Sandi Toksvig hosting QI is great news – but why on earth has it taken so long?

Of course we should celebrate Toksvig's new role – but we should also be alarmed that in a country of copious panel shows, this didn't happen far, far sooner

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Sandi Toksvig is replacing Stephen Fry on QI – and it’s great news. Of course, we will miss Fry but if anyone was going to take the place of the quirky-trivia king, the hilarious and no-nonsense Toksvig is a fantastic choice.

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She’s funny, she’s seriously clever… and according to the show’s producer John Lloyd she’s “the first female host of a mainstream comedy panel show on British television – an appointment that is well overdue.”

Lloyd is right about this being “well overdue”. In fact, that’s an understatement. In a country where the TV schedules are packed with mainstream comedy panel shows, it’s mind-boggling that it’s taken until 2015 for a woman to host one. 

This month alone, there are new episodes of Have I got News For You, Celebrity Juice, Mock the Week plus repeats of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Would I Lie To You? 

But every single one of those programmes is hosted, or at least anchored by men. Keith Lemon, Dara O’Briain, Rhod Gilbert, Jimmy Carr and Rob Brydon present while duos including Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, David Mitchell and Lee Mack, Sean Lock and Jon Richardson are the regular team captains. Yes, HIGNFY has guest presenters, and some of them have been women, but Hislop and Merton are the face of the show — they’re the ones “joined” by a guest presenter while they hold court.

Actually, Toksvig helmed a pilot of HIGNFY in 1990 with a view to becoming the permanent presenter, but the channel told her that while they preferred her audition they “couldn’t have a woman in charge“. 

Yes, Toksvig finally getting the QI gig a quarter of a century later is certainly a tiptoe in the right direction but it’s also important it doesn’t make us complacent. There’s a tendency, especially for Brits who don’t like to make a fuss, to think ‘A woman hosting a panel show, phew. Now we’re a modern, equal society. DONE! Next issue, please.’

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But given that the nine biggest panel shows on TV and radio in October alone were all hosted by men, the problem is clearly far from being solved. The longer this goes on, the fewer women will want anything to do with the male-dominated culture of panel shows. And that will mean some of the nation’s favourite programmes will be so much worse off.