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Monday 4 March 2024

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue

John Going Gently recently mentioned the long-running BBC radio show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” (ISIHAC). For those who don't know, it is a spoof panel game in which teams are asked by the chair to do silly things, very silly, very funny. It started in 1972, and has been running almost continually since: an incredible 52 years. 

John included links to a couple of examples, and as he said in a comment, they should be prescribed on the NHS as treatment for depression. The one titled “The Complete Lionel Blair”, a compilation of a double-entendre gag running across a large number of shows, is almost too painful to take. You cannot believe such delightful dirty-mindedness could be broadcast on the radio. 

In 1972, I was still in the shared house in Leeds, where we often audio-taped television and radio shows to hear again. We fancied ourselves as comedy script writers, but apart from a couple of snippets in the magazine Private Eye, all else was rejected. 

ISIHAC was one of the series we recorded. Most of it is now gone, but I still have a tape with the very first four programmes from 1972. They were lost to the BBC for many years, and some may still be.

Humphrey Littleton was the chairman from the start, continuing until his death in 2008. Much of the success of the show was down to his deadpan delivery, as if genuinely baffled by the audience reaction to what he had to read out. Barry Cryer took over in the second and third programmes, but Humph returned for the fourth. The first panelists were Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, with John Cleese instead of Jo Kendall for the fourth programme. All had been in the show’s precursor, “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” (ISIRTA), which we also recorded; also mostly lost. 

I digitise the shows to refer to in another post. For what it’s worth, here are the four half-hour programmes again. The BBC seemed uninterested when I tried to give them back some years ago. 

The production took time to settle into its established format, but many of the elements are there: one song to the tune of another; swanee whistles; late arrivals; limericks; the non-associated words game. These episodes are probably more of historical interests than classics, but they still raise a laugh: “Announcing late arrivals at the Plumbers’ Ball: Mr. and Mrs. Closet, and their son, Walter Closet.”

Series 1 Programme 1, 11th and 13th April 1972: https://youtu.be/D6EfHMvCEws
Series 1 Programme 2, 18th and 20th April 1972: https://youtu.be/z8zjDKMTZiE
Series 1 Programme 3, 25th and 27th April 1972: https://youtu.be/wPVGOgcy734
Series 1 Programme 4, 2nd and 4th May 1972: https://youtu.be/tuYAWVzuGWs 

16 comments:

  1. I think that Jack Dee does a good job of being the chairman these days - sticking with tradition. I never make a point of listening to the show but when I do, I always get a few laughs. As in the past, most of the participants are naturally witty.

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    1. The Lionel Blair compilation linked from John's blog is worth a listen. It's tame for the first minute, and joke upon joke puts you to death.

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  2. Perhaps Rishi Sunak could use the programme title for his election campaign?

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    1. Please no. A politician with a sense of humour might win. Mr and Mrs Minster and their son Wes Minster, and his cousin Ted Downingstreet.

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  3. That was a programme I used to enjoy listening to, when I could still hear the radio. Such wit.

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    1. It's so quick sometimes that anyone could struggle to catch it.

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  4. I really like ISIHAC. I thought it might die a death after Humphrey Lyttelton died, but Jack Dee's chairmanship is very good.

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    1. He was the best replacement for Humph, but the recordings linked from John's blog show what we are missing. Barry Cryer in programmes 2 and 3 wasn't bad either.

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  5. Surprised the BBC didn't want your recordings - they are usually looking for lost TV programmes - perhaps radio isn't so interesting. I love the programme but forget to listen!

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    1. I replied rather late to an appeal they put out. By then they had already found the very first show from another home recorder, but I'm still not sure whether or not they had programmed 2, 3 and 4. I wish I hadn't erased the others I recorded, but tape was expensive.

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  6. Saved for focused listening later.

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    1. I'm sure there are funnier episodes online, but these are interesting because they were the first.

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  7. I was a regular radio 4 listener during my boat dwelling years and loved the slot this program occupied. (I had no TV) Mr B is unfortunately a TV addict and tunes all radios to some popular music station or other so my opportunites for radio 4 entertainment became zero when we started living in a shared house.

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  8. I well remember I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue from listening on the car radio whilst commuting. The only problem was that it could be a real distraction when the traffic was light and I wasn't stuck in traffic jams. I'm still no wiser about the rules for Mornington Cresent though .....

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I welcome comments and hope to respond within a day or two, but vision issues are making this increasingly difficult. Please note: comments on posts over a month old will not appear until they have been moderated.