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24 September 2014
I'm sorry I haven't a clue

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Everything you always wanted to know about ISIHAC but were afraid to ask...

ISIHAC producer, Jon Naismith, let us in on a few secrets about the show.

Will the show keep running and running? Will the team hand it on at some point in the future?

Jon: It's hard to imagine the show without Humph, though we did say the same thing when Willie Rushton passed away in 1996. Ultimately it will be up to the teams themselves, and they seem to be of the opinion that the show will end when Humph retires.

Who invents the rounds?

Jon: New rounds are conceived by the producer and the teams prior to each series. Some are submitted by listeners.

How much of a show is scripted? And how much is improvised? How much advance notice do they get of the rounds?

Jon: Humphrey's links are written by Iain Pattinson. The teams are given advance notice of about half the rounds a few days before any recording, though exactly how much advance preparation they put in is anyone's guess. The show was a spin off from I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, the central objective being to avoid going to the effort of having to write an entire script, and the teams try to stick to this premise wherever possible. I find some of the best moments tend to be improvised, but for the opening and closing rounds in particular I think it's useful if they have some ideas up their sleeves.

Will ISIHAC ever be converted to a TV format? Why hasn't it so far?

Jon: Granada TV made an inexpensive pilot in the early 90s, which was generally well received, though the then head of ITV, Vernon Lawrence, wanted a younger face in the line up. Speaking personally, I am dead against it. I think when you have a perfect radio show there's little point (other than the money) in exposing its unique audio charms to the glare of a TV studio. Can you imagine Humph trying to deal with an autocue? It's just not his style.

Now that chess is an official Olympic exhibition sport, how long do you think it will be before Mornington Crescent gets this level of recognition?

Jon: It's a very interesting notion. I wasn't aware that chess had received this recognition. It seems it must only be a matter of time.

Does the BBC have every show in its archive?

Jon: No. The BBC in its wisdom has destroyed every show until 1978. However, BBC Archives launched what it called a 'Treasure Hunt', encouraging listeners to send in any programmes they might have recorded off air before this date. What turned up was the very first programme broadcast on 11th April 1972. The sound quality's not great, but it's quite audible and a fascinating historical document. I think there are plans to broadcast it on the new digital 'Network Z' sometime soon.

Will there be more audio tapes of the earlier shows made available at any point?

Jon: Not in the near future. I put together the tapes myself and find it more satisfactory to piece together composite programmes, cutting out most of the topical references I think are likely to date, and removing rounds such as 'Pick-Up Song', as this involves commercial disks which the BBC would have to pay huge amounts of money to use. The older shows, from 1978 and 1979, and those in the early 80s, seem very flat compared to those today. The first I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue cassette contains highlights from 1981 onwards. I listened to about 100 programmes while compiling it.

Could there be more recordings north of Manchester? There are a large number of fans in Northumbria and Scotland who rarely get to recordings on the South coast.

Jon: We have been to Harrogate, York, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Because the teams are all based in the South it can be expensive and time consuming having them travel large distances, but I think we've done quite well under the circumstances. This series we are visiting the Bradford Alhambra Theatre on Sunday 28th April. There were still some tickets left when I called the theatre last Friday (5th April). I'm also planning to visit Hull, Blackpool and possibly Darlington in the future. Audiences in the North of England are frequently amongst the best we have had.

What was the biggest audience ISIHAC ever performed to?

Jon: I try not to visit any theatre bigger than 1500 as it think it would spoil the feel of the show to have audiences any larger. We did record a show in front of 1600, but I can't remember which theatre it was. Tickets sell so quickly that it would be quite possible to fill the Royal Albert Hall.

Is it true Humph drives himself to all the recordings in a rather old Volvo 240?

Jon: It is true that Humph does drive himself to recordings in a Volvo, though I couldn't tell you if it's a 240. He drives himself everywhere, and bought a new Volvo recently. The old car had been twice round the clock.

Have Colin Sell and Humph ever played a duet at a recording of ISIHAC?

Jon: No, and frankly it's unlikely. Humphrey has brought his trumpet along to assist in the closing number at occasional Christmas Shows and Colin has been playing the piano at the same time, but that's the closest thing you'll get to a duet.

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Humphrey Lyttelton
Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer
Jon Naismith and Iain Pattinson
Colin Sell
Everything you ever wanted to know about ISIHAC but were afraid to ask.

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