“WHICH Victorian philanthropist would be most effective today?”, satirist, journalist and sometime comedian Ian Hislop was asked on Friday night.

“The Earl of Shaftesbury, because he could bore out the House of Commons for hours on end,” was his answer, which was greeted with much laughter.

This came at the end of a fact-filled hour about the Victorian ‘do-gooders’, the men and women greatly admired by Hislop for being ‘good eggs’ for one reason or another.

“Many of the people I admire are bonkers,” he said, adding that he admired many Victorians for their “energy, selfbelief and can-do attitude”, all spoken as he smiled from ear to ear, as he did throughout much of the talk, as he chatted to fellow historian Guy Walters about his heroes.

An hour spent in Ian Hislop’s company is rewarding fodder, whether describing Charles Dickens’ boozy habit of standing on his head in a cab, or pointing out that the statue in Piccadilly Circus dedicated to Lord Shaftesbury is in fact Eros’ twin Anteros. He delighted in telling how London’s flocks of camera clicking tourists think it is a statue dedicated to love when it is, in fact, dedicated to the man who spent 50 years trying to stop child labour including using children as chimney sweeps.

Hislop’s favourite Victorian was Ellice Hopkins, the social campaigner and founder of The White Cross Army. “Votes for women, chastity for men”, was her mantra, he said.

And which Victorian would he invite to the panel of Have I Got News For You? Why, his old friend Charles Dickens.

“Because we would not have to do anything, he could do all the jokes.”

Anne Morris