The genius of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

5 December 2020

9:00 AM

5 December 2020

9:00 AM

I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

BBC Radio 4

In Vogue: The 1990s; Stig Abell’s Guide to Reading

Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other platforms

I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue has just been voted the greatest radio comedy of all time by Radio Times, ahead of Hancock’s Half Hour and the brilliant Round the Horne. The first two episodes of series 73 (can you believe it?) are also the last Tim Brooke-Taylor recorded before losing his life to coronavirus earlier this year.

Brooke-Taylor was part of the original cast of the self-styled ‘antidote to panel games’, which first aired in 1972 with Bill Oddie, Jo Kendall and the show’s deviser Graeme Garden as fellow performers (Barry Cryer joined during the first series and Willie Rushton two years later). When Brooke-Taylor’s voice broke through this week, it was as green as ever, ooh-ooh-oohing the lyrics of ‘The Funky Gibbon’ to the tune of ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht ’at’ in Huddersfield Town Hall. As swan songs go it was magnificent.

The secret to the programme’s popularity lies in the fact that its producers haven’t caved in to pressures to move with the times. The marriage between music, wordplay and general silliness remains much the same as 30 years ago. It feels, as it always has, like a family parlour game that has been carried directly from the living room to the stage. Even with a younger team — Jack Dee chairs Rachel Parris, Marcus Brigstocke and Tony Hawks in a recent episode — it remains the spotted dick and custard of the old BBC.

American Vogue has broken with tradition by featuring a male model alone on its cover for the first time in its 128-year history. More newsworthy still, the model, Harry Styles, formerly of the boyband One Direction, poses in a dress. If this interests you as little as it did me, I recommend listening to the ‘bonus’ episode of the In Vogue: The 1990s podcast, in which the magazine’s international editor at large, Hamish Bowles, reads his accompanying profile of the singer aloud. Seldom have I enjoyed such a memorable trip into the parallel universe of fashionistas.

We are introduced to Styles, a meditating pescatarian, as he is completing a six-day juice diet in preparation for the shoot. While the interview builds towards the moment he puts on the dress, for much of the conversation he is busy taking things off. At one point he stands before Bowles in nothing but a pair of Y-fronts. At the men’s bathing pond on Hampstead Heath, meanwhile, he sets aside a sweatshirt printed, to his own design, with portraits of Alain de Botton, and plunges in. The other swimmers, notes Bowles, are ‘blissfully unaware of the 26-year-old supernova in their midst’.

Given that he was born in 1994, Styles is not the most obvious subject for a podcast ordinarily dedicated to 1990s fashion. But let’s not fuss over details. Bowles is clearly bowled over. His description of Styles striking ‘an insouciant pose’ on a Chesterfield upholstered in a fabric designed to set off the colour of his eyes induced a novel kind of envy in this listener. Job for the weekend: repaint walls eye-green.

It is difficult to imagine Stig Abell adopting such a voguish position as he talks about the wonders of literature on his new podcast, Stig Abell’s Guide to Reading. Inspired by the diverse range of books he discovered on his daily commute, the Times Radio presenter and former editor of the TLS offers eight episodes, each dedicated to a different genre.

Episode four, on the rather unwieldy category of ‘non-fiction’, was certainly one to savour from a high-backed chair. Autodidacticism, objective truth and Catholicism were just some of the topics Abell tackled with fellow author and presenter James O’Brien. I was surprised to learn that Anthony Burgess hated A Clockwork Orange, a mere ‘jeu d’esprit’ he knocked out in three weeks. And that Sir David Attenborough considers Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring the book that has done most to change the scientific landscape since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Abell’s is an unashamedly highbrow and high-minded podcast for those who believe that thinking, rather than its opposite, is the best form of escapism.

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