BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

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

BBC Homepage
Radio 4 comedy
»I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue
30th Special


Contact Us

The Chairman - Humphrey Lyttelton


On the subject of ageism, is it true that I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue was going to go to television that you were all deemed too old for television?

Well, I'm sorry to say, it's a regrettable fact that 45 years old, we were a bit older than that -- it didn't make much difference, 45 years old is usually a sort of a watershed beyond which in television… they're always wanting young people to come in and do things, but I didn't want to do it. Willie Rushton and I held out more strongly against television because, as Willie said at one of the meetings about doing a television thing - though we say it ourselves- it will go down as one of the great BBC comedy shows that people will talk about like Round the Horne and ITMA and all those things. And why move into a different medium which is, apart from anything else, will be very hard to do. You can't have, one of the things we do very often is to play television games but on radio and we've done "Through the Keyhole" and we do children's party games pass the parcel and all these things which are essentially visual things.

And the blinking game…

And the blinking game which we do, which nobody listening at home can see what's going on. But, you can't do that on television and also television, there's a lot of hanging about and a lot of running through things… we just turn up and we just come on and do it. It has a sort of freshness.

Looking at your audience tonight, you've got families, you've got young and old, you've got a rather well-heeled looking crowd…

It is a very wide range of people that we get for the show. I know that because my audiences have improved in character since the show became as it has been for the last decade, I suppose. Like a culture, especially among young people. I get people who come to my concerts and they come up and I expect them to ask for a request of a jazz number in the second half and they say "Oh, we're nephews and nieces of Mrs. Trellis" or in fact, sometimes they come up and say "I'm Mrs. Trellis".

Did Radiohead come up and say that? You played on a Radiohead…

That's right, yes I did. I started on the fringes of journalism as a cartoonist on The Daily Mail. I used to write things and I learnt very early on that journalistic principle of say "Yes" and find out about it afterwards.

But… if they wanted a trumpeter… a session trumpeter for a track, they probably could have found one fairly easily. But there must have been some love in that…

The thing was that Johnny Greenwood who is that guy who does the talking, he wrote to me and said this is probably an awful cheek but we've got a track on our forthcoming CD where we're having terrible trouble about how to treat it. And we discussed it the other day and thought that maybe the sort of New Orleans-y jazz - they'd heard some of my early records - so, what do you think about it? So I said "Yes" in that true journalistic fashion and then they sent me a tape of the tune - couldn't make head or tail of it - and this is where the find out about it after, say "Yes" first, regret it later. But, we had a meeting up at the BBC and I said, sort of half jokingly, "Sounds to me as though the sort of thing that might go would be New Orleans funeral music" because as you know, it's not 'Happy Days Are Here Again' when they perform. And he said "Yeah, great idea".

So we went in a studio and spent, I think it was, nine hours or seven hours, gradually moving. They didn't know what they wanted us to do. We didn't know what they wanted us to do and we gradually sort of moved towards it. And after seven hours, I said "That's it, it's not going to get any better than that". There's a certain sort of… working with Radiohead… has a certain Sorry I haven't a Clue element, unexpected element about it because Thom Yorke, the singer, who writes wonderful things - that always reminded me of that Procol Harem thing… the surrealistic words - only his are far out and great. When they came to us we had to play the tape over and over and over and I began to get the feeling of what he was on about. It's abstract, the concept of his lyrics.

Do you think that I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is the best advert against equal opportunity there's ever been since it seems to be mostly a boys' club?

What do you mean? From the point of view the people, the teams?

The Panel, yeah.

I would have said the opposite because I have nothing to do with… I turn up and do my bit. I'm not in on any production discussions, like Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor are. But the teams, especially since Willie Rushton died… but sometimes before when somebody was on a tour and couldn't do it, the teams themselves always choose people to be on and we've had a lot of the young comedians on, one that recently comes to mind is Phill Jupitus who enjoyed himself enormously… made a little speech at the end saying how he listened to the programmeme for years.

He was in the crowd tonight… front row…

I was going to see him backstage. So, the younger element does come into it.

There's always been that sort of cheeky innuendo in the show particularly with Samantha, etcetera, but it never crosses a line… it remains innuendo but never spills into…

Tell you the honest truth? I don't really understand what any of them are getting at. I'm very surprised when I'm reading out an ordinary bit of information from the script and the audience suddenly bursts out laughing. So, it all goes over my head.

So that's the secret. The secret is not to understand?

The secret of it is to read what you've got in front of you. Don't, if you suspect that something has a double meaning, don't pause. Don't put on a leery vocal expression if you know what I mean on radio. Don't sort of do anything other than read it. And if people see something rude in it well, very few of them write into the BBC because to do so, they would confess that they saw something rude in it. So they don't do it. Just read it out.

On that subject, I…
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I was going to ask, you probably answered this, is it difficult to find younger comics to come in who know the boundaries? Maybe there aren't any boundaries?

There doesn't seem to be because we've had… I can't remember all the people we've had… Jeremy Hardy on and we've had, of course, Stephen… Paul Merton on as well. Very funny lady who was on the news quiz… again whose name has gone completely out of my mind… she was marvellous. Oh, we had Sandi Toksvig as well. So there's nothing sexist or ageist or anything else about it.

Back to Interviews

  «« Back to ISIHAC home page

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy