In numerology, ‘66’ symbolises love, peace, understanding, harmony.
Happily, there’s none of that in store as Britain’s sharpest, antagonistic satire returns for a 66th series on Friday 6 October at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer – of course, with the beloved duo of Paul Merton and Ian Hislop in tow.
Here are a few pearls of wisdom to keep you sated until the pair return to marshal the country’s political madness…
1. After 66 series, they’re still as enthused by fans’ love for the show
Ian: Yesterday morning, I was wandering along and there was a young bloke filling up his van with ice. He turned around, stopped working, ran up to me and said, ‘your show is brilliant, don’t stop doing it’. And I thought, do you know? That seems to me reasonable advice!
Paul: What I do now is I think to myself, OK, my only chance of doing this show is tonight. It’s this recording, I’ve got to do the best I can do, without being overbearing. When we both walk on at the top of the show, it’s all about the enthusiasm and the big round of applause from the audience. As Ian says, it’s about the people who come up to you and say it’s great.
Ian: Well, I’m out and about a bit more than Paul, who’s a recluse who lives on his own…
Paul: I am still wearing an electronic tag… I can’t stray beyond 500 yards of Bow Street station…
2. There’s nothing they don’t know about the other – or indeed, want to know..
Paul: He doesn’t want to know anything about me – he has a nosebleed when he talks to somebody of my social status!
Ian: No! I’m FASCINATED by people like Paul! How do they live? What do they eat for breakfast? I mean, the whole thing is absolutely charming!
Paul: Ha ha ha!
3. The show has lots of celebrity fans, including Paul McCartney (who told The Adam Buxton Podcast)
Paul: Oh really? That’s nice to know. That’s great. I mean, Paul McCartney has given me a great deal of personal pleasure over the years… and I like his music as well! I’ve met him five times and it was only on the fifth time I met him that I was able to talk like a normal person… For Ian it would be like meeting William Deedes… who was on the show!
Ian: And I was incredibly excited.
Paul: He didn’t take a selfie, he had a brass rubbing done.
4. Alexander Armstrong holds the record for the most stints as guest host – his next appearance (13 October) will be his 40th time in the host’s chair!
Ian: I think the main quality of a great guest host is just to say, ‘Ian, what do you think?’ And then be quiet for about 45 minutes! Maybe till the end of the long first round… I think that’s important!
Paul: You find that generally actors are great at doing it because they are used to sharing the stage with other people. David Tennant for example, is superb, because he’s used to being in situations where he’s not the only one talking. So he won’t interrupt until it feels like you’ve run out of steam or you’ve come to a natural conclusion.
Ian: I’ll tell you who’s also been really good, Mel Giedroyc. She was absolutely fabulous. She wanted everyone to be part of a gang. She kept saying ‘hello, gang’. Which was great because Paul and I really don’t like gangs!
Paul: Can you imagine the one gang that would feature the two of us? It would have to be a broad church!
5. Ken Livingstone is the guest booked closest to the start of a recording
Ian: That was to replace the wonderful Baroness Trumpington. She had appeared on the programme once before, she was absolutely fantastic. I was personally very, very overexcited, you know, former Land Girl… it’s my equivalent of Paul McCartney.
Paul: I think it probably is! That’s the sad thing.
Ian: She was terrific. But she was booked on the show during the week that Margaret Thatcher died. She came on in makeup and she said ‘well, I obviously won’t be answering questions on Mrs Thatcher.’
Paul: She didn’t even want it to be mentioned.
Ian: What was rather glorious is that she was of that generation that just doesn’t care very much about television. The producers were saying ‘This is terrible, what are we going to do?’ and she says, ‘Oh, well, I’ll just go home.’ Which she then did!
Paul: We could have done it with one person less. Sometimes we’ve had to, even when there’s somebody there.
Ian: What was funny is that the show’s producers and the BBC had been keen to have a Conservative guest on in the week Mrs Thatcher died. So we had booked a Tory Baroness and that was going to be great. But the person they could book at short notice as her replacement was Ken Livingstone, ‘Red Ken’! Former Mayor of London and personal enemy of Mrs Thatcher!
6. The cardboard panels at the back of the set revolve using a contraption made with a bike chain
Paul: We’ve never had a go at turning them ourselves. Does Ian look like he’s ever done manual labour in his life? The closest he’s ever got to manual labour is saying ‘I don’t think that wall’s straight, can you do it again?’
Ian: [Laughing] It seems to me to be taking away perfectly good jobs from the people who need them. I don’t know what sort of Britain you want to live in!
Paul: He wants to live in a Britain where somebody else is turning the handles!
7. Across the 65 previous series, the show’s set has only needed three carpets
Paul: Sometimes it’s blue and sometimes it has been red… I don’t know whether that’s got anything to do with the government in charge. They’ve got an orange one that’s been in storage for quite some time!
Ian: And a green one that’s never coming out![For the record, it’s worn out twice and is currently grey]
8. US comedian Jackie Mason thought Ian Hislop was a runner
Ian: I’ll tell you, that’s my favourite moment. He clearly had no idea who anybody was. I was walking around the studio with a cup of tea in my hand, and he came up and took it, because he thought I was a runner. And then when we appeared on the set, he looked at me and said, ‘Why are you on?’ He thought the runner had been put on the show! That puts you in your place.
9. Ian Hislop has never missed a show – even when he had appendicitis
Ian: What is amazing is that in those days, I got appendicitis, I went to A&E and got admitted straight away. Can you believe it? I mean, this is a different Britain. I was given my own trolley in a corridor where I waited for about four hours. And then I just thought, no one cares that I’m here. I might as well just discharge myself and go and do the show, which I did.
Paul: …and then when he got to the studio he found that nobody cared that he was there either!
10. If Ian and Paul had to settle unanimously on a favourite guest, it would be Peter Cook
Ian: It was incredibly exciting having Peter on, he was an absolute classic. He’s like Paul in that he answered no questions about the news. And he talked for nearly 15 minutes about moths. It was just brilliant. I was just reminded why some people are geniuses.
Paul: When you have a comic hero of yours when you’re young or in your early teens, and you then meet them, nothing quite beats that thrill. Peter was very good.
11. Jeremy Clarkson is the only guest to draw blood
Ian: He threw a biro at me! He just wouldn’t believe it. He chucked a biro at me because I was mildly rude to him, certainly by his own standards. I thought I was extremely polite. But he threw this biro at me right here on my cheek and I’ve still got the mark. It drew blood but then he said, ‘No, no, that’s just red ink. You’ve painted that on’. So they had to stop the show, which he was very cross about. And then they patched me up. A few weeks later, I got a letter from him saying, ‘My wife says I should apologise to you’. It’s not many people that have attempted to take my eye out with a biro. Not since school, obviously, where it was most days [laughing].
Paul: And that would have been a quill.
12. William Shatner is the only guest to libel an entire Cornish town – and use his pay check to buy horses
Ian: I really enjoyed William Shatner. He managed to libel Ilfracombe, for which he had to apologise.
Paul: No, he didn’t apologise.
Ian: WE did. We apologised!
Paul: The former Mayor of Ilfracombe said: ‘Look, you know, Ilfracombe isn’t riddled with prostitution. We very much resent that suggestion.’ And William Shatner apparently replied back, saying ‘I think you’ll find it is.’
Ian: But he was a brilliant host. And he’s the only other person apart from Alexander Armstrong who sang during the show! He sang the questions, which was fabulous.
Paul: He did a very good job considering he had no idea who we were or who the people in the news were! But, if you look at his CV, he was playing large parts in live Shakespeare plays on Canadian television in the late 1950s. So, he’s got a certain ability about him.
Ian: I asked him ‘Why have you come on this show?’ And he said, ‘because my wife wanted to look at white horses to buy in Austria and it was a really easy flight over and I thought it might pay for it.’ I thought that’s top motivation for doing the show.
13. Clive Myrie knows the news better than anyone
Ian: I mean, he often has to leave the show to read the news in the middle [laughing]. So he tends to be better read up on the news than we are because he’s actually being handed it. He takes his scarf off and runs away to the next studio!
Paul: Helen Lewis is also very strong on the news.
14. No-one knows where the scorer actually is
Paul: The person that’s responsible for the scores, the producers don’t physically know where they are in the studio. Our executive producer has no idea a) who’s doing it or b) where they are. I don’t know either. And Ian doesn’t know. It’s probably AI. I would welcome any form of intelligence. Artificial is a step forward!
15. Ian’s favourite joke is one he told in Latin
Ian: It was a story about archaeologists who found that during the Roman occupation of Britain, the Celtic and other ancient Britons were very hairy. The Romans had considered this very uncivilised and continued to make themselves less hairy and I’d said Oh, ‘Wax Romana’, which was my play on the famous ‘Pax Romana’, the peace that the Roman occupation brought to Britain. It’s a topical news quiz! From about the turn of the naught-th century.
Paul: I thought that was great. I thought there was no other show on the BBC that masquerades as a prime-time show that would feature somebody telling a joke in Latin. Ian had to be reincarnated 25 times before he could find an outlet for that joke!
16. Ian and Paul don’t go near the post-show edit suite
Ian: Can you imagine? I’d be in the edit going, ‘I think that bit with Paul doesn’t work, can you lose the third bit with him?’
Paul: I wouldn’t be like that… I’d just say ‘is there no way we can just block off Ian’s side of the screen? Just show some wildlife. Foxes playing with a beach ball.’
17. They both have a drink together after every show
Paul: I drink Guinness. Or Irish stout.
Ian: I’ll have a glass of sherry, possibly…
Paul: [Laughing] Yes, out of a bishop’s hat!
18. Carol Vorderman was their most memorable after-show guest
Ian: The paparazzi go wherever she goes, so when we turned up to the recording there were just hundreds of them outside who stayed until the show finished. We went for a drink and then Carol said ‘well why don’t we go out for pictures?’ So I stumbled out with that night’s guest host, Steph McGovern, and Carol Vorderman, and it made it into the online tabloids. ‘Celebs enjoying an evening out! Hislop worse for wear!’
Paul: [Laughing] I think it was ‘Ian Hislop propped up by..’. We were all sitting around the table and having a drink. I went to the loo and I came back and nobody was there. I just saw all these flashing lights outside and I thought, ‘what’s going on?’ It was very funny.