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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Thirty years of clueless radio
Panellists (left to right): Grame Garden,  Humphrey Lyttelton, Barry Cryer and Tim Brooke-Taylor
The Radio 4 regulars without a clue
test hello test
Darren Waters
BBC News Online
line

For a radio show that prides itself on being clueless, 30 years of broadcasting is quite an achievement.

But BBC Radio 4's comedy quiz show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue has become something of a national institution in the last three decades.

Panellists (From left to right): Grame Garden, Willie Rushton, Barry Cryer, Humphrey Lyttelton and Tim Brooke-Taylor
Willie Rushton (bottom left) was hugely popular on the show
On Saturday, it celebrates many years of humour, wit and verbal gymnastics with an anniversary show recorded at the venue of the original programme.

Regular panellists Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden are joined by Stephen Fry and chairman Humphrey Lyttelton on the show, recorded at the Playhouse Theatre, London.

Brainchild

"People haven't noticed it hasn't gone away," said Cryer, succinctly explaining its success.


We did the pilot and everyone thought it was terrible

Graeme Garden
The brainchild of Graeme Garden, it was created as an alternative to the weekly sketch show I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, in which he, John Cleese, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Jo Kendall appeared.

Garden proposed an unscripted comedy show, based around a series of absurd games, which would work as an antidote to panel programmes.

He said: "I thought we could do a programme without a script and put forward this idea for a silly panel game.

"The format seemed to be a panel game but wasn't really. It was just people being stupid.

'Terrible'

"We did the pilot and everyone thought it was terrible."


The really sad thing is that Willie Rushton is not here because he is such an integral part of it

Tim Brooke-Taylor
"It was terrible," agreed Tim Brooke-Taylor.

Garden added: "We hated it and said never again. But the head of Radio 4, Tony Whitby, an inspired leader, decided he liked it and commissioned a series. We hated that as well."

"It was horrible," said Tim Brooke-Taylor solemnly.

"We said never again and still say that at the end of every series," concluded Garden.

The impending middle age of the programme is a surprise, only because the original producer feared it would not live beyond its birth.

David Hatch believed the pilot of the programme would be broadcast on Boxing Day, after lunch, when everyone was very drunk and then quietly dropped from the schedules.

Mornington Crescent

There have been hundreds of different elements to the quiz, but the best known include Limericks, Cheddar Gorge, One Song to the Tune of Another and the Blinking game, which works particularly well in a non-visual medium.

Perhaps the most famous and most popular game on the programme is Mornington Crescent, named after the London Underground station.

To fully explain the rules and comedy of this surreal game would be to strip it of its humour.

Suffice to say, it involves moving from nominated tube station to nominated tube station until the victor arrives and shouts Mornington Crescent.

As one listener on the Radio 4 website explained: "The rule governing each move on your way from start to Finnish (it sometimes helps to be able to speak more than one language) is very simple and is as follows - any move that does not involve an infringement of the currently applicable rule set can be considered valid, unless the application of the rule set was itself invalid, in which case all bets are off and the default rule set applies."

Guests

Comedian and satirist Willie Rushton joined the show in 1974 and was a popular regular on the programme until his death in 1996, just two days after he had recorded his final show.

No-one has ever been brought in to replace him, instead guests are invited to fill his chair on the programme.

Tim Brooke-Taylor said: "The really sad thing is that Wille Rushton is not here because he is such an integral part of it.

"I had a chat with him before he died and he said the programme could go on as long as Humph (Humphrey Lyttelton) is around and that is what we feel now."

There were plans for a TV version of the programme but the panellists were not to the commissioners' liking.

"The BBC weren't interested naturally. We did a pilot for ITV and everyone seemed to like it.

"It was sent to the central area where they decide on these things and they said 'Great programme but could we have some younger people'."

The 30th anniversary programme is on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 13 April at 1815 BST.

 WATCH/LISTEN
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