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TV Interview

How did I celebrate Piers Morgan getting axed? I'm still celebrating

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Ian Hislop returns to BBC Two tonight for the first part in a new documentary series, Olden Days: The Power of the Past in Britain.

We caught up with the broadcaster to ask about the show, the future of the BBC and why he's refused to join the Twitterati.

Ian Hislop's Olden Days episode one

© BBC / Wingspan Productions Ltd/Kim Lomax


What do you mean when you refer to 'the Olden Days' in your new show.
"The interesting thing about the olden days is that they are the history we would have liked to have been true, but often wasn't.

"One of the shows is about two of our great national heroes, one of whom probably didn't exist and the other for whom we constantly make up what we think is important at the time.

"The second one is about the British love of traditions. And Britain's best tradition is making up traditions. If we haven't got one, we make it up.

"The other one is about the English countryside. It's become a historical setting for all the fantasies we have about ourselves. I am afraid there is a lot of Morris dancing in that one. I thought I'd best put that warning out there."

This creation of the 'Olden Days' still happens now. You point out in the show, we did the same thing with Princess Diana.
"Absolutely. I'm so pleased you identified that moment. You only have to look at what happened in court a few weeks ago. Somebody said, 'Oh by the way, Diana released a whole load of phone numbers to journalists, so she could get her own back on Charles'.

"That isn't the picture of Diana that history records. The Diana we see in the movies, and probably in our history, will not strictly be true. That's because she fulfils a need and that's what we do with 'the olden days'."

Ian Hislop's Olden Days episode one

© BBC / Wingspan Productions Ltd/Kim Lomax


The first show features a lot of King Arthur. Why do you think the Arthurian myth still lives on?
"I think every time he comes back, he's very different. I remember the wonderful film Excalibur, there was a TV show about Arthur when I was a kid, now kids today have Merlin, which was a massive hit. There are so many films and video games about him, you do wonder what the draw is.

"It might be because he's a blank canvas so you can make him what you want. But I think what's clever about Arthur is that in the original fragments, he's just a Celtic warrior who goes around beating some people up. Over years he gets chivalry, the Merrie England period and his knights thrown in. Then a religious element gets added and the search for the Holy Grail.

"It just taps into every single basic human desire for a story and you can pin it all on him."

Jeremy Paxman interviews Noel Edmonds on Newsnight

© BBC


Noel Edmonds has said that he wants to buy the BBC. How would you feel about having him as your boss?
"I thought April the 1st had come early. I don't think I want to be working for Noel. Shall we be honest here. If it's Deal or No Deal, then it's a 'no deal' from me."

Did you agree with any of his complaints about the BBC?
"I'm not sure Noel's views are really worth contesting."

He apparently wants to get rid of the licence fee. Do you think that's worth fighting for?
"I think the licence fee has been and can continue to be an extraordinary way of collecting money. It's odd and nobody would start nowadays by creating something like the BBC. But we do have it and I don't think we should get rid of it.

"It doesn't seem like a great deal of money and I know people would say, 'Oh well, you work for them', but I've worked for ITV and Channel 4. You know me, I'll work for anyone. I'm certainly not fussy."

BBC's Broadcasting House generic

© Rex Features / London News Pictures


Do you think the BBC gets dealt with too harshly by the media?
"I do think it is one of the final extraordinary institutions we have left. Although Private Eye has been pretty savage in its criticism, I think in life you criticise the things that are worth keeping. Things that you don't care about, you don't bother with.

"There are challenges ahead, it's had a terrible five years with management problems, the Savile problems and a real lack of confidence after the government interference after Iraq. But if you do look at the output of programming over that period, it's still pretty extraordinary. This year they had the Simon Schama documentary on the Jews and I think that was one of the best documentaries that has ever appeared. The bulk of people who work there and who are producing programmes are really, really good. That would be my view."

The BBC has now insisted that all panel shows, such as Have I Got News For You, must have a woman on the panel taking part. Did you agree with that move?
"I think that furore wasn't about Have I Got News For You so much, because I think our record is better than other shows. We've got a female producer and she always tries to get women. But it's hard for all sorts of reasons, which aren't to do with an unwillingness from the show. There just aren't enough women who are happy in that format and who say yes when they're invited.

"But we started this series with Jennifer Saunders and that was wonderful. We've been asking her to do it ever since the show began. There was a point, last series, where we had all men on the panel and I made a joke about how wonderfully diverse we'd become. Then a few months later, I guess that the head of the BBC must have been taking notes. That's the power of telly. I hope it's not my fault."

Piers Morgan, CNN

© Getty Images / WireImage


How did you celebrate your friend Piers Morgan losing his job on CNN?
"Your question is, how have I celebrated? My answer is, I'm still celebrating."

Were you tempted to join Twitter to mock him?
"Twitter's not for me."

Why have you not signed up?
"I don't really want to tell people any more about my life. I've got plenty of platforms to do that and bore people with my views. They don't need any more of me. I think I'll give it a miss."

Ian Hislop's Olden Days airs tonight (April 9) at 9pm on BBC Two.

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