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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 19:35 GMT
Angus Deayton: Mr Urbane
Angus Deayton
Angus Deayton: From voice-overs to prime-time
BBC News Online profiles Angus Deayton whose private life was splashed across the tabloid press, leading him to be dropped from topical quiz Have I Got News For You.

Angus Deayton is a television celebrity almost in spite of his career.

Best known as the urbane yet acerbic host of satire quiz Have I Got News For You, for years Deayton was only well known within the industry and to viewers of BBC Two.

His witty one-liners, patronising put downs and knowing nod to the audience made him a favourite with viewers and his celebrity began to grow.

In an episode two years ago Deayton gave a typical one-liner: "In the States, the election has become a so-called watercooler debate, meaning that Americans gather round the watercooler at work and discuss whether it would make a better president than Bush or Gore."

Ian Hislop, Angus Deayton and Paul Merton
Able lieutenants: Hislop and Merton
The success of the programme led to a shift to BBC One and with it came all the trappings that comes with fame - a higher-profile, higher salary and high interest from the tabloid newspapers.

In June this year and again in October tabloid editors had the presenter in their sights and his plum role on the show could be in doubt.

The public unveiling of his private life must be humiliating for a man who has never courted publicity in the manner of so many of his peers.

'Private life'

In 1993, when newspaper interest focused on the end of his nine-year relationship with singer Stephanie de Sykes, Angus Deayton refused to give his side of the story.

"The reason it's called private life is because it's private," he said.

Angus Deayton in One Foot in the Grave
Victor Meldrew's neighbour
It is common knowledge that Deayton's journey to his present prominence has been a a slog.

His father was a middle manager for the Prudential, mother was a cookery teacher, Angus was the youngest of three boys, and they all lived comfortably in Caterham.

He provided some early ammunition for ridicule, as a Surrey supporter of Manchester United.

But his credibility was aided by his footballing ability; he had a trial for Crystal Palace when he was 12 and still plays regularly.

While reading French and German at New College, Oxford, his fondness for Abba and the Bee Gees did not mark him out as a satirist.

But when Richard Curtis, later to achieve fame as the Four Weddings and a Funeral writer, invited him to replace someone who had dropped out of an Edinburgh Festival revue, Deayton accepted.

And when, inspired by the experience, his spoof band, the Hee Bee Bee Gees, reached number two in the Australian charts with their Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices, Deayton decided comedy was the life for him.

'Very sharp'

In 1978, he sold a sketch to The Dick Emery Show, but it was another 12 years, after earning a living by writing radio scripts and providing voiceovers for commercials, before he claimed the chair on Have I Got News For You.

It was Deayton's instant chemistry with Hislop and Merton that secured him the job. When the BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, guested on the programme, he found Deayton "very sharp, very focused and a little shorter in real life than I'd expected".

But while his admirers say he possesses all the attributes of a good presenter - unflappable, charming and witty - his critics acknowledge only that he is good with an autocue.

While Ian Hislop is the mischievous schoolboy and Paul Merton is master of the droll dismissal, Angus Deayton's seemingly effortless asides are more likely to be the result of dedicated hard work.

A former producer of the show, Harry Thompson, says Deayton is "terribly pernickety and spends a long time going over things like semi-colons".

Regular income

His reliability has ensured that he is in demand, as Victor Meldrew's long-suffering neighbour Patrick, in One Foot in the Grave, the front man for a lucrative series of Barclaycard commercials, and as a presenter of the Bafta awards programme at a reported fee of 50,000.

Together with his regular income through his involvement with Hat Trick Productions - which makes the programme - it has helped to provide a 2m house at Islington in north London as well as a 700-year-old farmhouse in Tuscany.

Apart from Have I Got News For You, he continues to do voice-over work but has yet to find another TV vehicle for his talents.

See also:

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