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Why TV hasn't a Clue...

Execs loved a pilot – but wanted younger comics

Plans for a TV version of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue were dropped – because executives thought the teams were too old.

The show is currently celebrating its 40th year on radio, but has never transferred to the small screen.

And speaking at the Slapstick Festival in Bristol today, regular panellist Tim Brooke-Taylor revealed why.

The 72-year-old told an audience at the Old Vic theatre: ‘We did a pilot for ITV, and they said “Yes, we’d like to go along with it... but can we have some younger people doing it?”

‘I think they missed the point somewhat.’

However, even the pilot of the radio show got off to an inauspicious start.

Graeme Garden created the improvised format as an outlet for the team behind sketch show I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again – who were finding it increasingly difficult to work on scripts as their TV work began to take off. And he called un jazz star Humphrey Lyttelton to host.

But he told the festival: ‘We said ”never again” at the end of the pilot. We all had a terrible time.’

At the time, producer David Hatch said he might be able to sell it to the BBC as a one-off – but it turned into one of the corporation’s most enduring shows.

Garden, 69 , added: ‘Humph always used to say he liked pilots as you turned up, got paid, and nothing ever came of it. Not only did he say “never again” after the pilot, he said it after the end of the first series, and every subsequent series. I never quite know if he enjoyed doing the show or not.’

The first series also starred John Cleese and Bill Oddie, but both quickly dropped out. ‘John liked to be in control of everything, and do eight rewrites every time,’ Garden said. ‘He hated doing it on the hoof. He got so fed up with one round that he took his glass of water and poured it over the microphone.

‘And Bill Oddie was terrified of the show. He used to throw up before going on. And we couldn’t have that.’

Barry Cryer and Willy Rushton then took over as regulars, and the team today shared memories of Rushton, who died in 1996.

Cryer 77, recalls them both checking into Belfast’s Europa hotel at the height of the Troubles, when it had the dubious honour of being Europe’s most-bombed building. On the check-in form, where it asked, ‘Where did you hear about it?’ Rushton wrote: ‘News At Ten.’

He also recalled him telling a blind piano tuner at the theatre in Andover becoming something of an irritation as he kept chatting to them as they were preparing for a show. As the man finally left them alone, disappearing out of their dressing room with his guide dog, Rushton cried out: ‘How cruel of them to give you a cat!’

And pianist Colin Sell recalled him opening a show in the Isle of Man with the line: ‘As Oscar Wilde said, “It’s great to be in Douglas.”’

The team also recalled how Jack Dee was not accepted by all fans when he took over hosting duties after Lyttelton died in 2008.

At one recording at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, a voice rang out from the stalls: ‘It’s not the same without Humph, is it?’ – causing the atmosphere to sour. But Dee replied: ‘Aah, dear Humph, I wonder where he is now?’ And after the perfect pause: ‘I envy him.’

However the team refused to be drawn too deeply into the controversy surrounding their running jokes about Lionel Blair. Producers have recently dropped the gags, amid reports Blair was angry at how he was portrayed as an insatiable homosexual.

‘That’s a tricky question,’ Brooke-Taylor said, when one audience member asked about the Blair.

He revealed that Blair had been approached to appear on their last Christmas show – but turned them down. ‘He initially said he would be very happy to be on it,’ Brooke-Taylor said. ‘But his wife said no.’

Their comments came at a Q&A session at the Slapstick Festival, after they recreated some of the best gags from the show’s 40-year history. And the irony of a radio show being part of a silent comedy festival did not pass unnoticed.

Posted: 28 Jan 2013

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