BBC Radio 4’s spoof game show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is, by some margin, the funniest thing on the radio – as it has been, reliably, since it was first broadcast in 1972.
The start date may offer a clue as to why it’s so amusing. It largely predates political correctness – which certainly explains quite the funniest of all its features: the bit where the presenter (formerly Humphrey Lyttelton; now Jack Dee) makes deadpan announcements about the show’s imaginary scorekeeper Samantha which turn out, when you listen closely and with a dirty mind, to be quite outrageously filthy.
Here are some examples:
Samantha is a qualified croupier and often works at an exclusive Soho club where gamblers pay top money to pay roulette all day and poker all night.
Record researcher Samantha has made one of her customary visits to the gramophone library, where she runs errands for the kindly old archivists, such as nipping out to fetch their sandwiches. Their favourite treat is cheese with homemade chutney, but they never object when she palms them off with relish.
Samantha has to nip out now as she’s off to the pictures with a couple of gentlemen friends who are horror movie enthusiasts. Samantha says she enjoys nothing better than sitting in the back row and being given the willies for 90 minutes.
Samantha has to nip out to take her German shepherd to the park to give him a stroke, while he licks her face and pants.
Samantha is off on a dinner date with a gentleman friend from Moscow who’s brought over a variety of caviars and an array of vodka-based aperitifs. She says he’s going to offer her delicious food in his hotel room and then liquor out on the balcony.
Samantha tells me she’s off with a team of local paramedics this evening. They’re so excited at the thought, they just can’t wait for her to arrive so they can get their ambulance and stretcher out for the night.
Samantha has to nip out now with her new gentleman friend. Apparently, they’ve been working on the restoration of an old chest of drawers. Samantha is in charge of polishing, while he scrapes the varnish and wax off next to her.
If this innuendo isn’t to your taste, well there’s always Jeremy Hardy and co being as funny as a Brezhnev-era Politburo meeting on the News Quiz. But the point is, for a lot of Radio 4’s largely middle-class, late-middle-aged audience, this brand of humour is like a welcome portion of sticky toffee pudding and Jersey cream in a desert of standard-BBC-issue vegan salads and nut roasts.
It performs on Radio 4 much the same function that Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear do on BBC TV. It’s the exception that proves the rule; a reminder that while almost everything else in this increasingly grim, right-on world we inhabit is going to hell in a handcart there still remains the odd tiny bastion where the old values still prevail.
But now naughty Samantha and the show are in trouble.
There have been complaints to the BBC – by just one vexatious, professional offence-taker, it would seem – and instead of giving the no-life, kill-joy hag the contemptuous brush-off she properly deserves, the BBC high-ups have been falling over themselves to appease her.
We learn this from a ten-page section of the BBC Trust’s latest report which details on the one hand the lengths to which the complainant went to try to get the show banned or censored (at one point, she even tried to rope into her argument the UN Special Rapporteur’s barmy claim that Britain was the world’s most sexist country) and on the other the eggshells on which the BBC felt it had to tread in order to justify the ongoing existence of the show and of the lovely Samantha.
To be fair to the BBC Trust, it did throw out the woman’s complaint in the end. But what’s a mite depressing, reading the report, is realising just how many people are at the senior levels of the BBC who would happily have thrown this classic show to the wolves.
We learn that there have been “lengthy and detailed discussions between senior managers” at the Corporation about the show and that “a number of senior figures share, at least in part,” this anonymous complainant’s objections to its “schoolboy, sexist, so-called humour”.
As a remedy, the BBC has promised that in future Samantha’s appearances will be matched by more regular appearances from a balancing male character, Sven, and that greater efforts will be made to stress to listeners that, far from being taken advantage of, Samantha is “a willing, even enthusiastic, participant in the liaisons.”
There is much that is absurd and depressing about this story but here’s what struck me especially:
1. If the BBC Trust is prepared to go to such lengths to accommodate the whining of just one woman about sexism, why couldn’t it have taken the same trouble to address the numerous more serious and far more justified complaints it has received about the outrageous imbalance in its coverage of environmental and climate issues?
2. If the BBC wavers like this in the face of just one complaint where sexism is concerned, can we really be sure it wouldn’t collapse completely if the number, say, doubled to a whopping two complaints?
3. Reading the report closely, the single most fascinating detail I found was this: that there have been “Radio 4 surveys which showed I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue was among its top-performing programmes that a higher proportion of women than men listened to and the ‘appreciation scores’ registered by female listeners were higher than those registered by male listeners.”
In other words, in the clearest possible rebuttal to this idiot woman’s views it seems that Radio 4 has strong evidence that far from being offended by this puerile, sexist show its women listeners find it even funnier than the men do. So why couldn’t the BBC’s complaints department have saved itself a lot of bother, told this harpie that she was in a minority of one and that she should go and get stuffed? (Something which, by the sounds of it, she’s in a lot more need of than Samantha….)