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28 October 2014
I'm sorry I haven't a clue

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30th Special


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The People
Humphrey Lyttelton
Graeme Garden
Tim Brooke-Taylor
and Barry Cryer

Colin Sell is at the piano.

A Long Runner: I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue

Age: First broadcast 11 April 1972.

Four regulars, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and, (until December 1996, Willie Rushton), played party games under the chairmanship of Humphrey Lyttelton. For example: complete a limerick beginning, "In the middle of singing an anthem"; gargle along to Brahms’ Lullaby; give an account of the Second World War in the style of a parish magazine; sing 'Love Me Tender' to the tune of The Archers.

There are 12 shows each year, in two series of six, with a Christmas highlights programme. It is yet not known whether the show will continue following the sad loss of its chairman.

What are these chaps like?
Graeme Garden: smooth medic.
Tim Brooke-Taylor: naughty schoolboy.
Barry Cryer: music-hall cynic.
Humphrey Lyttelton: world-weary gent.

Son of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again,, a classic of Sixties radio comedy starring Garden, Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese and Bill Oddie. Garden and Oddie were starting to make it in television and were looking for an outlet for their radio talents that wouldn’t involve so much script writing. With input from David Hatch, performer and producer on Again, an improvised quiz show was born. Garden thought the pilot "pretty hair-raising", but Tony Whitby, head of Radio 4, liked it. It was Hatch’s idea to bring in Lyttelton, then known mainly as a jazz performer and presenter.

Has anybody else been on the show?
Yes. In the early days, Cleese, Oddie and another Again regular, Jo Kendall, one of the few women to have taken part. Mike Harding, a northern folk singer and comic, has been on as have Kenny Everett, Bill Tidy and, more recently, Stephen Fry and Paul Merton. There have been more obscure appearances from the likes of Max Boyce, Tony Hawks, Denise Coffey, John Junkin, Phill Jupitus, Jonathan Lynn, Fred McCauley, Neil Mullarkey, Linda Smith and Sandi Toksvig.

Is that it?
Piano accompaniment is provided by Colin Sell, a regular butt of Lyttelton humour, but unable to reply because he doesn’t have a mike.

Who wins?
Nobody. No points are awarded. But there have been three scorers, "the lovely Monica", "the lovely Samatha" and, latterly, "the lovely Sven." Samantha remains the firm favourite.

Where is it recorded?
For a long time there were three London venues used: the Playhouse and Westminster theatres, but mainly the Paris Studios in Lower Regent Street. Nowadays, more often than not, you’ll find they are recorded in local town halls and theatres in the regions. Two shows are recorded at a time, usually in the evening, although some have been done at lunchtime. For the evening shows, the team run through its ideas during the afternoon. But there is no script. Clue, as it is known in the trade, has been recorded all over Great Britain.

Two million at home, 350 in the studio, many of them students. The 30th anniversary show was recorded at the Playhouse Theatre, London where it began. Long-time fan Judi Dench was in the audience.

Little-known Facts
1. John Cleese expressed his irritation at losing by pouring his glass of water over the microphone. The live audience loved it. The joke was lost on those at home.
2. The signature tune, a wonky brass number with military overtones, is called 'The Shickel Shamble' and was composed by Ron Goodwin for the film Monte Carlo or Bust.
3. Humphrey Lyttelton’s "buzzer" (more of a toot than a buzz) was a car horn with a light bulb on the end of it. It disappeared during a recording one year and he had to replace it for the following series.

Iris Murdoch liked it. It is Victoria Wood’s "all-time favourite radio show". Kidnap victim Stephanie Slater said it helped her through her ordeal. Dame Beryl Bainbridge and Phill Jupitus are both keen followers of the show.

Is it on tape?
Funny you should ask. There are various cassette compilations in the BBC Radio Collection, including a new box set. It was thought that the original programme was lost but recently a copy turned up. Plans are in place to broadcast it again on digital radio.

Trade Secrets
The rules of Mornington Crescent, the game for which the show is most famous. If you write in (as about 200 people do every series) you will probably be referred to NF Stovold’s Mornington Crescent: Rules and Origins and told it is out of print. However, your local bookshop might have a copy of The Little Book Of Mornington Crescent by Tim, Graeme, Barry and Humph.

So what are the rules of Mornington Cresent?
I’m sorry I haven’t a clue.

The bottom line: Is it good?
It is, as long as you have a taste for puns and word-play generally. Its success derives from the familiarity of the performers, the chemistry between them, and the warmth they inspire. And, although the show works mainly because it is clever people making fools of themselves rather than fools doing so, it is neither exclusive nor cultish. The humour is largely without any political or satirical edge. Rather old-fashioned, in fact, but it’s the funniest programme on radio.

by Simon O’Hagen
courtesy of The Independent On Sunday

Clue CDs and audio cassettes are available from the BBC Shop and other online retailers.
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