I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue



Barry Cryer or Humphrey Lyttelton (alternating, 1972)

Humphrey Lyttelton (1973-2007)


Regular panellists: Barry Cryer, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden

Willie Rushton (until 1996)

Pianist: Dave Lee (1972-?), Colin Sell (?-present), David Firman (stand-in, 1978), Denis King (stand-in), Matthew Scott (stand-in), Neil Innes (stand-in)

Other panellists have included: Jo Kendall (including the first episode), Bill Oddie(including the first episode), Bill Bailey, Max Boyce, Rob Brydon, John Cleese, Denise Coffey, Jack Dee, Kenny Everett, Stephen Fry, Andy Hamilton, Mike Harding, Jeremy Hardy, Tony Hawks, Harry Hill, Neil Innes, Phill Jupitus, John Junkin, Jonathan Lynn, Fred MacAulay, Paul Merton, Neil Mullarkey, Ross Noble, Linda Smith, Bill Tidy, Sandi Toksvig

Announcer: Andrew Crawford

Guest commentator for Mornington Crescent: Raymond Baxter


BBC Radio 4, 11 April 1972 to present (363 programmes in 50 series, plus 18 annual compilations, and five specials.)


Billed as "the antidote to panel games", ISIHAC (as its lazier fans call it) has become a radio institution.

Originally devised as a way for the cast of the sketch show I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again to show off their comic talents without having to go through all that time-consuming business of writing and rehearsing beforehand, ISIHAC has stood outside the whims of fashion for more than thirty years and has become the longest-running improvisational comedy show on the radio. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

The original panellists were ISIRTA regulars Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Jo Kendall, with Humphrey Lyttelton and Barry Cryer alternating as chairman. Kendall left after one series, whereupon Cryer took up a permanent place on the panel and Humph became full-time chairman. The classic line-up was completed shortly afterwards, when Oddie left to be replaced by Willie Rushton. There were occasional substitutions over the years when one of the regulars was otherwise engaged (John Cleese was a frequent stand-in in the early years, and later Bill Tidy) but essentially the line-up remained unchanged until the sudden death of Rushton in 1996, since when it's usually been the three regulars plus guest.

The classic line-up brush up on the rules of Mornington Crescent (vol. 17)

The players are given, as the end credits put it, "silly things to do". Among the classic games are Cheddar Gorge (basically the old kids' game of adding words to a sentence one at a time), One Song To The Tune Of Another (the very first game ever played on the programme, and pretty self-explanatory; one of the series' running jokes is Humph's needlessly complicated explanations of this game), Limericks (again, pretty easy to grasp), Sound Charades (charades using, er, sound - generally involving a pun on the title to be guessed) and Mornington Crescent (a supposedly tactical - but actually nonsense - game which has spun-off into at least two books and a spoof documentary).

Overseeing all this was Humphrey Lyttelton. Apparently chosen because of some half-baked notion about the game being "like jazz" (no, us neither), his weary, yet impeccably timed, delivery was certainly one of the best things about the show. He had his own set of running gags - mock letters from a "Mrs Trellis of North Wales", frequent insinuations that the show's (excellent) pianist, Colin Sell, is actually rubbish, and references to "our lovely scorer, Samantha", with ever more contrived double-entendres about what she gets up to during the games. (Legend has it that some of Radio 4's less well-attuned listeners have been known to write in complaining about the treatment supposedly handed out to the - obviously - non-existent young lady. Who'd be in her fifties by now, anyway.)


"I have a letter from a Mrs. Trellis of North Wales..." (and variations)


Graeme Garden, David Hatch and Bill Oddie


The "mystery voice" which provides the Sound Charades answer to listeners at home is a reference to an earlier "mystery voice" (actually Norman Hackforth) who appeared on Twenty Questions.

John Cleese once expressed his irritation at losing by pouring his glass of water over the microphone. The live audience loved it, but the joke was lost on those at home.

Humphrey Lyttelton’s "buzzer" (more of a toot than a buzz) is a car horn with a light bulb on the end of it. It disappeared during a recording in 2002 and he had to replace it.

According to show producer John Naismith, Granada made a cheap (non-broadcast) pilot for television in the early 1990s which was generally well received. However, the then head of ITV, Vernon Lawrence, wanted a younger face in the line up and nothing further became of it.

At recordings, "Samantha" is represented by an empty chair on Lyttelton's left hand side, hence the ironic wolf whistles offered up by the audience.

In addition to the regular series, half-hour Christmas specials were broadcast in 1993 and 1999, and the year's best (or least-worst) moments were rounded up in a compilation programme. Five additional specials were also made:

  • A Tribute to Willie Rushton, 31 May 1997
  • 30th Anniversary, 13 April 2002
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't A Christmas Carol, Christmas Day 2003
  • In Search of Mornington Crescent (hosted by Andrew Marr), Christmas Eve 2005
  • Humph in Wonderland, Christmas Day 2007

Theme music

The wonky brass number with military overtones is called The Shickel Shamble, composed by Ron Goodwin (with a bit by Hadyn). It originally hails from the 1969 film Monte Carlo or Bust!

Web links

BBC site about the show's history

Unofficial site

Wikipedia entry

See also

The Tennis Elbow Foot Game


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