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I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer 18:01, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

It was nice to think that Humphrey Lyttelton would live forever.

When - alas - he died last April I was confronted with the sort of dilemma that R4 faced when John Peel (Home Truths) and Ned Sherrin (Loose Ends) died. Should we take the programme out of the schedules forever in the belief that that presenter was so intimately bound up with the programme that it would be impossible for anyone else to present it - or should we continue in a different way?

It took me a while to work out how to proceed on Saturday mornings and there was a chance that Home Truths would work out post Peel. In many ways it did - but, after nine months, not quite enough to convince me to keep it.

Some immediately thought that we should end 'Clue' - that Humphrey's dry and self-deprecating wit was so central to the alchemy that it would not work without him. I waited before saying anything - not least because the programme team was much affected by the great man's death. But in the event the programme and the station received a fair amount of correspondence suggesting they could not do without 'Mornington Crescent', 'One Song to the Tune of Another' and other assorted brilliant tomfoolery. And the programme team decided they would like to come back - after a period of time

So - unlike 'Home Truths' I thought we should go ahead. I said a while ago (on Feedback) that 'Clue' would return but did not specify when and how. These judgements are tricky.

For Clue we wrote down the names of three people we thought we would like to chair the show - and we knew we would not immediately ask one person to do all of the first run. That would be a big burden - post Humphrey. The three names we wrote down all said yes. And here they are - Messrs Stephen Fry, Jack Dee and Rob Brydon. It's wonderful they all agreed. Of course it won't be the same as before - but these are three men of huge talent and I am confident that the show will work. So fingers crossed, and I look forward to the shows.

A reminder of the dates of the recordings and the venues, with two programmes being recorded each night:

Sunday 26th April at Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket, London, with guest host Stephen Fry.
Tickets will be available from 1000 on Tuesday 3rd March

Sunday 17th May at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, with guest host Jack Dee.
Tickets will be available from 0930 on Monday 2nd March.

Thursday 4th June at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, with guest host Rob Brydon.
Tickets will be available from 0900 on Monday 9th March

Please contact the theatres for tickets.


  • Comment number 1.

    The abbreviation for "I'm sorry I haven't a clue" is not, and never has been, "Clue". It is ISIHAC. (The name derives from its progenitor ISIRTA.) I would rather have seen ISIHAC brought to an end. I'm sure Samantha could find another job.

    Turning from "the antidote to panel games", the actual panel games are becoming a disappearing breed. Brain of Britain, together with Round Britain Quiz, between them occupied nearly the whole year. Brain of Britain seems to have come and gone already and it's only February. And what has happened to Brain of Brains and Masterbrain?

  • Comment number 2.

    I am thrilled to hear that my favourite's have been chosen to front...... well my favourite of all the 6.30pm 7.00pm comedy slot of course it won't be the same but with the dry wit of all three presenter's, and the added support from the regulars of the game it could survive and i think radio 4 are brave as well as wise to give it a go.

  • Comment number 3.

    Sounds like a really tricky decision, but feels right to me... respectful and pragmatic. Thanks for the recording dates.

  • Comment number 4.

    @JonChr Good point. And your reminder of the show's origins in ISIRTA is useful. In my experience as a new boy here at the BBC, 'Clue' is the abbreviation for 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue' that's used *here at Radio 4* while the rest of the world says 'ISIHAC'.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 5.

    I just hope this doesn't backfire. ISIHAC was wonderful and I find it hard to imagine anyone else presenting it. Is the intention to script these three exactly the same way as Humph (and risk poor imitations) or to let them make it their own (and risk it turning into a bandwagon for their own humour)? Worse still, might they forget they're in the chairman's chair and start to join in?

    I had always been led to believe that after Willie Rushton died the remaining panel decided they'd keep the show going until Humph left us, and I confess to being a little saddened that they've now changed their minds.

  • Comment number 6.

    The best news I've heard all year.

    It was Home Truths that really got me into listening to radio 4, and Saturday Live (I think Fi Glover made a good stand in for Clare Baldwin by the way.....) which brought me back about 1 1/2 years ago, and ISIHAC became one of the best points of the week. The difference with home truths is the rest of the ISIHAC clue team also own the show - so they're just one man down. The new 3 hosts all have the perfect tone. I'm not sure what Simon Mayo was trying to do in the show that replaced ISIHAC in the schedule - you felt kind of sorry for him at the end when it was a bit cringeworthy.

  • Comment number 7.

    Rob Brydon - Yay !!!

    I think he's an inspired choice [but being Welsh, I'm biased...]

    Not sure about Jack Dee - I like his paper dry humour and his misanthropic views on life, but I'm not sure how that will align to 'tomfoolery'..

    Stephen Fry will do a fine job, but I think the edge which Rob Brydon will have is that he'll try and move to the background a little bit to allow the personalities of the contestants really come to the fore..

    But we shall wait and see..

  • Comment number 8.

    Mark, I would very much like to hear a similar blog entry describing your recent decision keeping thought for the day exclusive. Any chance of it?

    I'm not intending to "haunt" your blog but I would seriously find that an interesting read. Feel free to throw in some good news at the end too, like in this case :)


  • Comment number 9.

    HIGNFY survived - indeed blossomed - with guest chairmen (using the noun to include both genders, of course). Of course Humph was on an entirely different planet to Deayton (let alone in a different league) but it may well work out.

    I hope these three very different personalities are allowed to exhibit those differences and capitalize on their own idiosyncrasies rather than being crammed into a single composite personality.

    I also hope they continue to bring us news of Samantha's exploits, which I follow with keen interest.

    I must also observe that as time marches on, if ISIHAC is to survive for future generations - as it surely must if Britannia is still to rule the (air)waves - then there are going to need to be more replacements yet ...

  • Comment number 10.

    I am wondering if JonChr has conflated "panel game" with "quiz". Whereas JAM, ISIHAC, TNQ etc are panel games ("Quote Unquote" - although it has a panel, is neither a game nor fun to listen to), BoB and RBQ are clearly quizzes.

    I have to confess never to having heard or indeed heard of Brain of Brains and Masterbrain.

    In passing - are "panel games" a uniquely British institution? I wouldn't be at all surprised. Now THERE'S a good title for a new show .....

  • Comment number 11.

    Whilst I have no objection to any of your chosen people to chair "Sorry I haven't a clue" in future, I think the really only suitable future chairman should be the producer, i.e. Jonathan Naismith, he would be brilliant. I.m sure he is more than capable of producing the programme and chairing it. Do please ask him to do it.

  • Comment number 12.

    whollyclueless makes a very good point and maybe John N should be given a chance to 'share the chair'.

  • Comment number 13.

    I've been thinking about this long and hard, and I would like to offer the following suggestions for a new, permanent chair:

    1) Sandi Toksvig

    She's a R4 veteran, she does a fantastic job with The News Quiz and she's got the right temperament.


    2) Pam Ayres.

    Unassuming, Bruce Springsteen-loving, mistress of subtle sarcasm and innuendo. She knows how to give it and certainly knows how to take it...

    Just my 2p's worth

  • Comment number 14.

    Well I would have added Clive James to that list.

    On the basis of the two I have heard, Fry just doesn't work at all.

    I really want the programme to work, it is just too much of my life for it not to be there.

  • Comment number 15.

    Like "Mrs Trellis" I felt sad that the instinctive wish for ISIHAC to come to an end after Humph died had been changed. I am willing, cautiously, to listen and of course delighted that something like the Uxbridge English Dictionary can still provoke glee.

    But, but, but.......

    It just isn't the same without Humph. Mr Fry is trying hard in a tremendously difficult role and one can attribute no blame to him but it just doesn't work. I'll listen to the other chairmen but I fear, unless someone steps radically away from the style and script that Humph personified, it will never work.

    And what do we do now? Wait for the next most frail panel member to go to the great Mornington Cresent in the sky?

  • Comment number 16.

    Giving the sexual orientation of some of the new chairpersons (no women yet, but I am sure the usual suspects will be wheeled out at some stage(e.g. Sandi T /Victoria W/Sue P, although if you could persuade Charlotte Green to chair one episide you may get a surprising increase in listeners) ) maybe it is time for the return of the late Sven?

  • Comment number 17.

    Jack Dee is better than Stephen Fry - does the deadpan approach more naturally. Still not convinced though.

  • Comment number 18.

    I wonder if you have considered Sandi Toksvig as a presenter of ISIHAC?

  • Comment number 19.

    I think the show works reasonably well with all three chairmen, but Rob Brydon is best (and I'm not Welsh). Double entendre just doesn't work with Stephen Fry: it's impossible to believe that the innocent meaning is the one he reads into it. Jack Dee has problems with his delivery which he needs to work on: e.g. "they can't spell, 'for toffee'" should have been read as "they can't spell for toffee".

    Even so, I wouldn't jettison any of them: keep alternating the chairmen, and yes, bring in Sandi Toksvig, and Pam Ayres (if she can bring herself to read out the blue-chip filth). There are geniuses involved in this show who will never find any other outlet for their superb work that can compete with the format of clue, so this program must keep going as long as they do.

  • Comment number 20.

    Having listened to the six shows of the revived series, I'd suggest trying Richard Wilson for chairman. Dear old Humph very successfully adopted the persona of a grumpy old twit, without which many of the show's running jokes don't work too well. Only a miserable old idiot would agree to chair a programme he thought was rubbish, with hopeless teams and a useless pianist. The jokes about Lionel Blair and Samantha also work much better if, plausibly, the chairman is too dim to spot the double entendres. None of the chairs of the new series really made it work, although Jack Dee came closest. It would seem that the chairman's role is pretty heavily scripted, so you don't need a comedian so much as an actor who can convincingly play a misanthropic old twerp, and who better to do that than Richard Wilson?

  • Comment number 21.

    Clue's life post-Humph was always going to be a challenge. The idea of spreading the chairmanship across multiple presenters was one that I intitially welcomed but now I find myself missing the continuity of a single voice in the chairman's role. For my money, Jack Dee tops the bill. Like Humph he has a distinct voice and style and that unique ability to arouse laughter with a well-timed aside delivered in dead-pan, oblique manner.

    He has my vote to become the next full-time chairman.

    Vote No.1 - Jack Dee for chairmain campaign.

  • Comment number 22.

    I have to agree with simonwhan. No disrespect to Stephen Fry, but Jack Dee is far and away more capable of the dead-pan double-entendre. Fry is a bit too obvious. Rob Brydon is capable enough but lacks Humph's earthy curmudgeonly humor. I think that Jack Dee has the diversity to weave all the threads into that comfortable old chair of insanity the way that Humph did. It will look different, but feel just as good.

    I think that rotating hosts is a bad idea. With the sad loss of Linda Smith, Sandi Toksvieg is really the only viable female candidate for the role, if it comes to that.


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