The Andrew Neil Show review – back to his best with curry, porn and Jacob Rees-Mogg

Eleven months of Sundays have passed since a visibly uncomfortable Andrew Neil launched GB News, fighting sound and lighting issues at the new anti-woke network from which he soon resigned as lead presenter.

Now, Neil has started another new Sunday show at Channel 4, where a professional studio set-up allowed us to see how much happier and healthier he looked than on that grim night last June.

Although the type of viewer who would watch a political talk-show running opposite the Bafta awards would surely know who the presenter is, there were giant reminders as he sat between a sort of ego sandwich of the words The Andrew Neil Show in huge typeface both on the wall behind his desk and the facade in front.

Many of us watching are likely to have been refugees from This Week, one of the most original and authoritative political series ever, which Neil presented on BBC One from 2003-19.

There are echoes of that programme in the jokey opening – the host apparently caught unawares while eating curry and drinking champagne in his work place – and closing: Neil lifts up his script to reveal a copy of a hard-core tractor publication of the sort that apparently led the recently resigned Tory MP Neil Parish to be drawn into viewing porn.

And, where This Week had Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo as Neil’s resident left-right sidekicks, he will be joined on Channel 4 each week by Pippa Crerar of the Mirror and Madeline Grant of the Telegraph.

The network chose this start-date to follow last week’s local elections, but Neil and his team boldly ignored that event, with the presenter – who clearly seemed to have been given more editorial freedom than at the BBC – announcing that what really mattered was the cost of living crisis.

This created an uncomfortable evening for the live studio interviewee, Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, who was asked no questions at all on the first half of his brief and just one on the second, as Neil pressed him relentlessly on why the Johnson administration, in the inflation and prices crisis, seem to be doing least for those families who most need it.

Rees-Mogg initially looked happy at the focus, always keen to play fantasy Chancellor of the Exchequer – but the true-blue politician looked increasingly true-red, seeming visibly angered by Neil’s combative approach: “The poorest need help now!”

This was Neil back to his best, combining forensic knowledge of statistics and documents with intense listening during the interview, rather than, as some TV inquisitors do, sticking to a rigid pre-prepared question list.

Caveats? Neil came close to Piers Morgan levels of narcissism when he scolded Rees-Mogg, “You don’t get away with cheap debating tricks! I grew up in a tougher debating school than you!” And he seemed so pumped up by the flaying of Jacob that he was too rude to Grant and Crerar in their segment at the end of the show. In future editions, he should treat these sharp journalists more as co-hosts.

It also seemed strange that the weekend’s biggest political story – the convulsions in Northern Ireland caused by a Sinn Fein majority and a DUP ultimatum to London on post-Brexit border protocols – was touched on only in Neil’s outro.

At some point in the run, a cheeky guest will ask Neil whether he thinks Channel 4 should be privatised – which could be interesting – but the network has done well in getting the premier political interviewer back at a first-class broadcaster.