'Arrogant' Ann Widdecombe the worst Have I Got News For You guest presenter, says Paul Merton

Ann Widdecombe in 1989, before her TV celebrity daysAnn Widdecombe in 1989, before her TV celebrity days
Ann Widdecombe in 1989, before her TV celebrity days

Ann Widdecombe was the worst guest presenter in the history of Have I Got News For You, Paul Merton has claimed.

The former Conservative minister became “arrogant” after a successful first appearance on the show and started telling the producers which jokes weren’t funny when she was invited back.

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Team captain Merton told Radio Times: “My worst experience was when Ann Widdecombe hosted it the second time.”

The politician had overcome nervousness during her 2006 debut. “Then the programme is edited and her friends see it and say, ‘Oh, you were very good on that’.”

“Second time she comes on she’s telling the producer what jokes will and won’t work. She turned to me at one point and said, ‘Come on, be amusing; that’s what you’re being paid for.’

“Even as I say it, it sends a shiver through my heart! It’s like, the arrogance of the woman, you know? Suddenly she thought she was Victoria Wood!”

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After her second appearance a year later, Widdecombe said she was angered by a Jimmy Carr gag at her expense and claimed that “no amount of money” would encourage her to repeat the experience.

Longwinded Kinnock was Hislop's worst

Speaking ahead of the 55th series of the enduring BBC1 panel show, fellow captain Ian Hislop said Neil Kinnock was his worst presenter.

The former Labour leader “was the longest recording ever because I think he had been in Europe for too many years, so he literally asked the question, listened to the answer, summarised your answers, did a sort of précis of the entire issue, and then repeated it all again. I mean, it was about three hours!”

Women 'say no' to invitations

Asked why only one female politician had guest-presented the show, Merton said: “The producers always ask more women than men. More women say no. And right from the early days, that’s been the case.”

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Hislop added: “And everyone you think should have been asked has been. Really, they really have. And on the whole, women are slightly more reticent and think, maybe modestly, ‘I can’t do that.’ Maybe more men in public life say, ‘Yes, I can do that.’”

Merton and Hislop were first asked by Radio Times whether women were invited on just as token foils to the "testosterone–driven" team captains, back in 2011.

Merton then said Widdecombe was one of the few women who had accepted an invitation. He said then that Mariella Frostrup, who called the show’s attitude towards female panelists a “disgrace”, simply “wasn’t very good” during her appearances.

HIGNFY to blame for Boris

In the latest interview, Mr Merton admitted the show was partly responsible for Boris Johnson’s rise.

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When the Foreign Secretary appeared, in his previous career as a journalist, “he came around to the idea that if you associate yourself with popular culture, with something that’s funny, that’s what any politician is looking for.”

This piece originally appeared in our sister title, iNews