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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 Chairman - Humphrey Lyttelton

I'm here with Humphrey Lyttelton who is chairman of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. He's a jazz trumpeter of legend, national treasure, humorist, calligrapher, and subversive, I think. Congratulations on getting to thirty years with this show.

Thank you very much. I don't know how we've done it but it's nice to be here.

It's been thirty years. You were there from the very beginning, but you weren't always the host. Is that right?

At the very beginning, I did the pilot because in those days, anybody that did any broadcasting - and I'd done a bit about music, about jazz, and things - anybody who did any broadcasting and sounded articulate would eventually be called on to do some kind of a pilot, you know. And that sample programme one hoped would go on the air. They never did, 90 percent of them went down the plug after they'd been done because the producers had a budget every year and if they didn't do enough of them, they would cut their budgets. And they used to do them. I thought this was one of them and you pick up a studio fee. No chance it would be coming out. So, I went in and did the first one. They tried to do it all ad-lib which meant that I sat there in the middle of four people, sweating profusely, because on radio with no studio time to go back and re-do an ad-lib situation, it's very nerve wracking.

But you'd not been known in radio. You were a jazz man, basically?


So how did it occur to anyone to have you as the chairman?

Well, I had started a programme which is even longer running than this one in 1967 which was a jazz programme called The Best of Jazz and that still goes out on Monday nights. That's been going for 33 years or something. So, they knew that I could talk in a microphone. I did the pilot, and when they came through and said they were going to put it on the air, I had already some dates in the book with my band and so on. So Barry did the first one, he may have done a few more than the first one in the series, and I took it up from then.

You were sustaining a pretty hefty tour schedule during all this. Tim and Graeme were making The Goodies all through the 70s. When did you find time?

Well, it's not very time consuming because we do, we record them two at a time, and of course we do them in huge theatres - I think 1400 at Milton Keynes was the biggest, so that occupies… we do six in the spring, that means three usually Sunday nights and six more in the late autumn. So, that's only really six days out of the year so it doesn't occupy an enormous amount of time. The teams usually arrive a day earlier and sort out some things like the musical games. I just stroll in right before the recording goes on.

I notice you had a quick read through the cards. Is that about as much preparation as it takes now?

I have to do that because, as Jon Naismith told the audience tonight, he brought on Iain Pattinson who for ten years has written my introductions and the leads in to the different little games. And some people say "We thought it was you". For me, it's a bigger challenge, it's much harder to do and much more rewarding to do well, then just to think up stuff of your own, hit or miss, because you've got to see to it that you don't torpedo any of his punch lines. And therefore you have to think about the timing and judge it correctly so that, for instance, a good joke doesn't disappear in laughter or applause or anything like that.

Although a good portion is written down, there do seem to be these occasional ad-libs that basically bring the house down.

Well, it's all part of my persona on the programmeme of a grumpy chairman. When I first did the first real show, not the pilot, I drove in thinking "What am I going to do? I've got four professional comedians, comic actors... I can't chip in with anything worth chipping in". By the time I got to the theatre, I thought "Well, that's is exactly how I will present myself: as somebody who has come in the midst of all these people and there's a slight hint that he doesn't really want to be there and slightly grumpy about everything". And I've done that for 30 years now.


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