Has there ever been a figure so associated with a TV panel show than Stephen Fry is with QI? I don’t think so.
While panel show hosts may be popular, long-running or well-suited to the format – Sandi Toksvig on The News Quiz, Dara O’Briain on Mock the Week, Rob Brydon on Would I Lie to You – I can’t think of anyone who so embodies the values of the programme they helm.
“What? Stephen Fry is QI,” I thought – but as of this evening (when his last episode airs on BBC2 at 10pm) he won’t be any more. After 180-plus episodes, an awful lot of letter-themed questioning and 13 years rolling his eyes at Alan Davies, he’s stepping back from the show that we all assumed he’d be part of forever – or at least until we reached series ‘Z’.
There will be two more specials this series, where Fry will present his favourite QI moments, but after that, his time is over. I don’t think it’s too hyperbolic to say this is the end of an era.
Fry has been hosting QI since 2003, and in that time panel shows have changed a great deal, becoming both more anarchic and more numerous (there seem to be dozens more than there were 10 years ago). But QI was always the same – gentle, informative fun with a group of comedians at the top of their game. Lovely stuff.
But then again, maybe that was becoming a bit of a problem. In recent series QI had started to become a bit repetitive, and like all panel shows was engulfed in the row over the lack of female contestants appearing per episode.
It’s a bittersweet change for me. Fry, the man who so embodies QI and has done such a good job, is leaving – but he’s being replaced by someone just as talented and erudite, who also represents a big step forward for the representation of women in the entertainment industry (even if such a development is long overdue). If I had to describe my mood right now, it would be sadcited.
New QI host Sandi Toksvig
And considering Sandi has the entire second half of the alphabet to work with – 13 letters, just like Fry – who’s to say she won’t make just as big a mark on the show? I’ll certainly be watching to find out.
Yes, Stephen Fry was QI – but in this day and age, maybe QI needs to try being someone else.