Interview: I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden chat about ISIHAC, sexism and the Edinburgh Fringe
This article is from 2015.
I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue has been running since 1972. Ever thought of giving it a rest?
Tim Brooke-Taylor: We’ve never thought of giving it a rest, just to go easy. The BBC would like more shows, but we reckon 12 a year leaves our listeners wanting more – hopefully.
Barry Cryer: We stopped and said ‘that’s it’ when the great Lyttelton died and we didn’t do it for a year. Then the BBC got onto us and said there were emails coming in and they wanted us back. So we did shows with Rob Brydon, who was excellent, doing it when Humph went into hospital, and Stephen Fry who’d done it before. But Jack Dee did two shows and we said, ‘that’s it’. Detached. Sarcastic. If you’re going to follow the great Lyttelton, Jack’s about as good as you’ll get.
Graeme Garden: Are you trying to make a point here? Actually I think we all wanted to give it a rest after the pilot, and after the first series, and probably for a couple of years after that! But gradually we all got the hang of it, and discovered we had a popular show on our hands that was great fun to do.
Why do you think the show has endured for so long?
Brooke-Taylor: We have a very hardworking producer, Jon Naismith, who keeps bashing us to come up with new rounds – we daren’t be complacent. The new rounds don’t always work, but they keep us on our toes.
Cryer: We don’t know. We don’t analyse. We’re just very happy about it. We’re like an old rock band now. The audience who are our age will be dropping off, but we get students who say they grew up with us and that their mum and dad used to listen.
Garden: I think the format of having a selection of silly rounds to play helps us to keep it fresh, to introduce new ideas, new rounds and games, and to refurbish old rounds. Totting it up, we have introduced and played a total of over 350 different games over the years. Who could forget ‘Spot the Ostrich’, ‘Och Aye Spy’, ‘Trivial Hirsute’, or ‘Cow, Lake, Bomb’?
How do you think comedy – radio comedy in particular – has changed since Clue began?
Brooke-Taylor: I don’t think comedy has changed that much on radio. Perhaps the panel shows have become a bit more competitive, which is a shame.
Cryer: Subject matters change. But funny is funny and there are brilliant people in every generation. What has changed is that young stand-ups, the men and the women, talk about themselves, whereas old-timers like me tend to talk about other people. I like being with the young ones, cos they jolt you and spark you up. I bite my lip sometimes when somebody young says ‘we had this idea … ’ and I think ‘oh yeah, we did that in 1958’. But they’ve got a new twist on it. They didn’t know we did it in 1958.
Garden: Some people look back at 1972, when Clue began, as a golden age of comedy. Well if you listen to Radio 4 Extra you can hear some glorious vintage comedy, but also some where the years have not been kind and the gilt has worn a little thin. The truth is that Radio 4 has been a unique comedy broadcaster, and every age has been golden. Right now you can hear gems like Dead Ringers, The News Quiz, Count Arthur Strong, Clare in the Community, Mark Steel’s in Town, In and Out of the Kitchen, and I apologise to all the other shows I love but haven’t the space to include. And of course there are now lots more panel games very like Clue!
There was some controversy late last year when someone complained that Samantha was sexist. What were your opinions of that claim?
Brooke-Taylor: I think the Samantha jokes are the opposite of sexist. Samantha is always the one in charge. The lady who complained last year said that she’d read the jokes to her daughter over the phone and she hadn’t liked them. I’d have loved to have heard her delivery.
Garden: The complaint was that Samantha is a humble assistant, sexually exploited by an all-male show. In fact, Samantha is a) fictional, and b) almost always the instigator of her saucy exploits – typically she is ‘looking forward to’ or ‘can’t wait until’ or ‘likes nothing better than’ etc. The lady who complained said she failed to raise a laugh when she read out some Samantha jokes to her daughter. Well, that’s why Jack Dee got the job.
How important do you think it is to keep innuendo alive, particularly when it can be mistaken for sexism?
Brooke-Taylor: I don’t think it has to be kept alive but, listening recently to Round the Horne on Radio 4 Extra, I know I would miss it. ‘Sexism’ is in the ear of the beholder.
Cryer: I think there are people who specialise in being offended. Innuendo is wordplay. It is playing with the language, puns, double entendre. We’ve got smacked on the wrist more than once about Samantha, who is fictional and also is the dominant figure. She’s hardly put upon.
Garden: In an age when what used to be called ‘bad language’ is widely used to raise an easy laugh, I think it’s vitally important that innuendo is kept alive and kicking. Good innuendo is clever and witty and a great way to get an honest laugh. And if any listeners are offended by sexual innuendo, then they should remember that the rude interpretation is all in their own minds.
There have been more women appearing on Clue in recent times. Is this a conscious decision?
Brooke-Taylor: We’ve always wanted to have women on the show. Thank heaven there are more comediennes around now and they know they’ll be treated with respect. They’ve all been good and some have been totally brilliant – Linda Smith, Victoria Wood and Sandi Toksvig in particular. When Willie Rushton sadly died there was room for a guest on each show, which made it easier. Susan Calman was particularly good on the last series.
Cryer: We’ve always wanted women on Clue and they’ve often been resistant, thinking ‘oh, it’s these old men’’ If you’ve got me and Tim and Graeme – the three old regulars – locked in, you need that contrast.
Garden: We have one guest on each show, and try to get the funniest top comedians available. As more and more women comics have emerged over recent years, it’s not surprising that this is reflected in our line-up. Surely nobody would suggest that Victoria Wood, Sandi Toksvig or Jo Brand appear on the show as ‘token’ women!
Who are some comedians you’d like to appear?
Brooke-Taylor: David Walliams, Lee Mack, Sarah Millican and Adam Hills, among many others.
Garden: Sarah Millican for starters.
You’re playing the Playhouse in the first week of the Fringe this year. In what ways (if any) have Edinburgh and the Fringe featured in your careers?
Brooke-Taylor: My first performance, outside Cambridge, was for the Footlights at the Fringe in 1962. The Fringe was tiny then. The cast included John Cleese and Graham Chapman and was directed by Trevor Nunn. Graeme Garden and I had a great time showing off The Goodies a few years ago.
Cryer: I’ve been doing the Fringe most years for two decades and nearly always with Ronnie Golden, my rock and roll friend. We do rock and roll and gospel and blues and jokes. I think I’m a friend of the family up there.
Garden: We’ve brought Clue to the Edinburgh Fringe several times over the years, and in 2006 Tim B-T and I had a three-week run in a Goodies stage show. My first experience of the Fringe was as a student back in the 1960s when we brought up the Footlights Revue from Cambridge. The photo of the cast in 1964 includes John Cameron, the film-score composer, Jonathan Lynn the movie director and Eric Idle.
Are there any acts in particular you’re looking to see or anything you’re looking to do when you’re in Edinburgh?
Brooke-Taylor: I’ve done a few plays in Edinburgh and I just love wandering around the city. I need to do a bit more research to see what I want to see.
Cryer: I’m just going to scan the brochure. I saw a 20-minute preview recently of a show about Bob Monkhouse with an actor called Simon Cartwright playing him and it gave me the creeps: I mean that as a compliment. There’s this wave of nostalgia now; it’s really interesting the way the young ones seem to be fascinated by Tommy Cooper, Eric and Ernie. It’s really interesting this heavy nostalgia that’s in the air.
Garden: I love coming to Edinburgh and there’s such a buzz at Festival time. I’m only up for a couple of days, but as always I have great intentions to see lots of shows, but the choice is so overwhelming I don’t suppose I’ll see more than one or two this visit.
What’s the best part of being involved in ISIHAC?
Brooke-Taylor: Working with friends.
Cryer: The company. We’ve been friends for over 50 years: it’s unbelievable. It’s telepathy. You know what each other is thinking. I’ve always said it’s at its best when it’s falling apart. I hope it comes over. We are having a genuinely good time.
Garden: Answering questionnaires.