I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue
Dates for the live theatre show in 2015 are available at http://isihac.net
This radio programme started in 1972. It was the first deconstructed panel show and has been the model for a great many radio programmes ever since. It is no exaggeration to say that many a thieving bastard of a producer has paid homage to it.
The original line-up was Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jo Kendall and Bill Oddie, with Humphey Lyttleton is the chair. Jo and Bill left the show during the seventies and the permanent line-up included Barry Cryer and Willie Rushton, until Willie died in 1996. After that time the fourth chair was occupied by guests.
I first appeared on the show standing in for Tim, who was in a play, in 1995. Willie had heard me do a rant about the Conservative Party conference on The News Quiz and asked that I be invited on. I had listened to the show as a boy and was excited to become part of it, but wasn’t prepared for the rapturous adulation Humph received from an audience of 1,500 people in Harrogate. Their enthusiasm sustained throughout the recording. One of the most popular rounds in the show is One Song to the Tune of Another. I was given the task of singing Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting to the tune of Scarborough Fare. I had not sung in public since primary school, when a teacher had detected a horrible droning during rehearsals for a school play and identified it as coming from me. Thenceforth I was instructed to mouth the words in silence.
When I began to sing in Harrogate in 1995 in front of 1500 people, there was a shocked and uncomfortable silence which continued for a while after I had finished. It was like one of those moments in a movie when the protagonist’s luck could go either way. Suddenly, the horrified silence turned into an ovation and as I returned to my seat, Willie said three words I’ve never forgotten: “I smell points.”
Having become a frequent guest and a permanent member of the touring theatre show, I now get cheers before I start singing, and on the occasions when my voice drifts into tune without my knowing, there is palpable disappointment in the room. It is a matter of concern to me that I have spent 27 years trying to think of witty and insightful things to say about important matters, studying current events, churning out hours of material and traipsing all over the British Isles to deliver it, and yet the best response I ever get from an audience is for singing particularly badly.
We lost Humph in 2008. The chairman is now Jack Dee. For some reason, I am still touched by a mention in Humph’s book, It Occurs to Me, when he noted kindly that, despite my abysmal singing, I have perfect pitch on the kazoo.
In 2002, Graeme and Barry created a spin-off featuring characters they use in Clue, You’ll Have Had Your Tea, The Doings of Hamish and Dougal. They asked me and Alison Steadman to play the other characters. I was very pleased, not least because I adore Alison. The show ran until 2006, when the BBC suffered a sense-of-humour failure.