It’s up there as one of the most memorable moments in my TV viewing history. The appearance of a tub of lard to replace Roy Hattersley after he cancelled going on Have I Got News For You for the third time was pure comedy gold. Such daring, such audacity, such disrespect.

One of the few highlights on the box for me this Christmas was the Beeb’s documentary marking the panel show’s 30th birthday. HIGNFY was born in a different era (and almost feels like another world) and its survival into a fourth decade is remarkable.

It first aired around the time I started university, and as a politics student, it was a brilliant reference point for understanding the events of the day. I'd never seen anything like it before. Their irreverent take downs of the pompous and preening with their wit and wordplay was a sheer joy to watch and the show has been essential viewing ever since.

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Who needed lecturers when Ian Hyslop and Paul Merton were twisting the comedy knife, testing the boundaries of free speech.

Hyslop: the great satirist, moral compass, fount of knowledge but with a cheeky self-deprecating air that avoids preachiness. Merton: the wayward truant son, whose surrealist flights of the imagination and razor-sharp wit often elevates the show into the realms of absurdist genius.

Unsurprisingly, HIGNFY has come in for criticism. On the left, it has been accused of propping up the establishment, turning us into “giggling couch potatoes” unwilling to think too hard. Indeed, it is claimed the show unwittingly helped Boris Johnson become Prime Minister, with his several appearances allowing him to finesse his shambling posh-boy persona.

In contrast, on the right, Hyslop, in particular, is often the target of much venom, whose occasional scathing diatribes have been described as humourless “standard-issue BBC socialism”.

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However, I find it reassuring that neither side of the fence can claim ownership of the show. Surely it means they are doing something right. It is just entertainment after all - it's not obligated to change the system nor is there a risk of it doing so.

But it isn’t without its faults – some episodes are better than others, and a lot depends on the right chemistry between the regular two, the host and guests. The lockdown episodes filmed via Zoom calls proved almost embarrassingly lacklustre.

Sadly, the storm clouds are gathering and its future is by no means certain. Neither of the show’s standard bearers are getting any younger. Sometimes Paul seems jaded, while Ian can come across as grumpy. And worse still, director-general Tom Davie has vowed to tackle perceived “left-wing bias” in the BBC's comedy output.

But to say the show has let the Johnsons of this world off the hook is simply unfair. It wasn’t the programme that voted him to power. And Johnson didn’t exactly display leadership qualities as the show’s host – he was hopeless. But if voters wanted a comedy act in charge, well they’ve got one. 

I only wish the tub of lard had stood for Parliament instead.

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