I need to start by explaining to our international readership that ‘Have I Got News For You’ is a long-running satirical/comedy quiz show on the BBC. Broadcast on Friday nights, it has two teams, each with a captain and a guest, answering questions on the week’s news – it is mostly political, frequently scurrilous, and mostly funny, sometimes even very funny.
Now, I watched last week’s episode (26 October), noticed nothing unusual, and so was galvanised when during the week a colleague told us that one of our books had featured in it. Not so galvanised, unfortunately, as to remember to check it out, until we settled down to watch last night’s episode. Leaping to the i-player facility, we scrambled through all of it (in the extended version repeated on Monday 29 October) until near the end, we saw this, in an ‘odd-man-out’ question:
The question being asked was about bad language, and the odd man out (again for the benefit of worldwide readers) was the recently appointed, and even more recently departed, UK government Chief Whip, who resigned the other week in a controversy over his swearing (or not) at the police outside Downing Street. Thomas Bowdler was of course, famously, the man who edited Shakespeare in such a way that ‘Nothing Is Added to the Original Text; but those Words and Expressions Are Omitted which Cannot with Propriety Be Read Aloud in a Family’.
So, Cambridge Library Collection has been drawn (however fleetingly) to the attention of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people. One thing that baffles me is that ‘our’ item was relegated to the repeat, in which, usually, any out-takes thought not suitable for broadcasting at the relatively early hour of 9 p.m. (Thomas Bowdler would have approved!) are reinstated. There was nothing in it that could possibly have offended even the wives and servants – and I suspect that it was cut from the first version because the responses to the question weren’t (sadly) particularly funny.
But whither next in this heady path towards celebrity? People on ‘Masterchef: The Professionals‘ waving Mrs Rundell or ‘Mistress Dods’? In fact, the BBC actually asked us for permission to use a CLC book in a ‘forthcoming’ programme some time ago, and of course we gave it readily, but no sign so far … I’ll keep you in the loop, as we media types say.