Sandi Toksvig, the outgoing presenter of The News Quiz, was in the running to be the original presenter of Have I Got News For You – but was told that the BBC did not want a woman in charge.
When The News Quiz format transferred to TV as HIGNFY 25 years ago, Toksvig was asked to audition for the job of presenter. “They made two pilots, one with me and one with Angus Deayton," she reveals in this week's edition of Radio Times. "I was told by the producers that they preferred my version, but the channel decided they couldn’t have a woman in charge.”
Toksvig says the decision angered her but also "made me feel inadequate and question whether I was really up to it.”
Deayton went on to host the BBC panel show with team captains Paul Merton and Ian Hislop until he was dropped in 2002 following scandalous newspaper reports.
“I thought Angus was very good and he’s an extremely nice chap," says Toksvig. "But I would not have been caught with either prostitutes or cocaine, so… possibly I would have been a better bet in the long run.”
In an extract from his autobiography, Paul Merton recalls that after QI creator John Lloyd was ruled out of hosting, "Two candidates were auditioned. In the spirit of diversity, although they had both been to Oxford, they had attended different colleges. Angus Deayton got the job and immediately made it his own."
A BBC spokesperson said, “We’re proud of the fact that the BBC of today has a huge range of women presenters across TV and Radio including Tess and Claudia, Mary Berry, Anne Robinson, Fiona Bruce, Clare Balding, Kate Humble, Clemency Burton-Hill, Clara Amfo, Annie Mac, Louise Minchin, Sophie Raworth, Emily Maitlis, Ritula Shah and many others.”
11 years after not being offered HIGNFY, Toksvig got the job as presenter of The News Quiz. She recently announced she was giving up hosting the radio panel show after becoming one of the founding members of new political party the Women's Equality Party.
"I decided that instead of making jokes about politics I need to take part in it and therefore I can't make jokes and participate," she explains.
The party plans to field candidates in the 2020 general election, but Toksvig insists she will not be standing or acting as party leader. "I'm going to be... master of ceremonies," she says. "At least, that's my intention."
Read the full interview with Sandi Toksvig in this week's issue of Radio Times, in shops and on the Apple Newsstand from Tuesday 16th June.