the piss, I loved the atmosphere in the room, I loved how different the show felt, I loved how surprised I was by the way in which it felt different, and I loved ending the series with this mini-adventure.

  I really hope you like it.

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mick at 12:21 am on January 4th, 2012

here I am losing money, looking for tips to improve my card skills and what is here ? I do like the new look

Smylers at 12:43 pm on January 4th, 2012

Episodes are repeated the following Wednesday on Radio 4 Extra.

If you missed last week’s episode, it’s on 4 Extra tonight at 22:00. This also means episodes hang around on IPlayer for 2 weeks (until 1 week after the repeat):


JazBenz at 3:01 pm on January 4th, 2012

I really wish I could download this one to listen to it again one day randomly in 30 years, but no such luck. I shall enjoy the moment and keep it in my memory. Additional comment after the show? Likely.

Lucy @lubzbee at 6:26 pm on January 4th, 2012

I’ve been unable to concentrate in school today, as i have been really excited for this episode! Rather disappointed it’s the last episode, but it’s been a great series! :) x

John Rosecrop at 6:52 pm on January 4th, 2012

My brother came to the recording and was slightly daunted by the all women panel, although equally delighted, especially with Sue Perkins (a favourite of ours). 
He was appalled that, nice idea as it was to have an end of series celebration, the wine you offered your guests was so poor as to be undrinkable.  At least the audience got free beers beforehand.
Apparently, you found Wagner’s ring impossible to talk about without laughing, so I await the broadcast to see how that survives the edit.  Did you mean the operatic marathon or was that about the mobile phone of an X-factor contestant?

Will Reid at 6:55 pm on January 4th, 2012

Very enjoyable. Certainly funniest joke of series about Clinton. Your Wagner’s ring attempt was fun! Agree probably least serious. Well done.

Simon at 7:02 pm on January 4th, 2012

Really liked it, thanks for letting me know about it via twitter! Will there be any more?

Simon at 7:02 pm on January 4th, 2012

Great show. Lots of amusing banter and interesting comments. Hope there is another series.

Chris Miller (male) at 7:02 pm on January 4th, 2012

The received wisdom seems to be that women are more process-oriented (eg empathy, multi-tasking) , men more target-oriented (eg hunting, map-reading) - thus direct, well-aimed potshots would be a natural male approach. What you’ve described (and I’m hearing) would bear that out. I think comedy is such a male-dominated industry (apart from all the usual reasons) because it appeals to keenness for a swift bon mot and a quick target, something more encouraged in young men. It’s a fascinating aspect of human psychology which I’d love to discuss further. The Ivy, Saturday, 7pm? (your shout, obviously).

Flo at 7:04 pm on January 4th, 2012

That was the funniest Heresy episode of the season. Now looking forward to the all female Mock The Week and Would I Lie To You episodes (if only that were true….).
And as a final note: Sue Perkins is pure comedy gold!

James at 7:07 pm on January 4th, 2012

It was neither better nor worse than usual; but it WAS different.  It seemed slower paced and this allowed for more deep consideration - as opposed to the more quickfire approach when testosterone outweighs oestrogen.  The humour was less surreal, and more genuinely observational.  I wouldn’t like all episodes to be girls only, in the same way I wouldn’t like all episodes to be all male.  But there’s scope for both and mixtures.

John MacLeod at 7:08 pm on January 4th, 2012

That was a superb episode, the atmosphere was just as relaxed & funny as any panel show that has a predilection for male comedians, and I see what you mean by the your blog entry. I really enjoyed it & laughed throughout.

Also, people SHOULD invite their single friends to parties in potential matchmaking exercises. I have never experienced this and now feel the need to drop hints.

Lovely stuff.

peter at 7:13 pm on January 4th, 2012

I’ve just listened to the episode and really enjoyed it. I felt having an all female panel was refeshing and worked out well. As you said on the programme, it doesn’t matter what gender a person is, it is important that they are the best person for the job. So I think the programme worked well because of the four funny, witty people who were on it. I hope the BBC produce more quality shows such as this.


Abbie at 7:16 pm on January 4th, 2012

It was funny! I really enjoyed it, no shouting each other down to get a punchline in, just friendly and funny and natural. Excellent radio and I hope you can do it all again soon. Should I hold my breath for more female-only radio panel shows?

NickM at 7:20 pm on January 4th, 2012

Well count me clueless, but it wasn’t until halfway through the first question that I realised it was an XY free zone. For me it was a non-issue, loved all involved and didn’t notice much of a difference from the usual show, there was still the plenty of banter (mainly thanks to Sue) and Cerys was a nice surprise as I hadn’t really heard her before. The show was funny, ‘nuff said!

Helen at 7:26 pm on January 4th, 2012

Loved today’s edition AND you said ‘Wyoming’ exactly when I was puzzling over -y-m-n- in the Guardian quick crossword.
All-women panels are too rare and today’s edition should be listened to by BBC powers-that-be (and Hat trick productions) so they ask themselves why they don’t ‘risk’ it more often.

Sheila at 7:30 pm on January 4th, 2012

Just listened to Heresy whilst washing the dishes. Always been a fan but particularly enjoyed the girly panel. I read somewhere that women aren’t as funny as men. Was this the exception that proves the rule? I thought it was the funniest thing I’d heard in ages. I think Sue Perkins and Susan Calman would work well together too.

Vivian at 7:33 pm on January 4th, 2012

It was a mighty fine episode at the end of a cracking series.  Used to listen to it occasionally when Mr Baddiel hosted, but seldom all the way through. You’re an excellent host (I don’t say hostess because it might make you sound like a trolley.) Hope there’ll be another series ere long.

Brian at 7:39 pm on January 4th, 2012

How funny that it was introduced as an all-woman edition. When was HIGNFY ever introduced as all-man? And I loved the way you managed to discuss women as leaders without mentioning the elephant in the room. (The room of our recent history, I mean. It’s a bad metaphor.) It was the best show I’ve heard this series - with a more relaxed feel than usual.

John Robertson at 7:45 pm on January 4th, 2012

Yes, Sue Perkins leaping on your Wagner joke was hilarious and, yes, the Clinton joke was very funny but why has no-one mentioned the air violin. Brilliant!

Would male panellists have shied away from that? Don’t know but I know I laughed out loud.

Clare Hickman at 7:46 pm on January 4th, 2012

I thought it was excellent and laughed so hard at one point that I threw some of my veg that I was trying to prep across the kitchen! Thank you all very much. I would also like to note that I hadn’t thought anything of it being an all woman show until I read this blog. But of course I am a woman and I did find it hilarious :)

vicky at 7:47 pm on January 4th, 2012

It’s a shame it’s even an issue really, but it was a refreshing change. Still laughing about the Clinton gag. And Cerys Matthews was great, v. dry.. Also second John MacLeod, I wish someone would revive matchmaking….

Baffled at 7:53 pm on January 4th, 2012

I switched it on half way through and listened for about 10 mins when driving home. Never occurred to me that it was all women till I saw VC’s tweet directing us here.

Julia Wainwright at 7:56 pm on January 4th, 2012

It was enormously refreshing, and i’m sorry it was that. And it was funny and lovely, and I’m not sorry it was that.

Neil at 7:58 pm on January 4th, 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed it, very funny throughout shame it’s the last of the series and that it isn’t podcast-ed.

Hebetronic at 7:58 pm on January 4th, 2012

Another great show. Not the funniest, but probably the most considered answer wise. I don’t know if the all female panel was an issue, just 3 good guests. As with many of these shows it’s about the mix.

Great series, more please!

Seabrie at 8:01 pm on January 4th, 2012

I enjoyed it. The fact that it was an all-female panel didn’t really register with me at all: it was just a bunch of funny people.

Victoria Coren at 8:37 pm on January 4th, 2012

Brian: Very good point. Maybe some of us should contact Radio 4 (do they still have a “Feedback” programme or similar??) to ask why this was introduced as an “all-female” programme when episodes of, say, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue are never introduced as “all-male” when this would be factually accurate?

  More importantly: John Macleod and Vicky! Why don’t you both write me a note in the form of a posted comment on this blog (I’ll make sure it’s forwarded directly to me and NOT posted publicly), letting me know your age, location and one other sentence of whatever you consider key information… and if they seem to chime, perhaps I’ll put you two in touch? I wouldn’t do that without asking a few further questions, of course - and no doubt we’ll never get that far, you’ll be utterly incompatible, 4000 miles apart and one of you gay - but just for a bit of fun, now I’ve ranted on the radio about the importance of making introductions, I can’t ignore your twin posts! Send me a message as above if you’re feeling adventurous - and make sure to use your real email addresses so I can get back to you: I promise neither the addresses nor the messages will go public.

Rob Stephenson at 8:53 pm on January 4th, 2012

You’re right that male heavy panels can have a dynamic that puts pressure on female members, but so do formats that promote free-for-all shouting matches and hosts who lose control of what is going on. Not always evident in the final edit, but very noticeable at live recordings. No names, but there’s one host I’d like to disembowel…with a spoon.

In this case, It helped that the panel members were funny people, but not all comedians, and it helped that you found a member of the audience (Air Guitar Man) who didn’t sound scared to death. At that point formality fell away, and everything started to get silly. Perhaps not something you can formularise – unless you expose yourself to Air Guitar Man’s ring and force him to do something silly in every show.

Lewis Walsh at 9:02 pm on January 4th, 2012

I found a lot of the humour was based on tired old jokes and worn out stereotypes. I find this with a lot of female comedians.

Robert Hogg at 9:09 pm on January 4th, 2012

I went to four of the Heresy recordings.First of all, I should say that if I didn’t like your sense of humour in the first place, I would never have gone. I think you’re more than capable of holding your own in shows such as HIGNFY, WILTY? and the like, quite easily.

Secondly, it never really registered with me that it was an all woman show. I enjoyed it at least as much as the previous ones, laughed at least as much, and am pretty sure the crowd reaction was at least as good as the other shows. Apart from the bloke I was sat next to who stayed tight lipped, arms and legs crossed for the entire show!

Now you mention it tho, it is unusual. Next series, how about Rebecca Front, Emma Freud, Lauren Laverne, Caitlin Moran, Eva Wiseman? All funny women!

I’d certainly come again!

Robert x

Tony Downes at 9:27 pm on January 4th, 2012

Air violin demo and ‘exposed to Wagner’s Ring Cycle’ were my highlights.  Of course the world would be better run by women - I have a wife and 2 daughters who tell me this all the time….

Jean Cox at 9:28 pm on January 4th, 2012

It was funny, very funny, almost spray-tea-across-table funny especially the Wagner’s Ring cycle ending. If I can make a marginally picky remark, having listened to and enjoyed the whole series, there were just bits where your speeches seemed very masculine, as if written for a man? Sadly I can’t remember exactly which bits,  (I am an old bat, and it was 3 hours ago), so please don’t be offended. You have a lovely crisp, clear delivery. I look forward to another series!

Neil Kennedy at 10:21 pm on January 4th, 2012

Really funny - I think you sounded more relaxed than in some previous episodes? When you mentioned it on your twitter feed I wondered if the all-female panel would be more/less funny or too indulgent, if you know what I mean. I needn’t have worried :-)

Dickon Edwards at 3:31 am on January 5th, 2012

Truly refreshing and long overdue. Nice idea to get Cerys Matthews & Maureen Lipman, two very distinctive and different voices, regardless of gender. As Stewart Lee says in one of his routines, comedy panellists tend to speak in the same up-and-downy Andy Parsony style.

I’d be happy with Heresy being all female or only 1 male from now on. Just to help redress things…

JazBenz at 11:30 am on January 5th, 2012

I’ve also listened to all the previous shows and couldn’t really find a difference humourwise. In fact if you hadn’t pointed out that it was an ALL female show I wouldn’t even have thought about it!

psychofant at 12:14 pm on January 5th, 2012

victoria, any show with you and the wonderful sue perkins on is bound to be funny and interesting,this was no exception, add the brilliant maureen lipman and you have a winner.  as for all women shows, there is WOMANS HOUR, LOOSE WOMEN, and who can forget the GIRLIE SHOW! (well ok,just about everybody, and for those who cant forget it, there is counselling!)

Philip at 1:41 pm on January 5th, 2012

I think it’s political correctness gone mad! If you ask me women should be made to go back to wherever it is they came from. Pakistan I imagine.

Do you really wonder why it was introduced as an ‘all female’ programme, considering you wrote this blog?

sarah towan at 6:37 pm on January 5th, 2012

Think internet dating has its place, I live in cornwall where it’s hard to meet other lesbians, I started chatting to Steph but met off line very quickly to see if there was chemistry. Six years later we are civil partners and have a one year old son, the first in cornwall and seventh in UK to both have names on birth cert! Think u and sue perkins are fab double act and should have your own show!

E Kerr at 4:05 pm on January 9th, 2012

Victoria, just when I thought you couldn’t possibly get any nicer, you offer to matchmake for your blog posters.  You certainly deserve the place you have won in my heart. 
If I didn’t think that we have too little in common, I would certainly be one of the many men asking for your hand in marriage!  Of course, maybe you know someone else?

Mike Sivier at 12:32 am on January 11th, 2012

Wasn’t Liszt supposed to have very long, sensitive fingers, that helped with his musicianship? I can’t help feeling that may have had something to do with the number of women chasing him… I thought the lack of male competitiveness made a difference - without a guy leaping in to show off how witty he was, the female panellists could develop their points. There’s also the issue of men thinking we have to defend OUR side of the sex divide - that both sexes compete from fear they’ll be undermined by the other. With well-defined topics, the show also avoided a huge bugbear of female-orientated humour - fixation with ‘women’s issues’. These always seem to be periods, babies and the defects inherent in men. Breath of fresh air to get away from that. Also - great line-up of panellists.

Victoria N at 1:22 am on January 11th, 2012

Only just got around to listening to it and I loved it…best ‘Heresy’ episode yet! :) I think the all-women idea was brilliant….of course my somewhat feminist views might be clouding my judgement on that a bit :P More shows should be like this!

Norman at 1:33 am on January 12th, 2012

I really enjoyed the show and had some episodes of real laughter, so I’ve no complaints about the all women panel, just compliments.

There are at least two reasons in favour of introducing the show as all-women.  Firstly, it is still a rarity to have more than one woman on a panel show and it is also a first-time for Heresy.  Therefore any advertising helps to make sure it isn’t missed by any people who want to hear it.

Secondly, the first statement discussed is obviously exploiting the all-women panel, and the third (dating) is a typical girlie topic (like RomCom novels/films).

Do it again discussing more general statements, and the gender makeup of the panel won’t require a mention.  I’m sure it will be brilliant.  After all, the second statement got the best laughs.

Ivor Shelter at 7:53 pm on January 12th, 2012

I notice that Iceland has got a lot of mentions in BBC programmes lately.

There’s a reference to Iceland in this episode, and in the previous Heresy.  I think it was also mentioned in something I watched on TV recently.

Iceland must be very pleased with its name.  It can’t really be said that   “other food stores sharing a name with a country are available”.

John Redshirt at 6:23 pm on January 15th, 2012

Victoria, Jean Cox writes that there were bits where your speeches seemed very masculine.

The announcement after the show, credits your friend Charlie Skelton with writing some of the material.  Perhaps, that may explain some of it, but I can’t say that I can discern what’s what, or, as I enjoyed it all, that I care that much either.  I know that you are quite comfortable in male company, (I’ve read your book).  Equally, as a man I am really comfortable with your humour.  I trust you, with your sense of justice, kindness, and desire for fun, and I can remove my barriers and allow you to poke around freely and make me laugh.  At the same time you are all woman but without the silly girlie froth (which is usually killed off by motherhood anyway). 

Victoria Coren at 12:28 am on January 16th, 2012

Hi John. Those credits might be a little misleading actually. The conversations on Heresy aren’t scripted at all. What we write in advance are links: lines to introduce the concept of the show at the top, and then introduce each of the three ‘received opinions’ and sum them up at the end. Everything in between is just chat; it isn’t a scripted show.

  And for those links (usually jokes) in and out of each topic, Charlie and I write them together. It’s not a case of him sending in stuff in ‘his voice’ from far away that I just read out. We sit in a room together and cobble them up. I’m extremely grateful for Charlie’s brilliant comic brain; he definitely helps make the show funnier and I owe him a lot, but the male-female thing is a red herring, I think. It’s definitely my own voice. If Jean Cox thinks I sound masculine, well… maybe I’m just a tomboy.

Ken Singtone at 11:49 am on January 16th, 2012

I found it really funny and enjoyable.  There seem to be more funny women than ever nowadays. 
My theory is that comedy has a lot to do with not being comfortably “settled down” in a relationship.  People are marrying/starting families later in life, leaving a bigger opportunity window for younger comics, including women. 
Then there are relationship problems/breakdowns, e.g. Sarah Millican, Shappi Khorsandi or John Cleese and his alimony tour.
Joking is similar to flirting; you are drawing attention to yourself.  When in a secure relationship this may feel inappropriate, especially when you have children.  Often then, laughter and fun get reserved for the kids, and seem childish, and then, interactions with the outside world become grown-up and perhaps, too serious.

Blewit at 10:10 am on January 19th, 2012

The nearest thing to “matchmaking” that happened to me was an invite to lunch by a couple I knew from church together with another couple and a single woman.  We knew each other anyway, so it was hardly an introduction, and I was just happy to be offered a meal with some pleasant company.  The single lady, however, did feel that it was a sort of matchmaking attempt and, feeling uncomfortable, apparently had some tearful exchanges with the hostess. 

Backdrifter at 8:55 pm on January 21st, 2012

I disagree with Norman’s rationale for introducing it as an all-female show. All those subjects could be equally entertainingly discussed by a mixed or all-male panel, and the ‘rarity’ of it still doesn’t warrant the announcement. Ultimately a show will be good or not depending on a number of factors, the percentage of X and Y chromosomes isn’t one of them.

Norman at 2:34 am on January 23rd, 2012

Objecting to the show being introduced as an all-women panel seems too much like political correctness to me, something that I don’t believe in.  When are politicians ever correct about anything?  We don’t like them because they avoid being truthful like the plague.
The assertion that this show has an all-women panel is perfectly true, so what is the problem?
Perhaps, some are prejudiced against an all-women panel, and might be deterred from listening, but I think it to be a cause for rejoicing, given its rarity, and would hate to miss it because nobody bothered to point it out because an all male or mixed panel might be as good/better.

I should also point out that in the spirit of the show, I’m arguing for the “heresy”.  As Brian pointed out, absence of gender announcements is the norm.

John Rosecrop at 9:12 am on January 23rd, 2012

Hi Victoria, it’s really interesting to learn something of how you collaborate with Charlie Skelton.  You say that the conversations on Heresy aren’t scripted at all, and they do seem spontaneous.  Even so, I assume that each show requires a fair amount of preparation, including booking guests and choosing statements to argue about.  Thus you can be justifiably proud of the final results.  I certainly enjoyed them.

I am curious, however, about how much preparatory work you do with the guests.  Do they just turn up, or do you spend time working with them beforehand? 

You seemed to be the only one with notes at the recording I attended (no.2),  but I hear that at this one, all the guests seemed armed with notes, newspaper clips, tweets, and other materials.

Victoria Coren at 2:03 am on January 24th, 2012

Hi John. Nope, I don’t do any preparation with the guests. They turn up, usually about half an hour before the show, and we have a glass of wine and a carrot stick and some smalltalk. Of course I have a few questions scribbled down for the programme, just to try and keep the ball rolling. Guests know the “received opinions” in advance so they’re welcome to think about it and note down a few arguments if they like (or, as Cerys did, throw it out to Twitter) but there’s no rehearsal or pre-chat or anything like that. It’s radio, we don’t have the money to pay anyone to come more than half an hour early!

Beth at 5:51 pm on February 2nd, 2012

I tuned in a minute or so after the beginning and never realised there was anything different from usual - didn’t think “oh, it’s all women” or anything like that! Great show as usual.

Rob D at 2:12 pm on May 28th, 2012

So, any updates about John MacLeod and Vicky’s possible romance, Victoria?

Victoria Coren

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