I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue is greatest radio comedy, says panel

Long-running Radio 4 panel game beats classics Hancock’s Half Hour and Round the Horne

The BBC panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which has delighted fans with its deadpan delivery and double entendres for almost half a century, has been voted the greatest radio comedy of all time by a group of expert judges.

Launched as a “self-styled antidote to panel games”, it beat the classics Hancock’s Half Hour and Round the Horne into second and third places out of a long-list of almost 100 sitcoms, satires, and sketch shows from 1939 to the present day that was drawn up by Radio Times readers and radio industry insiders.

Billed as the ultimate in silliness, the show’s games with their often unfathomable rules regularly attract more than 2 million listeners. They include Mornington Crescent, named after the underground station in London, and designed to give the appearance of a competitive game of skill and strategy to the nonsensical utterings of panellists.

Other enduring gags have included celebrity panellists being forced to sing one song to the tune of another, playing a song using only a slide whistle and a kazoo, the silent fictional scorer, Samantha, and the show’s seemingly empty post bag.

Jack Dee took over as chair after the death of Humphrey Lyttelton in 2008. Panellists synonymous with the show include: Graeme Garden (who devised the format); Barry Cryer: Tim Brooke-Taylor, who died in April after contracting coronavirus; and Willie Rushton, who died in 1996 and whose seat was then turned into a permanent guest spot.

It was launched in April 1972, with two teams of comedians being “given silly things to do” by Lyttelton, the jazz trumpeter and bandleader whose deadpan, grumpy delivery became the show’s hallmark. Regular guests have included the late Jeremy Hardy, Jo Brand, Sandi Toksvig, Paul Merton and Stephen Fry.

Adrian Edmondson, who was on the judging panel, described I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue as “the most ridiculous, most surreal, most incomprehensibly funny show on any medium. Why am I listening to two people with no musical ability playing swanee whistle and kazoo? I don’t know.”

The top 10 as judged by Edmondson and fellow experts is dominated by BBC Radio 4 shows covering almost 70 years of radio history. The spoof current affairs programme On the Hour, which was co-written by and starred Chris Morris and featured the first appearance of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge, is in fourth place, followed by Douglas Adam’s comedy sci-fi masterpiece, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Jane Anderson, the Radio Times’ radio editor, said the list was a “reminder of some of radio’s finest comedy gold. And take note of what Steve Punt once said about our winner, which is so fitting for our times: ‘There are no points being made or targets being attacked.’ It’s time for love, life and lots of laughter.”

The top 20 shows as judged by the panel.

1) I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
2) Hancock’s Half Hour
3) Round the Horne
4) On the Hour
5) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
6) The Goon Show
7) Mark Steel’s in Town
8) Cabin Pressure
9) Blue Jam
10) John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme
11) Ed Reardon’s Week
12) Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show!
13) The Shuttleworths
14) The Kenny Everett Show
15) The News Quiz
16) Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge
17) Dead Ringers
18) Hello Cheeky
19) Ladies of Letters
20) The Ricky Gervais Show (with Karl Pilkington)

The full list of the best 40 radio comedies of all time is featured in the new issue of Radio Times, on sale from Tuesday


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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