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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Angus Deayton: Answering questions for a change
Angus Deayton
Angus Deayton makes his living from poking fun at celebrities and politicians on Have I Got News For You. But as Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit reports, he's now having to bear the barbs of the sniggering snipers.

The smile might not have been wiped off his face, but inevitably, it's a forced one, as Angus Deayton accepts it's his turn to suffer the obligatory slings and arrows which are the speciality of the Have I Got News for You captains, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton.

After the tabloid tales of his snorting cocaine with a hooker, Deayton has said he's "devastated by the hurt" he has caused his partner Lise Meyer, the comedy scriptwriter and mother of his year-old son.

And while there is a widespread suspicion in media circles that it could all be a publicity stunt in the ratings war, Deayton's aversion to any press interest in his private life is well documented.

Ian Hislop, Angus Deayton and Paul Merton
Hislop and Merton ganging up
The only time he has chosen to bare all publicly, or very nearly, was when he appeared naked on TV in Alexei Sayle's Stuff: "It was an article on nude gardening. I had just a small pot plant over my necessaries."

Small? For the man known as TV's Mr Sex? Well, that label was apparently invented by a TV listings writer on Time Out - the perhaps appropriately-named Tina Ogle - and despite its ironic intent, was quickly adopted by the tabloids.

Relationship

But when their heightened interest focused on the end of his nine-year relationship with singer Stephanie de Sykes in 1993, Angus Deayton refused to give his side of the story: "The reason it's called private life is because it's private," he said.

But it's common knowledge that Deayton's journey to his present prominence has been a bit of 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.

Deayton as BAFTA host
A fat fee for BAFTA night
He provided some early ammunition for ridicule, as a Surrey supporter of Manchester United. At a recent match, with his own scandal still to break, he was accompanied by Ulrika Johnsson, herself a player in that week's ménage a trois.

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

Oxford-educated

Reading French and German at New College, Oxford, Deayton, with his fondness for Abba, the Bee Gees and I'm Sorry I'll Read that Again, 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.


I can't imagine him crying

Former producer Harry Thompson
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.

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.

Angus Deayton in One Foot in the Grave
Victor Meldrew's neighbour
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!"

Deayton is said to be unusually sensitive about his height and irritated when his surname - it rhymes with Eton - is mispronounced.

Unflappable

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

Angus Deayton smiling
Smiling through
The former producer of HIGNFY, Harry Thompson, says Deayton is "terribly pernickety and spends a long time going over things like semi-colons".

His reliability has ensured that he's 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, it has helped to provide a £2m house at Islington in north London and a 700-year-old farmhouse in Tuscany, to which he and his partner fled after the News of the World revelations.

Back in London, Angus Deayton has offered himself as the ritual sacrifice to Messrs Hislop and Merton. And we are left to guess whether, behind the studio make-up, he was still laughing all the way to the bank.


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24 May 02 | UK
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