I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, that national institution to end all national institutions, returned to Radio 4 on Monday evening. And of course this was an edition that devoted fans such as myself would listen to with keen interest, as it was the first recorded since the sad passing last year of its venerable host, Humphrey Lyttleton. Never mind his long and distinguished career as a jazz trumpeter, “Humph” was, for so many, the man with bone-dry delivery and sardonic asides that cut effortlessly through proceedings on the antidote to panel games. How would ISIHAC survive without him?
The answer, based on Monday night’s outing, the first of the 51st series, is: reasonably well, all things considered. It appears that, rather like Have I Got News For You?, ISIHAC is going to pursue a policy, at least for now, of not having one permanent host. The first two editions of this new series are helmed by Stephen Fry, a good choice as someone who’s been a panellist on a fair few occasions in the past. Fry sounded perhaps audibly respectful at the beginning – whilst Humph was never alluded to, there was a sense in his voice of easing his way in gently, trying not to ape Lyttleton’s delivery, but conscious of not appearing to stamp his own style with unseeming haste. The scripted material was familiar – plenty of innuendo involving Lionel Blair, seven inches, some digs at the host venue and, of course, Colin Sell. Samantha was sadly indisposed, so her Swedish stand-in Sven got to sit on Stephen’s right hand.
Victoria Wood joined the regular panellists (Graeme Garden, Barry Cryer and Tim Brooke-Taylor, for the uninitiated – ever since the death of Willie Rushton in 1996, that seat next to Tim has similarly been occupied by a variety of people), and you were soon left wondering why she hadn’t been invited on years ago. The rounds were old favourites – Uxbridge English Dictionary, Pick-Up Song, Sound Charades (cue Hamish and Dougal), Just a Minim and, to finish things off, a round of Builders’ Radio Times (I’ll let you guess how Graeme worked in the reference to one of Sam Peckinpah’s cult offerings).
By the end of the show, Fry sounded as though he’d settled in to the role, coming across as a genial and occasionally waspish uncle – himself, in other words. Encouragingly, I only found myself imagining once or twice how Humph would have read out the chairman’s script – inevitably, given his 36 years in the role, his is a shadow that will be cast long. A year ago, I even wondered (as I’m sure others did) whether ISIHAC could or should be brought back for another series. However, to have ended it as a mark of respect to its long-serving (and long-suffering) host would have been to ignore the gloriously disrespectful and anarchic attitude that has kept the show fresh all these years. The spirit is still there, and I’d like to think that one spirit in particular is watching and listening with a wry smile on his face.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to deal with my correspondence, as my blog has been inundated with slightly less than two comments from a Mrs Trellis in North Wales. So, as the tweeter of eternity is spammed by the troll of destiny, I’ll bid you goodnight.