Have I Got News For You has been on the air for twenty-four years, and last night it managed to do something it’s never done before. For the first time ever last night, the majority of people on screen for an episode of the show were women – Victoria Coren Mitchell as the host, and Katherine Ryan and Janet Street-Porter as the guests, alongside regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. As I’m here to write this today, it appears the sky didn’t crack asunder and the world did not come to an end as a result.
As some of you will know, I’ve got a spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of guests on the show since it started (created mostly with the help of this Wikipedia page) and it’s usually been pretty grim reading.
Across the history of the show, less than a quarter of the guests (24.27%) and hosts (24.65%) have been women. During that time, there have been 8 shows (including last night) where all the guests were women, but the first seven were all from the period when Angus Deayton was the show’s permanent host and thus men were still a majority on screen. The last of those seven was in 1997. For comparison, there have been 181 shows (44% of the total) where all the guests were male, and thus everyone on screen was a male. The BBC has announced that there will be no more all-male panel shows, so this percentage will drop, but the fact it happened at all is ridiculous. Consider that in the time since the last show with all-female guests, there were over 100 all-male episodes of Have I Got News For You, and think what message that sends out to anyone watching.
Hopefully, last night is a sign that attitudes are changing, though I also fear that for years to come they’ll bring up the ‘all-woman’ show as an excuse for not doing it again for several years. This series might be the one that has the highest percentage of female guests on the show, a record which currently stands at 37.5%. The trouble for anyone hoping for progress is that that record was set back in the very first series of the show, and it’s failed to reach that mark in the 46 series since.
The current series is actually at parity for the four episodes broadcast so far – and there have actually been a majority of female hosts in those episodes – so who knows, it might finally be possible for a high-profile BBC series to almost accurately reflect the nation. (If we assume that 40% of the country are Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, of course…)