For those of you in the know, and you know who you are, you’ll be aware that BBC Radio 4 is the soundtrack of my being. All of life is on Radio 4, which makes it a pretty big platform. Everything you want to know about news and current affairs, the greatest drama, wonderful new books each week and the greatest comedy, they’re all to be found there. The 6.30pm comedy slot, directly after the news, is such a legend they have trouble getting acts to match up to their high standards. That legendary status comes from the established classics, The News Quiz, Just a Minute and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. Therefore, you might imagine my excitement when, for an appropriate fee, I managed to secure two tickets for a performance of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue in Ipswich.
For those of you really not in the know, and I feel for your loss (though you won’t be aware of it), I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue is a panel show running since the early seventies. Subtitled The Antidote to Panel Games, Clue, as it’s affectionately known, features a series of silly games, pun based gags, schoolboy innuendoes and badly performed songs (the more badly performed the better), all chaired by Jack Dee.
The souvenir programme, purchased in the interval, lists such classic games as Uxbridge English Dictionary (new meanings to old words), Jargon (what the ‘experts’ really mean), Swanee Kazoo (the ever popular musical duet), One Song to the Tune of Another (a complicated concept that requires some explanation), and 84 Chicken Cross Road (the teams construct a lively correspondence between two famous characters, each taking turns to speak one word at a time,). Okay so the games are better experienced than explained so I suggest, if you are still not in the know, you should seek it out on Radio 4, buy one of the CDs (or digital downloads) or even find the odd pirate on YouTube.
Arriving, amid a sea of grey and silver hair, the Regent Theatre soon filled to capacity where, as we sat down, we found a kazoo carefully placed on each seat. You might imagine that sitting on a kazoo would result in some unusual reverberations and you’d be right. Then before start of the show the long-time producer, Jon Naismith, presented us with a series of favourite gags culled from the near fifty-year history of the show. Having got us suitably warmed up he then invited us to unwrap our kazoos for a practice.
You might imagine that learning the kazoo would be easy but, it turns out, you can’t under estimate a Radio 4 audience when it comes to musical talent. So, before the show, proper, we had a brief tutorial with Mr Naismith ready for our audience participation later.
Shortly the panellists arrived on stage announced by Jon Naismith starting with veteran Tim Brooke-Taylor, Tony Hawks, Richard Osman and Miles Jupp. Finally, Jack Dee was introduced as chairman who began with the time-honoured tradition of slagging off Ipswich.
The games followed including renditions of In My Pants, Kitchen or Bedroom, Pick-Up Song and everyone’s favourite, Mornington Crescent. If you don’t know the rules of Mornington Crescent, it’s a complex game based on the London Tube map. The best way to understand it is to obtain a copy of the now out of print N.F. Stovoid’s Mornington Crescent: Rules & Origins. I must say I was particularly pleased when, during the game, Richard Osman played Ravenscourt Park, an obscure station I once visited in my teens and one I have never heard called in all the time I’ve been listening.
If you’ve ever wondered what 1500 kazoos sounds like I can assure you, it sounds terrible. During an attempt to play Swanee Kazoo we were invited to accompany the usual duet where members of the panel play the kazoo and the swanee whistle together. The sound from the audience was so appalling that Jack Dee had to split the audience into sections. The balcony tried to better the stalls, the red kazoos were set against the green ones and the over fifties were separated from the under fifties. The under fifties made almost no sound at all.
Other parts of the show included musical games supported by Colin Sell, who has been with the show for over 45 years, and seems to be able to play any tune from any musical genre at the drop of a hat. Other support is usually lent by the lovely Samantha. However, on this occasion she was delayed after vising a local hobby club of amateur furniture restorers. Just in time for the performance a message arrived to say that there had been a problem when the lights went out and they’d sprayed French polish over everyone present. She explained that she would get there when she could because she was busy wiping the members while the chairman cleans the spills and wax off in the dark.
Brilliant. We saw Just a Minute being recorded in Swansea once. That was great too.