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Deayton, Angus (1956-)

Presenter, Actor, Writer

Main image of Deayton, Angus (1956-)

Future generations may come to look at the rise and fall of Angus Deayton as a cautionary tale of what high-profile success and tabloid exposure can do to a career. Others are as likely to regret his sacking as the iconic presenter of the satirical television series Have I Got News For You (BBC, 1990-2002), and note that his performance there has unavoidably overshadowed his other work.

He was born on January 6th, 1956, and, after briefly considering a football career, went to Oxford. A contemporary of Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, he became involved in student comic revues. This led to an appearance in a spoof band, the Hee Bee Gee Bees, and a parody of radio programmes called Radio Active from 1981-7, which later became the TV series KYTV (BBC, 1989-93).

He made his television debut in an episode of TISWAS (ITV, 1981) but made more impact in the first series of The Black Adder (BBC, 1983) in a brief cameo as the Jumping Jew of Jerusalem. He also wrote for Rory Bremner, on such projects as The Rory Bremner Show (BBC, 1988) and Rory Bremner (BBC, 1989). He was a member of the ensemble cast for Alexei Sayle's sketch comedy Stuff (BBC, 1988-91), and had brief appearances in two Atkinson/Curtis projects, the romantic comedy The Tall Guy (d. Mel Smith, 1989) and Mr Bean (ITV, 1990), in which he played the hapless straight man, a role which he later repeated in Atkinson's show Rowan Atkinson Live (1992).

However, it was Have I Got News For You that made him a household name. The major difference between Deayton and the two regular panellists, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, was that they were expected to be spontaneously witty and incisive, while Deayton mainly relied on an autocue, which occasionally led to embarrassing moments. Nevertheless, it was his dry, erudite way with a cutting one-liner that established him as a desirable host for countless later light comedy programmes such as Before They Were Famous (BBC, 1997-) and The End of the Year Show (BBC, 1995-8).

In addition to his television presenting, he also acted occasionally. He appeared in a number of episodes of One Foot in the Grave (BBC, 1990-5) as Patrick Trench, Victor Meldrew's harassed neighbour, and in a couple of bizarre feature film cameos, appearing as a hitman in the thriller Savage Hearts (US/UK, 1997) and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Elizabeth (d. Shekhar Kapur, 1998). He also made self-parodic appearances as 'himself' in such sitcoms as Coupling (BBC, 2000) and Happiness (BBC, 2001), again demonstrating his laconic wit.

He was fired from Have I Got News For You in 2002, firstly for his involvement in a tabloid sex and drugs scandal, and secondly because Hislop and Merton lost no opportunity to lay into him while on air. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the producers felt there was a conflict of interest in his presenting a satirical programme poking fun at the misdeeds of the famous. However, since his dismissal, popular guests such as Stephen Fry have refused to appear, arguing that his role was as a presenter, not a moral arbiter.

Although it was believed that this ignominy would spell the end of his career, it has in fact proved largely irrelevant. Deayton has continued acting, to mixed effect; he was a terrific straight-man foil to Julia Davis' deranged Jill in Nighty Night (BBC, 2004-5), but seemed uncomfortable in Fat Slags (d. Ed Bye, 2004), along with the rest of its cast. He has continued to be much in demand as a presenter, most notably for such projects as Hell's Kitchen (ITV, 2004) and the game-show Bognor or Bust (ITV, 2004), whose focus on topical news-based questions and humour, can be seen as a riposte to another television programme. He also wrote and starred in a parody of self-help series, Help Your Self (ITV, 2006).

Alexander Larman

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