Conrad Black pulls his punches on Have I Got News for You

Ting, ting. Round three of Conrad Black V the British media.

After a pretty effective take-down of Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman on Monday (“You’re a priggish, gullible, British fool”) and then Sky’s Adam Boulton a day later (“stop being a jackass”), they came mob-handed.

Friday's Have I Got News For You promised so much, with Lord Black going at it toe-to-toe with Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. Sadly those expecting sparks to fly were disappointed.

He just didn’t bite.

Ian Hislop had a good go, although he did wait 10 minutes before getting a pop in, and when he did get started he looked very much like a man in a pub being held back by his mates.

His haranguing of Lord Black for being a convicted criminal simply earned him a mild rebuke for being “a banana”. Hardly slings and arrows of outrageousness.

Hislop’s return put-down was smart enough: “You’ve come here to say you’re innocent, which is sweet but not true.”

The replay of the Jeremy Paxman Newsnight interview in which Lord Black threatened to “smash” the presenters “face in” gave way to one of Lord Black’s better lines: “I like Jeremy, he’s just an asshole."

Cue astonishment from Hislop, who came at him again: “It’s unbelievable that you can get away with that. The man is asking you questions about being a criminal and you call him an asshole."

But again Lord Black didn’t really rise and Hislop didn’t particularly land a punch.

Other than that it was dig after dig, in the main from the host Alexander Armstrong. Paul Merton, who was on Lord Black’s team, didn’t get involved. Neither did Hislop’s partner, the columnist Victoria Coren.

There was always going to be a Citizen Kane gag, so it was no surprise when Orson Welles turned up in the odd-one-out section. Still, it was a nicely delivered line from Armstrong. “Yes, he played Charles Foster Kane, a power crazed multi-millionaire newspaper tycoon who faces a humiliating demise on account of his own greed.” Much laughter.

Lord Black sat politely and took the ribbing in good spirit. The arena of a light-hearted studio news quiz didn't really bring out the best in the former owner of the Daily Telegraph, who clearly preferred a more combative setting.

Have I Got News For You failed to deliver the Friday night punch-up it had promised, and while pretty funny in places, it was not a patch on the Paxman/Boulton interviews from earlier in the week.