A Brief History of ISIHAC
I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is the most listened-to comedy programme on British radio. It regularly pulls an audience of about 2.5 million on Radio 4, a figure that would put it comfortably into the top 10 programmes on BBC 2 or Channel 4.
The brainchild of Graeme Garden, the programme was devised as an alternative to I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, the chaotic sketch show that ran from 1964 to 1973 starring John Cleese, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jo Kendall and David Hatch. Graeme devised a way of turning the show into a game, which meant not having to write a weekly script.
Jazz legend Humphrey Lyttelton was the surprise choice for chairman. Producer David Hatch recalled the conversation with Graeme: “I think his name emerged over the third pint. I think we both said it together and then both realised how clever we were”.
With no script to rely on, the pilot show, recorded at the Playhouse Theatre, was a nerve-wracking experience for the cast. To everyone’s surprise Radio 4 commissioned a series and the first show was broadcast on 11 April 1972 with panellists Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Jo Kendall.
In 1973 Barry Cryer joined the panel, and Willie Rushton joined in 1974, and with Graeme and Barry they became entrenched regular much-loved Clue panellists. Sadly Willie died in December 1996, and Tim in April 2020.
The show’s pianist, Colin Sell joined Clue in 1974 and soon discovered that accompanying people who can’t sing was part of the joke.
During the 2008 stage tour, two performances at the Lowry Centre, Salford were recorded and edited to form the DVD: I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue: Live On Stage. This is the only complete visual record of the show. Three weeks after the Salford recording, and after 37 years as the programme’s chairman, Humphrey Lyttelton died.
The devastating loss of Humph was deeply felt by the fans and everyone involved in the programme. When thousands of emails poured in begging for Clue’s return, this overwhelming response confirmed the decision of the BBC and the show’s regulars that I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue should go on. For the last ten years the chair has been in the safe hands of Jack Dee who is now the regular host for the radio series and the theatrical tours.
In recent years Barry and Graeme have cut down the number of their appearances, opening the way for a host of new voices to join in the fun. Graeme still contributes ideas and material to the shows.