The comics who hadn't a clue
THE CLUE BIBLE BY JEM ROBERTS (Preface £18.99)
By Christopher Matthew
Last updated at 12:27 PM on 27th November 2009
Constant among the ever-changing list of records I am planning to play in the unlikely event of being invited on to Desert Island Discs is an episode of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue - if only because I know that the mere hint of Barry Cryer's laugh would be enough to lift my spirits to fresh heights.
We all have our favourite Clue show. Mine is one recorded in Cambridge in 1996. The Late Arrivals at the Undertakers' Ball were sublime - 'Here come Mr and Mrs Reaper, and their son Graeme Reaper.' The programmes suggested for 'Children's Channel 4' were inspired - Chitty Chitty Gang Bang, Last Tango In Trumpton, Lust William...
Were it not for Jem Roberts and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Clue - its dizzying array of antecedents, its career on radio and on the road, and its inside information on the regular members of the cast, past and present - my memory of that particular show, and of many another high spot, would be a lot hazier than it is now.
To make life even easier, the hyper-industrious Jem has added an episode guide to every programme of every single series (50, since you ask) plus a selection of crackers from each one.
Examples: Series 7, 1996, Brighton. Suggested films for The Launderette Attendants' Film Club - Bring Me The Vest Of Alfredo Garcia and Sink The Skidmark. Series 49, 2007, The London Coliseum. Stephen Fry. Guests at the Old Testament Ball: 'Welcome, please, Sam Lila, and Sam's son Andy Lila.'
Anyone who studies this scholarly work with due diligence could confidently offer it as a specialist subject on Mastermind, and handle every curve ball John Humphrys might care to throw. But it is no mere companion guide.
Jem is only too aware of the feeling among many fans that the show should have died along with the late lamented Humphrey Lyttelton, although Jack Dee's deadpan style of chairmanship seems to be fitting the bill surprisingly well at the moment.
Even so, Jem believes that no one can pass judgment on the future of the show unless they know 'where the roots lie'.
His purpose in writing the Bible, therefore, is 'to try and offer some kind of explanation as to where the astounding phenomenon of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue comes from, what makes it tick, and where it may go from here'. This he does with knobs on.
It all began at the 1960 Freshers Fair at Cambridge when three freshmen who wanted to make people laugh - Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese and Graham Chapman - decided to join the Footlights.
Jem gleefully traces the undergraduate careers of this famous threesome, plus fellow stars-in-waiting David Hatch, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall, Bill Oddie and Humphrey Barclay through the famous 1963 Footlights Revue, Cambridge Circus, to Clue's obvious progenitor, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again - aka Radio Prune.
Starring Cambridge Circus alumni Cleese, Brooke-Taylor, Garden, Hatch, Oddie and Kendall, this '1,800 seconds of japes, pranks and idiosyncrasies' with its 'full-on silliness' ran for nine glorious series.
It is easy to see why ex-Prune-player-turned-radio-producer David Hatch responded so enthusiastically when in 1971 Graeme Garden proposed an ad-libbed spoof quiz show.
Now that we are all so familiar with the running gags, the double entendres, the cheers that unfailingly greet Mornington Crescent, and the silent presence of the sex-obsessed Samantha and her hunky stand-in, the very lovely Sven, it may come as a surprise to many fans to learn that the pilot show did not exactly go like a breeze.
Being a seasoned performer who worked on the principle that 'Whatever assignment you're offered, say "yes" first and learn about it afterwards', Humph readily accepted the gig, flew by the seat of his pants on the night, and went off thinking that was the end of that.
No one really knew what they were doing, least of all the four original team members - Tim, Graeme, Jo Kendall and Bill Oddie - who were not used to doing a totally improvised show and were clearly terrified throughout.
'You could hear the adrenaline,' Garden remembers. 'You could hear the sweat.' Even after many hours of careful editing, Hatch was far from confident.
When asked if he thought it would ever be broadcast, he replied: 'Well, possibly, but only on Boxing Day, after lunch, when everyone's p***ed.' Little did he know...