Sandi Toksvig’s News Quiz Reign has ended, we must mourn.
It is fitting that Sandi Toksvig’s final edition of The News Quiz was broadcast on the same day the US Supreme Court has legalised Gay Marriage, (or, as I prefer to call it, equal marriage). Like many of my favourite radio shows, my love of The News Quiz results from its podcast availability on Fridays, and Sandi has been a key part of my comedy education as a result.
For those that are missing out, The News Quiz is John Lloyd’s creation from 1977. It features a simple premise: funny people talking about the news in the context of a quiz. The only TV panel show to have achieved an equal status in its everlasting glory (equivalating Just A Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, and The News Quiz) is of course Have I Got News For You, which used some of the same regulars in its early 1990s incarnations as it is basically a slightly more hyperactive TV version. Whilst it does not have team captains, it currently regularly features the sophisticated misery of Jeremy Hardy, the energetic and upbeat Susan Calman, and so many other fine witty and utterly engaging comic voices. Rebecca Front, Phil Jupitus, Mark Steel, Andy Hamilton, and Samira Ahmed to name a few.
However, it is Sandi Toksvig’s chairwomanship that has kept the show’s charm and edge. She goes beyond her script and punctuates her gags with points, and can make a point as seriously or trivially as she likes as a result. She treats the younger counterparts with respect and maternal care. She treats her political enemies with respect to make it all the more effective when she undermines them.
As I write this, I’m checking to see what it was that my 17-year-old-self loved about this programme. I’m listening to an edition from January 2010, and Sandi has managed to make one joke fit four different news stories. The snowy weather, an attempted Labour-coup, inaccurately stated Conservative policies and Iceland’s Eurozone-damaging banks.
Her final edition featured instability in the EU, Michael Gove, tensions with the monarchy, and skinny jeans induced health-warnings.
Things have changed a little since then. Not a lot.
It is fitting that Sandi has achieved her status on a Radio 4 panel show (often regarded to be a ‘nest’s egg’ for any comedian: radio panel shows last forever without the towering costs and pressure put onto their television counterparts). She is the establishment of the anti-establishment. She is also the Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, (after losing a campaign to achieve the Chancellorship of Oxford, having lost when standing on the issue of… abolishing tuition fees).
Her progression will now ascend further. She’s leaving her darling News Quiz to set up and lead The Women’s Equality Party. Its fitting that she will no longer just poke jokes, but seek to actually poke the establishment, and directly so. Even if its another force of the left that might split things, its nice to see that she will just outright campaign on the issues she cares for and can offer a lot of experience to.
Sandi has been a key part of my comedy education. My progression and maturing from Mock the Week to Have I Got News For You naturally led me to The News Quiz and The Now Show. Then I could only delve further into Radio 4’s huge array and archive of sketches and monologues that are really where comedy can thrive if more people could only access these fine pieces of comedy. They are there. They are waiting, warmly, to welcome you with jokes and thoughts. Sandi Toksvig for me is the face of radio comedy, as strange a sentence as that sounds. She welcomed me by being funny, warm, but casually ready with an edge and real point.
The News Quiz and The Now Show will no-doubt continue to be key staples of Radio 4’s satirical swipes at humanity’s failings. And let’s be honest, the new host of The News Quiz is a much better opposition party against the world than our alleged opposition party at the moment.