Private Eye’s Ian Hislop on politics in 2023: ‘It was supposed to be the year of the grown-ups’

​He’s had fun with the Duke of Sussex, mocked Boris Johnson and made Rishi Sunak and Donald Trump the butt of his jokes this year – and there’s plenty more satire to come in 2024 if Private Eye editor and Have I Got News For You? team captain Ian Hislop has his way.
Ian Hislop, the Have I Got News For You? team captain, on the year’s satirical gems.Ian Hislop, the Have I Got News For You? team captain, on the year’s satirical gems.
Ian Hislop, the Have I Got News For You? team captain, on the year’s satirical gems.

​Dipping into the Private Eye Annual 2023, edited by Hislop, readers will find all manner of irony, with targets including everyone from climate protestors to politicians, royals to reality TV stars. It’s clear he’s never short of material.

“One particularly good thing was that I managed to get the right prime minister on the cover,” he says wryly. “Last year the turnover was so fast I got the wrong one on. At least it was Rishi this year and it stayed Rishi – which was a big plus for us, but obviously not for him. He’s done quite well. He survived from one annual to the next.”

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Hislop, 63, is acerbic, witty, genial and cutting, just as he is as team captain opposite comedian Paul Merton on the long-running satirical current affairs panel show Have I Got News For You?, currently in its 66th series.

He has never missed an episode, even when he had a burst appendix in 1992 and discharged himself from hospital just before filming the show.

Why has it remained so popular?

“I think it’s because the news always changes. It’s always new. We have a new host that changes. Paul and I don’t change much. Perhaps television’s got worse and we’re still there. I’m just delighted still to be doing it because it’s enormously good fun.”

He and Merton don’t see each other outside of work, but always go for a drink after the show.

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He has edited the Eye for 37 years, and reflects that 2023 has been a slightly calmer year.

“We’ve had a couple of really mad years and this one was meant to be the year where he (Rishi) came in and it was all more sensible. Whether you feel that’s actually happened or not is up to you, but it was supposed to be the year of the grown-ups. We don’t have Boris (Johnson) and we don’t have Liz Truss anymore.”

It’s easier to make fun of politicians who seem more boring, he says, because it’s difficult to exaggerate how badly the worse ones are behaving.

“We started the (Liz Truss) WhatsApp Group feature which was meant to be a joke, it wasn’t meant to be a documentary feature. It turned out that when all the WhatsApp messages were released they were more or less what we thought, which was vindication.”

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There are some who take ribbing less well than others, he agrees.

Suella Braverman was marvellous – we turned her into a superhero called Braverman, like Superman, who largely managed to fly about not stopping anyone from crossing the channel. She was a terrific character this year, but sadly managed to get herself sacked.

“So you’ll have to buy the annual for our most popular strip, because she no longer features.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been another target for the Eye this year.

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“Keir Starmer is the man who likes to sit on the fence unless you don’t like fences and then maybe he can find a hedge, or if you don’t like hedges he’ll find a wall. He’s given us a lot of jokes about his desire to please and not to come down on one side or another.

“People have suggested Keir Starmer is very boring, but I think that’s partly his superpower, in that being interesting in the way his predecessor was manages to lose you elections.

“You have to be careful when you dismiss people as boring. Everyone thought John Major was boring, but then you had him for two elections.”

With the Cabinet reshuffle, he sees some great Eye opportunities for 2024.

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“Cameron was pretty funny last time around,” he chortles. “Last time Cameron was in office we had a strip called Lord Snooty, which was Cameron and his mates, and now he’s actually been made a lord. Yet again Private Eye has proved itself to be mystic and prescient.”

His mailbag of complaints is always hefty, although emails have also provided extra weight, he says.

“When people realised they could send emails rather than just letters, it went a bit exponential,” he recalls. “I would rather just trust the Post Office – because then we’ll never get any letters at all.”

Does he worry about being cancelled?

“There’s this great idea that you can’t say anything and that as soon as you say anything interesting you get cancelled. Well, we’re still here. I’m not entirely convinced. I mean, half the jokes in this issue are about people saying, ‘I can’t say anything’ and then they say it on BBC1 and on the front of a daily newspaper and in interviews everywhere.

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“It’s what your uncle used to say at Christmas in the Seventies, ‘Well, you can’t say anything nowadays’, but he’s going to say it anyway.”

Celebrities have also not gone under the 2023 annual radar. Phillip Schofield – renamed Phillip Airtime in the magazine – receives a brief eulogy from stand-in presenters Someone O’Someone and Alison Everything, while Miriam Margolyes’ swearing gets the Eye treatment.

“In the early days there was a much narrower range of people who achieved fame, but once you add in the spread of television and social media, all sorts of people are famous for all sorts of things.”

Prince Harry has provided Hislop with a huge amount of material, the editor admits.

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“He had his book out, he had a number of court cases which he appeared at with some degree of success and now he wants to call a ceasefire. We’ll see how that pans out.”

So is he likely to come into the Eye’s pages next year?

“He may come for Christmas and probably buy his dad a present, then it’ll all be fine,” he japes.

Hislop lives in Kent with his wife, the bestselling novelist Victoria Hislop, who has previously said that he is more intellectual than she is and that she gets anxious when he reads her manuscripts before they are sent off to the publishers.

They met at Oxford University, where they both studied English. Their daughter Emily and son Will also studied there.

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Hislop first became involved with the Eye as a student at Oxford when he went to interview the magazine’s owner, Peter Cook, over lunch. Later they became firm friends and he started writing for the magazine.

He is recognised when he’s out and about, and occasionally bumps into people he’s been rude about.

He tells me: “People like you say, ‘Are you embarrassed?’ and I say, ‘Well, you know, I didn’t tank the economy’. The embarrassment is not necessarily mine.”

Social media, he says, has benefited the magazine, given “the fact that social media is so terrible and a source of such extraordinary misinformation. Quite a lot of the job nowadays is made easier by just printing stuff that’s vaguely true.”

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Looking to 2024, Hislop must be rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the rich pickings to be had from next year’s events.

“We’ve got two elections – you’ve got a British election, possibly. You’ve got Trump back, possibly returning,” he says, chuckling. “There’s a lot to look forward to.”

Private Eye Annual 2023, edited by Ian Hislop, is published by Private Eye Productions Ltd, priced £12.99. Available now

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Private Eye’s Ian Hislop on politics in 2023: ‘It was supposed to be the year of the grown-ups’

By Hannah Stephenson, PA

[STANDFIRST] The Have I Got News For You? team captain looks back at the year’s satirical gems.

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