I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"For a show such as this to have lasted thirty years might be thought achievement enough in itself. But to have brought joy and laughter to thousands of listeners ... might at least have been worth a try."
Humphrey Lyttelton, 30th-Anniversary special

Panel Game (according to the introduction, "the antidote to panel games") broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the "classic radio" station BBC 7. Born in 1972, it was something of a continuation of the Sketch Show I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again (which was also the origin of Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Goodies). The main difference was that, as a panel game, they didn't need to write any scripts.

The chairman was Humphrey Lyttelton, a jazz trumpeter (the thinking being that improvisational comedy owed a lot to jazz), who created the persona of a curmudgeonly Deadpan Snarker who would rather be doing something else. Anything else. The regular panelists for most of the show's history were Barry Cryer, Willie Rushton, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden (the third Goodie, Bill Oddie, was in Series 1). After Rushton's death in 1996, the fourth panelist became a rotating position[1]. Because of the show's pedigree, and the fact that the regulars have the final say in who the guests are, being asked to appear on the show is seen as an honour (and many have turned down the opportunity for fear they might ruin it).

Other people on the show include Colin Sell, the long-suffering pianist, and Samantha, the entirely fictional scorer, about whom many Double Entendres are made. Colin Sell's stand-in as duty pianist was veteran jokester musician Neil Innes, best known for the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and The Rutles (and as Robin's Lead Minstrel in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Humph introduced him as 'a man whose royalty payments on "I'm The Urban Spaceman" have just run out', to which Innes responded with several bars of the Death March from Aida.

While winning and losing is seldom an important part of Panel Games, ISIHAC views it as entirely irrelevant. In one 1997 episode, Humph commented, "It's just occurred to me Samantha hasn't given us the score. Since 1981." It would be impossible to determine who won most of the games anyway, given that many of them don't make any sense, and the "Complete Quotes" round has the warning "points will be deducted for a correct answer".

Most of the games are simply excuses for a Hurricane of Puns, but some have a surreality bordering on nonsensical. These include "Celebrity What's My Line" (in which the panel has to guess what a celebrity does for a living), versions of board games and other quizzes (where the joke is that we need to see what's going on to understand it), and, of course the Great Game, Mornington Crescent (a game of complex and subtle rules which, to the uninitiated, sounds like people shouting out tube stations at random) and its boardgame cousin Boardo! (complete with rattling dice and clicking counters).

There are also some musical rounds in the show. While the most popular musical game in the early years was the "Blues" (where each team has to create one on the spot), the three most popular throughout most of the show's run are "One Song to the Tune of Another" (which is self-evident, although Humph thinks otherwise), "Pick-Up Song" (where each of the team members have to sing along to a song which is muted half way through and still be in time with the lyrics when the sound is turned back up) and "Swanee-Kazoo" (where each team has to play a given song with a swanee whistle and a kazoo). There's usually a Running Gag at the expense of guest Jeremy Hardy whenever he's on the show as he's a hilariously terrible singer (which has extended to jokes about said singing even when he's not present).

The show has won three Golden Sony Awards, including one for I'm Sorry I Haven't A Christmas Carol, a Christmas Episode which cast all the regulars and guest panelists into a version of A Christmas Carol and somehow managed to force most of the games into the storyline. This was followed a couple of years later with Humph In Wonderland.

The future of the show was in doubt following Lyttelton's death in 2008, although Series 51 was aired in mid-2009 with Stephen Fry, Jack Dee, and Rob Brydon taking over the chair for two episodes each. The show returned to its regular schedule with Dee chairing every episode later that year. Although it has not been definitively stated that he is the full-time replacement, Dee has chaired every series since.

In 2012, the show's official site was launched, which can be found here.


Ad-Lib Poem

The chairman gives one line setting up a rhyme to a panellist. The panellist then continues the story in rhyming verse, until the chairman buzzes, at which point the poem passes to the next panellist, who does the same until an "artistic conclusion" is reached. Tim notoriously hated this round...which, of course, often led to him starting it off. Not played nowadays.

The Bad-Tempered Clavier

The teams attempt to sing a song while Colin Sell accompanies them. Colin eventually begins changing the tempo, playing wrong notes, and playing different songs altogether. The chairman often mentions that points are deducted for players attempting to sing with their hands over their ears. Not played nowadays.


One team gives a subject for a blues to the other team. The other team then improvise a blues, with each panellist taking alternate lines. They inevitably start with "I woke up this mornin'". (Occassionally, Humph would specifically mention penalizing a team for starting a blues with that sentence, which inevitably resulted in "I rose from my bed as dawn began" or some other synonym.) Variations included 'Calypso' (always starting with "I [thing related to the topic] the other day") and 'Madrigal'. Used to be one of the most reccurring rounds, but is now rarely played.

Call My Bluff

The chairman gives the teams a word to define. The panellists then define the word, each giving different punning definitions. The chairman picks the one he thinks is true, we hear the sound of paper unfolding as the answers are revealed, and the game ends. Not played nowadays.

Censored Song

The teams take a clean song and make it absolutely filthy by strategic censoring. Still pops up occassionally, but definitely not as common as it used to be.

Closed Quotes

Also known as Quote Misquote and Complete Quotes. The chairman reads the beginning of a quote, and one of the panellist finishes it in a humorous fashion. Quotes are generally taken from all manner of things -- songs, poems, interviews, classics, opening lines, and so forth. Still frequently played.

Cheddar Gorge

The teams construct a sentence, taking one word each, with the goal being not to complete the sentence. If the chairman judges that a full stop has been reached, he'll honk his horn (ever since Jack took over, this has been replaced by a gong). Occassionally, each panellist gets a word that they'll have to "seamlessly intergrate" into the story. Common ploys involve forming the sentence "and yet strangely" to force a player to describe something multiple times, or someone -- frequently Tim -- saying "comma" to buy time.

Nowadays, this is rarely played, being substituted with Letter Writing, which plays along the same principles with two major additions. One -- instead of assembling a sentence, the teams are "writing letters" between one famous personality to another. The other team then composes a reply. Two -- as you may have figured out, this is played in teams of two rather than both the teams saying words. This simplifies stalling, and someone -- frequently Graeme -- will often say "and" to force their teammate to come up with as many adjectives as they can. This version is still played frequently.

DIY Drama

The teams are given characters and sound effects, and then improvise a play from a given genre. Sometimes, the players are given free reign -- other times, the chairman indicates scene changes or mentions which sound effects will have to be included beforehand. Very likely to go off the rails, and sound effects given to the panellists are pretty much guaranteed to pop up after the game's finished. One of the newer rounds, and played about once a series.

Double Feature

The panellists combine the names of films to make puns. Really, that's it. Puns can be literal (such as Half A Sixpence, The Dirty Dozen and The Exorcist being combined to make Half A Dozen Eggs). The meaning of the title can be used rather than the words. (Such as Allo Allo, Boom and Farewell My Lovely combining to make A Short, Meaningless Relationship. Or Lord of the Flies and Flash Gordon combining to make Would You Mind Accompanying Me To The Station?) Then there are the truly magnificient puns, such as Barry combining Superman, Kellys Heroes, The French Connection, Al Capone, Fantastic Voyage, Man With the X-Ray Eyes, The Princess and the Pea, Nightmare Alley and The Duchess and the Dustman to make Superkellyfrenchaltasticexpeaalleyduchess. Used to be very popular, but the last time it popped up was in 1995.

Film Club

The chairman gives a profession for a film club, book club, or song book, and the panellists make puns based on the profession, changing around the titles of films/books/songs in order to fit this particular profession. (Such as the bakers' film club -- Bun Hur, Citizen Cake and The Last Temptation Of Crust.) Graeme invariably makes a pun on Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Still played often.

Good News, Bad News

One panellist says some good news, the other some bad news related to the good news, and so on. ("Good news: I've got a new jacuzzi." "Bad news: It wasn't a jacuzzi when I got in..." "Good news: Jamie Lee Curtis was in it with me." "Bad news: But not for long.") Used to be quite popular, but has not been played since 1993.

Historical Headlines

The chairman says a famous historical event, and invites the players to come up with headlines. This round typically plays on the different viewpoints of different newspapers -- running gags include the Sport, with its focus on supernatural events and sightings of Elvis, the Daily Mail, with its obsession with house prices, the Evening Standard, with its concentration on London-centric news, and the Independent with its no-nonsense, fact-stating reports. Inevitably, Graeme will do a "The Guardian corrections and clarifications" joke, which poke fun at the Guardian's reputation for bad spelling by replacing a misspelled headline with an equally misspelled headline. (E.g. "Yesterday's headline 'bishops tickle Darwin's monkey theory' should have read 'bishops tackle Darwin's donkey, Terry'.") The last time it showed up was in 2008.

Just A Minim

The chairman gives one of the panellists a song which they must sing without hesitation, repetition or deviation. (The songs are always picked to make this as ridiculously difficult as possible, such as Old Macdonald Had A Farm or It's Not Unusual.) Other panellists may challenge at any time if they detect hesitation, repetition or deviation, and if the chairman judges that their challenge is correct, they take over from the point where the previous singer left off. Takes its inspiration, rather obviously, from Just a Minute -- Jack has taken to chairing the game using a caricature of Nicholas Parsons' energetic, enthusiastic speaking style. Still played occassionally, often as a substitute to Swanee-Kazoo.


The entire audience get a song displayed on the laser display board, and have to hum it. The panellists attempt to guess what it is. In the live tours, each member of the audience gets their own kazoo for this round. Rarely played, but still pops up occassionally.

Last Episodes

The chairman gives the name of a TV series (or film, or book) to one of the panellists, and asks them to "finish it off as quickly as you can". The panellists typically do this with implications of violence, swearing, sex, puns, or other unbroadcastable material. (Such as Call My Bluff: "And your word is...(ting) ...oh my god!") Not played nowadays.

Late Arrivals

One of the most long-running games. The chairman announces a ball for a certain profession, and the panellists come up with names that are puns on this profession. (Frequently taking the format of "Will you welcome, please, Mr. and Mrs. X, and their son/daughter, Y...") The Mad Scientists' Ball, for example, would have "Mr. and Mrs. Tube, and their daughter, Tess Tube" and "Mr. and Mrs. Tomicbomb, and their daughter, Anna". Graeme, if stuck for ideas, will make a "Gordon Bennett" [2] -based joke, such as "Mr. and Mrs. Bennettnotanotherflamingpartypoliticalbroadcast, and their son, Gordon". Was played in the first ever episode, and is still played occassionally as a substitute for Film Club.


The chairman supplies the first line of a limerick, and the four panellists improvise a line each to complete it. The order of who said what line was always moved, and there would always be four limericks, so that all panellists got the ending line once. Panellists would usually be applauded for avoiding obvious obscenities. Not played nowadays.

Missed Hits

Also known as Wuthering Hillocks. The panellists name movies, songs, books and so on that didn't quite work, always puns on some existing work. (Tales of the Expected, Deaf In Venice, Shakespeare In Hove, et cetera.) Last popped up in 2005.

Mornington Crescent

The Great Game. Any attempt to explain the rules would be redundant and patronizing, but it is worth mentioning that the teams frequently play with special rules or regional variations (such as scrundling being disallowed, or a penalty introduced for leapfrogging). This has led some expert players to dismiss them as amateurs for not playing by the original rules -- the teams have responded to this by saying that they find the intricacies of the variations to be of greater priority than a puritan attitude. Nevertheless, they have complied occassionally by playing the original game. As such a tradition could never die, it is still played nowadays.

...Well, alright, it's an absolute load of wahooney consisting of the teams naming random street names and arguing vividly about made-up rules. That doesn't stop the fans from playing it themselves, though.

Name That Barcode

The chairman reads a barcode aloud (such as "thick white, thick black, thin white, thin white, thin black, thick white") and the panellists give humorous suggestions as to what it can be. Only played once.

Name That Motorway

The panellists hear the sound of a motorway, and guess which one it is. Other variations include Name That Novellist (where the panellists hear a few seconds of somebody typing on a typewriter), and the most extreme of all -- Name That Silence.

Notes And Queries

The chairman asks a question to one of the panellists. They suggest a possible answer, the chairman gives the real answer, and so on. Usually, after everyone's had a go, the rest of the questions are free-for-all, where anyone may give their answer.

One Song To The Tune Of Another

This can be a bit complicated, so listen carefully...a song is like a cat. The music is the cat itself, and the lyrics are the cat's food, nourishing the cat and making it stronger. The cat, or music, will eventually get hungry again, and be filled with new food, or words. And there you have it -- One Song To The Tune Of Another. But I know what you're thinking -- what about lovesick cats? We've all heard alley cats crooning an object of their affection, and what noise could possibly be worse than some lovesick mongrel yowling behind the dustbins? ... At the piano, Colin Sell!

Or, in other words, one song is sung to the tune of another. It was the first game ever played on Clue, and is still played every other episode.

Opera Time

Panellists take a bland piece of prose (recipes, scripts, extracts from scouting manuals) and turn it into an operatic duet. Played well into the eighties, but not around anymore.


One team suffers from a delusion or complaint, but don't know what it is. The delusion is broadcast to the audience and the other team via the laser display board, and the team with the delusion have to ask the other team questions. The other team has to respond in a manner appropriate to the first team's delusion, until the first team manage to guess what it is. This has a variation in the Doctors game, which is basically vice versa -- the team with the problem know what their problem is, and the other team pose as doctors trying to diagnose them. The team with the problem answer in a manner appropriate to their problem. This version is still sometimes played.

One episode featured another variation, Scandals, where one team played the part of two people invited onto a chat show to discuss a recent scandal they were involved in. The other team, playing the part of the hosts, were aware of the scandal, and the first team had to guess what scandal they'd been implicated in.

Pick-Up Song

Samantha spins some discs on the chairman's gramophone, which a chosen panellist should sing along to. The music then drops out, but the singer continues singing, and if, when the music returns, he's within a midge's semi-quaver from the original, he'll be awarded points (allegedly). And points mean prizes, what do points mean?


...Yes. The prizes are always some pun, such as the one for "the pet-lover who doesn't want their exotic pet to get lost -- this stamped, addressed antelope". Or just silly. ("This week's prize is for the animal lover who wants to keep warm in bed. It's this hot water buffalo.") Still played every other episode.

Sound Charades

The laser display board shows the title of a work for the audience and one team. The team then performs a small, improvised sketch, typically using a contrived pun or other wordplay. Nowadays, Barry and Graeme make all their sketches about two eccentric Scotsmen, Hamish and Dougal, setting up jokes and puns for each other seamlessly. Still played nowadays.

Stars In Their Ears

Also known as The Singer And The Song. Panellists sing songs in the style of a famous personality, drawing on accent imitation and impersonations for the humor. Still played occassionally.

Straight Face

The panellists say one word each, with the goal being not to provoke laughter from the audience. (The chairman often mentions how they've been training a lot for this.) If anyone elicits even the slightest titter from the audience, they're eliminated, and the game goes on until only one remains. Inherently Funny Words make this round harder than it sounds. (A variation had the panellists saying punchlines to jokes instead of just words.) Still occassionally played.


One team lists things beginning with a letter randomly chosen by the chairman, with the pretense of packing these things in a suitcase. The other team may challenge if they believe the object wouldn't fit in a suitcase or wouldn't be suitable on holiday. If the chairman upholds the challenge, they take over listing things with a randomly selected letter of their own. Not played nowadays.


The teams play a song using a swanee whistle and a kazoo. (Tim and Graeme always play the swanee whistles, whereas Barry and Tim's guest always play the kazoos -- although when Sandi Toksvig stood in for Graeme, Barry had a one-off go at the swanee whistle.) The humor comes from the naturally silly sound of these two instruments (usually described by the chairman as "the cheeky rasp of the kazoo and the smooth ululation of the swanee whistle"). Still played about every second episode.

Uxbridge English Dictionary

Formerly known as New Definitions, and renamed after a book containing the best definitions. The panellists say a word, then give a definition of the word, usually by breaking it down into smaller words or making a pun on an already-existing word. (Such as "Impolite: [3] To set fire to a pixie.") Barry will occassionally say a word and define it as how Sean Connery would pronounce something. ("Pastiche: [4] What Shean Connery eatsh in Cornwall.") Basically, Hurricane of Puns at its maximum. Still played.

Word for Word

The word disassociation game. One team exchange a random series of words with no connection whatsoever. The other team may challenge if they spot a connection, and if the chairman agrees with the challenge, they take over. Words with a direct connection are usually ignored in favor of words with a roundabout, absurd connection. ("Kangaroo." "Hop." "(buzz) A kangaroo might go to a dance...which, in America, is known as a hop.") Barry has made a habit out of buzzing in on any two words and claiming they were a sixties rock band. Still played.

Tropes used in I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue include:


  • AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: Humph would usually do this rather subtly, placing -- or neglecting to place -- emphasis on a word to completely change the meaning of the sentence.

Humph: The chairman of Just a Minute is, of course, the irrepressible Nicholas Parsons. I never miss him.

  • Actor Allusion: In a round of Karaokey-Cokey, the audience were given The Funky Gibbon to hum. About three seconds in, Tim gets it and bursts out laughing.
    • A few panellists have also been tasked with accompanying themselves in Pick-Up Song, such as Tony Hawks singing along to Stutter Rap and Barry singing along to his cover of The Purple People Eater.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of other panel games and Game Shows.
    • Most notable is the "Just A Minim" round, where they have to sing a well-known song without hesitation, repetition, or deviation -- needless to say, the songs are deliberately chosen to make this hard, Old McDonald Had A Farm being one hilarious example. Since Jack Dee took over as host, the parody has extended to Jack channelling Just a Minute chairman Nicholas Parsons' effusive hosting style.
    • In unrelated rounds that involve the buzzer (such as 'Word for Word'), panellists (particularly Tim [5]) have also been known to issue challenges of hesitation, deviation or repetition.
  • The Alcoholic: What everyone believes Barry to be. In one round of Sound Charades, Tim and Jeremy do the title Miracle on 34th Street with this:

Jeremy: Where are we?
Tim: Somewhere between...thirty-third and thirty-fifth street.
Jeremy: Oh, there's a pub along here. Fancy a drink, Barry? ...Cryer, that is?
Tim: No, no, not for me, thanks.
Barry: Something incredible on thirty-fourth street. Something you would hardly believe on thirty-fourth street...I find all this incredibly offensive, incidentally...

    • Another example, from a round of Complete Quotes:

Humph: "I'm Henry the Eighth, I am, I am..."
'Graeme: Course you are, Mr Cryer, now if you could just blow into this tube...

    • In one episode, Humph mentions that Barry proposed to his wife in a pub and, gripped with the romance of the moment, even got up on one knee.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Whenever Jeremy Hardy's turn comes up in a music round, or a game of Mornington Crescent is announced.
    • In a straighter example of the trope, Colin is once accidentally shot during a round of Russian Roulette. Humph immediately shouts "Yes!"
  • Arch Enemy: Humph has Nicholas Parsons, the bright and cheerful host of Just a Minute.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: In the limerick rounds, the panellists would often come up with bizarre lines out of nowhere.

Humph: Graeme, here's a first line for you. "While out on the shores of Loch Ness..."
Graeme: "...I was startled to see Rudolf Hess..."

  • Artifact Title: The title was originally meant to echo I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, but since Clue has outlived its parent show by decades, a lot more people know about Clue than ISIRTA. Also, the subtitle "the antidote to panel games" doesn't make as much sense now as it used to -- back when it was created, there were way more 'serious' panel games on the BBC, rather than the generally comic tone of those played nowadays. Graeme once jokingly suggested to change it to "the template for panel games".
  • Audience Participation: Sometimes prompted, sometimes spontaneous.
    • In Sound Charades, the audience will react with either applause or booing depending on how accurate the guesses of the guessing team are.
    • In Pick-Up Song, they occassionally clap (something pointed out by Humph is that the audience seldom know the exact rhythm, thus misleading the singer into going faster or slower than they should) or sing along.
    • In Mornington Crescent, they applaud, collectively gasp, cheer -- and one or two members of the audience has actually yelled out possible moves.
    • And, of course:

Humph: And prizes mean points. What do prizes mean?
Audience: (hesitant) Points!
Humph: ...Well, at least you're halfway intelligent.

Butler: This is Lord Bedside.
Lord Bedside: How do you do. Welcome to Bedside House.
Butler: I thought you were going to say "Manor", sir.
Lord Bedside: Yes, so I was. Welcome to Manor House.

    • Also, from "Late Arrivals To The Television Ball":

Tim: Mr. and Mrs. Pythonsflyingcircus... (loud crowd cheer) ...and their son...Arthur!

  • Blatant Lies: The entire point of the game Misleading Advice is to supply these, with the purpose to confuse and cause chaos.

Barry: London policemen are affectionately known as "titface".
Graeme: If you're invited for a game of croquet, it's traditional to give your host a gift of a dozen moles.
Bill Bailey: In England, the hedgehog is sacred.

Humph: Once an odd combination, the swanee whistle and the kazoo now go together as well as bangers and mash, fish and chips, and diarrhea and vomiting.

  • Brief Accent Imitation: One way of playing the "Pick-up Song" round.
    • Occasionally leads into Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping (such as when Marcus Brigstocke found it difficult to keep a straight face whilst accompanying Shaggy's "Mr Boombastic").
    • If someone challenges for repetition, hesitation, or deviation in a round outside Just A Minim, Jack has taken to replying with his Nicholas Parsons impression. "No, no, Tim, I don't think that's right...but the audience enjoyed your challenge so much!"
  • The Butler Did It: Spoofed in a round where the players had to improvise a detective story with the title "Murder by Moonlight": almost immediately, Barry Cryer established that "Moonlight" was the name of the butler. He turned out to be innocent in the end, though.
  • Butt Monkey: Pianist Colin Sell, who is the butt of at least one joke per episode. "Now listeners will be surprised to hear that pop legend Cliff Richard once insisted that Colin played in The Shadows... but then, he's not a pretty sight in broad daylight."
    • If Colin ever speaks up, someone will usually respond with either "Sorry, who are you?" or "You keep out of this".
  • Calvin Ball: Mornington Crescent and several other games, including "Boardo" which includes elements of every board game ever, and the "Quiz Of Quizzes" which does the same thing for other Panel Games and game shows.

Humph: So, Barry and Graeme, you were right to go lower. And Tim gets ten points. Tim, question or nominate?
Tim: Nominate Graeme!

Humph: No, the correct answer is "nominate Barry". You lose ten points.

  • Captain Obvious: In a round of "Closed Quotes" where the players had to complete superstitions:

Humph: See a pin, pick it up, all day long you'll have...
Barry: A pin.

  • Catch Phrase: Subverted; Humph regularly borrows other game show catchphrases...and gets them wrong.
    • Quite a lot of games have catchphrases of their own:

"Bring me the catchphrase of Alfredo Garcia!"

    • "Adjudication, Humph?" said by Barry, whenever an argument about the rules of Mornington Crescent cropped up.
    • Back when the show still ended every show with "The [Profession] Ball", the phrase "Will you welcome, please, Mr. and Mrs..." was often used, and frequently subverted, being substituted with poetic nonsense.

Barry: Lift the hems of several garments!
Graeme: Snap your garters with riddled mirth!

  • Christmas Episode: 2003's I'm Sorry I Haven't a Christmas Carol and 2007's Humph in Wonderland, which cast the regulars and guests in retellings of the respective stories that managed to shoehorn in as many of the usual games as possible. There have also been several Christmas-themed editions of the "regular" show.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mrs. Trellis of North Wales, who writes many letters, e-mails, texts and so on to the show under the mistaken belief that she's writing to another show, always confusing the chairman for some other programme host. Usually, these messages make some amount of sense. Sometimes, they're just...weird.

Dear Mr. Nick,
I'm on the train.
Yours sincerely, Mrs. Trellis

    • This was an example of a joke about people on the train who answer their mobile phone (then a relatively new thing) and loudly and obnoxiously talk about inane things (stereotypically beginning 'I'm on a train'), to the annoyance of the other passengers. In The Nineties they were so prevalent to be a time-specific Mattress Tag Gag (see Trigger Happy TV).
    • The letters are usually puns, topical jokes, or, as stated above, jokes about communication. (An e-mail from Mrs. Trellis is usually filled with confused strokes and slashes, for instance.)

Dear Dr. Clare,
So glad that Tim Brooke-Taylor is back. Without him the show was like Hamlet without the balcony scene.

  • Comically Missing the Point: A frequent source of humour (as in Celebrity What's My Line?, where a celebrity is introduced and the panellists have to guess what they do for a living).
    • Often in Sound Charades, when the guessing team have figured the charade out, they'll name something humorously out of the blue.

Graeme: A boy called Harry...who's doing something naughty.
Barry: Or dirty.
Graeme: Ah, yes. Dirty Potter!

  • The Comically Serious: Any time a patently ridiculous round is introduced, the chairman will explain the rules as if it makes perfect sense, and the teams will often try to play it "seriously", such as "Name That Barcode".
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: In one episode, Barry buzzed in to ask if an action wasn't in complete violation of the rules. Humph removed some of his marks for not knowing the rules, and Barry buzzed in again, stating that he knew the rules now and could he have his marks back please. Humph gave them back, but removed them again for interrupting.
  • Corpsing: Frequently. Whenever Letter Writing is played, Tim and his guest will almost certainly end up having to pause because they're laughing so hard.
    • Barry is also a terrible offender, and is particularly noticeable due to his loud, distinctive laugh.
    • Humph's "tributes" to Lionel Blair while introducing Sound Charades often cause panelists to corpse -- Sandi Toksvig's helpless laughter in an early 2002 episode led to one full minute of uninterrupted audience laughter going out over the air. In 2001, another Sound Charades intro left Phill Jupitus plaintively asking for Humph and the others to wait while he composed himself.
  • Country Matters: Stephen Fry's alternate definition of "countryside" is the best-remembered, but there are plenty of other instances as part of the show's long history of Getting Crap Past the Radar...

[During a round in which the panellists must change a movie title by removing one letter]
Tim: I was going to remove the "o" from The Count of Monte Cristo, but The Count of Monte Crist doesn't make sense...

  • Creepy Monotone/Dull Surprise: Humph sometimes used this for laughs, such as giving the teams praise in a wooden tone that suggested he was wearily reading out a prescripted line. Probably the best example is when he used Anne Robinson's catchphrase in a round parodying The Weakest Link but without any of the viciousness:

Humph: Who's. Not pulling their weight. Who's. Dragging you down. It's time to vote off. The weakest link.

Humph: In "Hunt The Slipper", I'll sit with my eyes closed while the slipper is passed around behind the teams' backs. After a few seconds of slipper-passing, I shall call out "slipper search on", and then I'll open my eyes. Obviously I shall have no idea where the slipper is, but the teams should keep passing the slipper around secretly, and I shall have to guess who's holding the slipper and challenge them by pointing and calling out "slipper holder". (beat) ...I'm seventy-eight, for Christ's sake.

  • Delayed Reaction: In Word For Word, Graeme will occassionally challenge for a connection on two words a long time after they've been spoken.

Tim: Heckle.
Ross Noble: Banjo.
Tim: Butterfly.
Ross: Creosote.
Barry: Creosote Butterfly...Sixties rock band.
Jack: No, uh, I can't let you have that, Barry...I think you wouldn't be able to name one of their albums if I asked you.
Jack: Yes?
Barry: Creosote Butterfly One.
Jack: Apart from the eponymous first album, obviously.
Jack: Yes, Graeme?
Graeme: I think it is the duty of every good citizen to heckle a banjo. ...That was in there.

  • Department of Redundancy Department: "The first round this week is called Round One."
  • Depraved Kids' Show Host: "Throttle Graeme? That's not very nice."
  • Don't Explain the Joke: A couple of shows have featured someone doing this to cover a joke that didn't get a laugh, ending by adding "and I wish I was dead".
    • In one recent episode, Tim did this, and Jack said "Tim, the audience are right."
    • Another variation is when someone tells a joke that doesn't get a laugh, wait for a joke that does, and then repeat the joke. If it doesn't get a laugh then, expect it to be turned into a Running Gag.
  • Dreadful Musician: What poor Colin Sell is accused of being, and what some of the panellists actually are when it comes to singing, notably the long-suffering Jeremy Hardy. In one game of "Pick-up Song" where he actually did a passable job (with "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"), everyone reacted with shock.

Tim: Where the hell did that come from? Your twin brother Jeremy couldn't sing at all!
Jeremy: I've just realized, if I start singing in tune I'm finished. It'd be like the Elephant Man having a nose job.

  • Early Installment Weirdness: The very first episode is introduced as being "a panel game" rather than an "antidote", and has Humph actually attempting to award points (after One Song to the Tune of Another, he gives Tim and Bill points because their turn "didn't take as long").
  • Even the Guys Want Him: After Rob Brydon sang "Delilah" in Pick-Up Song (prompting a very long, enthuastic ovation), this exchange occurred.

Tim: We're going to have to throw all of these back now...
Barry: Those Y-fronts were mine, Tim.

    • In an 1990's episode where Barry had sung "It's Not Unusual" in the same round:

Humph: If we could have these knickers cleared away...
Willie: Could I have mine back?
Tim: Gosh, here are some women's ones!

Willie (about "One Man And His Dog"): The French could have One Man and his Frog...the Norwegians could have One Man and his Log...the Albanians could have One Man and King Zog!

  • Funny Background Event: Yes, on radio. Occassionally on Pick-Up Song, the panellists who aren't singing will banter, joke, make comments or otherwise fool around in the background, aiming to get the singer to crack up.

Barry: (singing Charles Aznavour's "She") She may be the song that summer sings,
May be the chill that autumn brings,
May be a hundred different things--
Tim: I love you, Barry.
Barry: (laughing) Within the measure of a day...

    • In another round of the same, Barry sung "Delilah". Tim can be heard saying "No--no, put them back on, madam," to someone in the audience.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: Translated Phrases, which gives us such translations as Film Noir = "my photos haven't come out", and variations of the theme of adapting song/film/TV titles or proverbs for foreign audiences.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Radio 4 has a very liberal censorship policy, but ISIHAC takes great delight in trying to skirt what boundaries do exist.
    • Anything involving Samantha is particularly bad for this, as seen below -- as one of hundreds of examples. Happily, its spirit lives on in Janet and John on the Radio 2 breakfast show.
    • Given that the script is what has to get past the censor, as opposed to the recording, all the writers had to do was ensure everything looked perfectly-innocent on paper and let Humph do the rest. Stephen Fry has been picking up the baton admirably.
      • phnaar phnaar.
    • On some occasions, there is no radar full stop. A late-90s episode broadcast the phrase "Holy shit!" completely uncensored, even on the Sunday lunchtime repeat.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Whenever it would get a laugh. For some reason, Barry and Graeme are especially prone to it.

Barry: (in an elimination round) So it's just you and me now, is it?
Graeme: Yeah.
Barry: I give it three weeks.

    • When Sven's standing in for Samantha as scorekeeper, the subtext is usually just plain text. ("Well, from the big hand sweeping around my little ticker...I see that Sven's up to his old tricks again.")
    • From a round of Notes And Queries:

Humph: Okay, here's one--why do we kiss?
Graeme: It was a moment of madness, Humph!
Barry: We are what we are, Humph.
Tim: There's no need to resign.

  • Hurricane of Puns: Especially in the "New Definitions" round, which posits phonetically-based new definitions for words, such as "Fervent: Device required when tumble-drying cats", "Cruise Control: Scientology", and "Countryside: To murder Piers Morgan".
    • The new series gave us "Farcical: A bike that makes you look like an idiot" and followed it with the sublime "Lackadaisical: A bicycle made for one".
    • Highlights were later collected into a book, the Uxbridge English Dictionary, itself a pun on the Universities of Oxbridge and the distinctly un-elite town of Uxbridge.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Often used in Humph's introductions.

Humph: [Place where show is being recorded] ...was said to have England's lowest light racy rat. (beat) Literacy rate!

    • The typical introduction to Just A Minim is "The team will have to sing a song without repetition, oh...er...hesitation, deviation, anthrax or repetition."
  • The Illegible: Humph would rag on the producer Jon Naismith for his terrible handwriting, at one point claiming he needed to pin it up on a board and run past it to have any chance to understand it.
  • I Am Spartacus: Before one round of "Pick-Up Song", Humph replaced "What do points mean?" with this. Most of the audience just cheered, but a few shouted back "No, I'm Spartacus!"
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Many of the round introductions.

Humph: We're now going to play a radio version of the popular TV programme, Blind Date. But we're going to play the Italian version - Venetian Blind Date.

  • Informed Attribute: Parodied with the "LASER DISPLAY BOARD" (sometimes extra words suggesting technical brilliance are added into the description) which allegedly informs the studio audience of whatever the secret is, as the Mystery Voice does for the listeners at home. Of course, like Samantha it's entirely fictional, and there's an audience laugh when the secret turns out to be written on an ordinary cue card which the show producer runs across the stage with.
    • One of the many features of the internet-linked liquid-crystal laser display board is to confuse the listeners at home who haven't been to a recording, and to make them wonder why the audience laugh when the title is displayed.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Humph excelled at this, saying the secret was down to reading everything one word at a time so you don't actually know what you're reading. Often centres around Samantha.
    • ...and naturally is very useful for Getting Crap Past the Radar.
    • And usually eliciting mock-shocked cries of "Humph!!"
    • Barry tended to react to these with either "dear oh dear..." or loud, raucous laughter, depending on how good he was at keeping a straight face at the moment.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Ranges from surreal logic to out-of-nowhere assumptions to logic that makes sense in its own internal world. Many of the answers in Notes And Queries fall under this as well.

Humph: Graeme, why are cashew nuts never sold in their shells?
Graeme: Ah, that's because cashews are actually monkey kidneys. And monkey kidneys don't come in shells, they come in monkeys. That would bulk out the packaging too much.

Andy Hamilton: (while Barry and Graeme are having trouble guessing a Sound Charade) It's like a documentary on Alzheimer's...
Barry: ...it's like a documentary on what?

    • And another time:

Tim: No, no, don't patronize him just because he's new.
Graeme: Patronizing -- that means talking down to people.

  • Jedi Mind Trick: Graeme will frequently ask "What's it called?" at the beginning of the other team's Sound Charade. Unsurprisingly, it never works.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: In the Limericks game, subverting the audience's expectation of the "obvious" rhymes. (It's not Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion because the substituted words do fulfill the rhyme as well... usually.)

While out on the Cam in a punt,
I saw Reverend Spooner in front

He said, "What a day gay,"

And, "Anchors aweigh!"

And, "Watch out for my podding sunt!"

    • In some limericks, the competitors actually predict the rhyme about to come, with embarassed mumbles such as "Oh, that one..."

There was a stout person from Brum,
Who lost twenty pounds off her tum.
When people said "Great!",
She replied: "Just you wait,
'Til you see what I've lost from my...thumb."

Humph: "The boy went down on the last few feet of rock..."
Graeme: "...and began to thank Mr. Hudson profusely."

(collective groan from audience, which eventually turns into hissing and jeering)

Tim: ...Oh, I see!

(audience bursts into laughter)

  • Law of Disproportionate Response: Humph put up with most of the show, whatever silliness was going on. However, he'd occassionally pause in the middle of a round of Closed Quotes or Notes And Queries to point out how stupid or boring the answers were.

Humph: The answer [to the question "how can eggshells be used in the garden?"] is "put the eggshells in a barrel of water, remove them, and water your geran..." ...just throw the bloody things away.

    • In Straight Face (a round in which each panellist says a word, and whoever elicits "even the slightest titter" from the studio audience is eliminated), Humph would usually ignore massive audience laughter, but yell "Titter!" at the very slightest giggle, or even total silence.
  • Left It In: Jack once corpsed at one of the Double Entendres in his introduction, then muttered "That'll be edited out or I'm finished". Naturally, it's left in.
  • Literal-Minded: Hamish and Dougal.

Dougal: I've been taking tea and honey with Mrs. Naughtie.
Hamish: Does she produce the honey herself?
Dougal: ...Well, no, that's...that's not nature's way.

  • Lurid Tales of Doom: How The Sport is presented in Historical Headlines.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Some of the more hilarious examples of One Song To The Tune Of Another:
    • "Girlfriend in a Coma" to the tune of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"
    • "Bat out of Hell" to the tune of "Postman Pat"
    • "Bigmouth Strikes Again" to the tune of "Over the Rainbow"
    • "Anarchy in the UK" to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain"
    • There's also the "Opera Time" game, where they sing the words of something banal (like a recipe) as an operatic duet.
  • Lyrical Tic: The improvised blues songs were always filled with cries of "Yeah, man" or "tell it like it is" or "whoa" or anything else appropriate, fitting in with the scratchy-gravelly, 'deep American South' voices they adopted. When Stephen Fry was once filling in for Graeme, his immaculately clean voice made this complicated, so he simply said "various American noises from the back of my throat".
  • Malaproper: After he was awarded an OBE in 2001, Mrs. Trellis sent a letter congratulating Barry on "finally receiving an oboe".
    • Humph once introduced an episode of Letter Writing with "There's nothing like badly-written English to really make my goat boil."
  • Metaphorgotten: Humph's unnecessarily-complicated analogies to explain the concept of One Song To the Tune Of Another.

"Anyone having trouble grasping this concept may care to consider a song to be like a tree. The leaves represent the words, which occasionally fall off to be replaced later by new leaves, or different words. Obviously, the discarded words don't form a slimy layer on top of your lawn like leaves do, that is why they should be swept up and placed in a heap to be burnt on bonfire night to the accompaniment of loud bangs as the hedgehogs explode. Now I come to think of it, there is no record of a few song lyrics ever causing an express train to sit outside Tunbridge Wells station for nine hours at a time, not that you would think leaves on the line would be such a problem these days, so few trains actually seem to stay on them. I can guess what you are thinking -- what kind of species of tree is this? Is it an Elder? Is is an Ash? You could try asking a so called expert, but in all likelihood he wouldn't know his Ash from his Elder. At the piano, Colin Sell."

  • Medium Awareness: Routinely subverted. Since the show is non-fictional, everyone has medium awareness, but the trope is relevant because of the show's tendency to use visual imagery on the radio. For example, in the (now rarely played) round Call My Bluff, all of the panellists give their own definition of a word, then reveal which one was true. We hear the rustles of paper as the answers are shown (and possibly some interested mumbling), and that's it.
    • In an early episode, the audience were treated to the teams playing a round of Hide and Seek on stage. This was topped in a later episode by the teams playing another round of Hide and Seek, where the studio audience hid from the teams!
    • This sort of thing used to happen all the time, in fact -- there would be rounds were panellists tried to eat an apple without using their hands (with scattered comments throughout), for instance. Not to mention the jigsaw puzzles and board games.
  • More Popular Spinoff: I'm Sorry Ill Read That Again ran for eight years. I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue started in 1972 and is still going.
  • Musical Gag: Colin will occassionally play a quick jingle or Sting after a joke, and whenever the singing rounds get really off-track, he tends to change the melody around or segue into another song altogether, before continuing as normal.

Jack Dee: (in Just A Minim) Don't even contemplate a short fling...or even an affair...because I'm quite nasty when I get cross...I have problems with rejection...
(Colin plays the first five notes of The Sailor's Hornpipe)

  • My Name Is Not Durwood: In an episode when Tony Hawks was the guest, Humph pointed out an oddity in the buzzers.

Humph: I'll tell you who we haven't had a challenge from...Bill. They've stuck your names on the buzzers here, and it says "Barry", "Graeme", "Tim" and "Bill".
Tony: (sullen) Are you trying to tell me I was a late booking?
Tim: I hope that's not Bill Bailey from the last series...that'd be really sad.


  • No Budget: Mentioned in a round of Word For Word. Paul Merton buzzed Barry and Graeme, and Humph initially overruled his challenge, saying that they only had one buzzer and that was with Tim and Paul. He then says "...oh, thank you, Paul" as footsteps are heard, and then Graeme says "For those of you listening in stereo -- it's over here now!" Later, when Barry challenges Tim and Paul, Paul says "we'd better have the buzzer back then, hadn't we?" and footsteps are heard again.
  • No Fair Cheating: In a round of Bedtime Stories (one panellist tells a story, and their team member has to try and play appropriate sound effects, while wearing headphones making them unable to hear the story), Graeme tried to sidestep the rules by making his own sound effects. Tim loudly accused him of being a cheat throughout the rest of the round.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Part of Humph's ability to get away with scathing Take Thats and filthy innuendos was his befuddled persona, which managed to simultaneously make the jokes less offensive and more funny.
    • When rounds of Sound Charades get really obvious, the guessing team will usually beat around the bush with lots of humming and stalling.

Barry: You're toying with us, but the listeners can't see that.

    • The round of "Word for Word" that ended in Tim giving words by himself.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: Humph will often introduce a letter from Mrs. Trellis by saying they've received "slightly less than two letters" or "slightly more than one letter".
    • "This was by far the most entertaining letter we received out of several hundred others...from Mrs. Trellis."
  • Plato Is a Moron: "Eton's most famous former pupils include The Duke Of Wellington, William Gladstone, George Orwell, and Humphrey Lyttelton, the jazz musician and panel game host. It doesn't say what those other three are famous for."
  • The Points Mean Nothing: Or less than nothing, since points are rarely even mentioned except for the "Points mean prizes!" Running Gag before Pick-Up Song.
    • Humph mentioning which team he thinks "won that round" is enough to get a laugh in itself.
    • This was lampshaded heavily in one episode. Right after Humph has said "And points mean prizes", he pauses, then comments on how ridiculous that is, since he hasn't given a point since the old king died. "I mean...what do points mean?" "PRIZES!" "Shut up!"
    • In earlier episodes, points were sometimes awarded, but they were rarely added up to a total.
  • Rashomon Style: In a series of interviews with the different cast members, one of the questions was "How was Samantha discovered?". Everyone has a separate story. (Humph claims she was working behind the bar at The BBC canteen -- once-producer Paul Mayhew-Archer implies he discovered her in a strip club -- Jeremy says she was working as a waiter and Graeme made her have extensive plastic surgery.)
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: Humph would occasionally do it, and similarly he would say things like "That was a good round" in a wooden tone suggesting it was written into the script and his own opinion was quite different (sometimes specifically saying "or that's what it says here, anyway") or changing the emphasis of the phrase.

Humph: That went awfully well, let's try another....Hold on, I think I misread that -- That went awfully. Well, let's try another.

Humph: We're joined this week by the four most notable comic talents in the country. I'm sorry -- that should of course read the four most not able comic talents in the country.

  • Rule of Three: More or less every round of Letter Writing will have this exchange.

Barry: Adjective.
Graeme: And.
Barry: Adjective.
Graeme: And.
Barry: Adjective.
Graeme: Yet...

  • Running Gag: "Mornington Crescent" segments always start with Humph reading out the one letter they've had sent in this week, which is always from a Mrs. Trellis of North Wales, and is addressed to some other radio presenter.
    • "One Song To The Tune Of Another" is introduced by Humph explaining the simple concept by means of an impossibly obtuse and roundabout metaphor, always finishing with a crack at pianist Colin Sell.
    • Similarly, the show begins with Humph talking about the city in which it's being recorded this week (with jokes about its reputation and history) before segueing into an insult directed at the contestants.

"Salisbury Plain is of course known for Stonehenge, but these days who really wants to spend half an hour staring at some ancient ruins whose true purpose is a mystery? (Beat) Let's meet the teams."

    • Humph would also close the show with a saying usually involving Fate, Destiny, Time and Eternity, but sometimes also Hope, Despair and Doom.

"And so, ladies and gentlemen, as the short-sighted terrier of Time chases the startled stick insect of Hope, and the supple dachshund of Fate is knotted by the absent-minded balloon magician of Eternity..."

    • Members of Humph's posh family were often mentioned on the show as well.

"[Guy Fawkes's] co-conspirators included one Humphrey Lyttelton, who was dragged in chains to Guildford and publicly executed. Imagine the shame brought upon my family. Apparently they were okay about 'publicly executed', but Guildford!"

    • The introduction to "Sound Charades" involves Humph comparing it to Give Us A Clue (the TV version of Charades) and making some homosexual Innocent Innuendo about that show's regular Lionel Blair.

"On one occasion he had tears in his eyes as the rules prevented him from using his mouth to finish off Two Gentlemen of Verona."
"Opposing team captain Una Stubbs watched open-mouthed as he pulled off 12 Angry Men in under thirty seconds."

    • Later seasons' "Sound Charades" also invariably feature Barry and Graeme's "Hamish and Dougal" characters, who begin every sketch with "Ah, Hamish!" "Ah, Dougal!" "You'll have had your tea?"
      • Played with in one episode where Andy Hamilton was standing in for Graeme.

Barry (Dougal voice): Hello! You'll have had your tea?
Andy (in his own voice): What?

    • In the Film Club round, Graeme will often always do some variation of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
    • In "Late Arrivals", another Hurricane of Puns game, if the players are having trouble coming up with names that the audience doesn't consider an Incredibly Lame Pun, someone (usually Graeme) will inevitably resort to the old standby of a "Gordon Bennett"-based joke (e.g., "Mr. and Mrs. Bennett-look-at-the-size-of-that-crab, and their son Gordon Bennett-look-at-the-size-of-that-crab" at the Fisherman's Ball).
    • When a round went on for a bit, Humph would pointedly mention that he had a gig in Hull the following week.
      • Also to punctuate that a round had gone on too long, Barry sometimes mentioned that he had black hair when they started.
    • In "Word For Word" (the "word disassociation game" where they have to say a word completely unrelated to the last one), Barry would sometimes challenge by claiming that two words put together were the name of a sixties rock band.
      • In the same game, if a challenge is awarded to Barry and Graeme, Graeme will sometimes begin by saying an affirmative word such as "Okay", or "Right", and, after a Beat, add "That was my word."
    • In Cheddar Gorge, saying "comma" to buy time, or creating the phrase "...and yet strangely..." to force someone to describe something twice (or more).
      • In the introduction to Cheddar Gorge, Humph would sometimes define the noise made by the klaxon horn. "If I decide that a full stop has been reached, you'll hear this...(honk)...as I prod a baby elephant with a stick."
      • One person saying 'and' or 'yet' in Letter Writing, the two-man version of Cheddar Gorge.
    • In early seasons, Humph would say they were just about to play a game called "Wobbling Bunnies". There was either never enough time, or "the apparatus" hadn't arrived yet.
    • Quote... Unquote is one of the show's recurring targets, which frequent jokes about how unfunny it is[6].
    • Tim Brooke-Taylor's impression of Lady Bracknell from The Importance of Being Earnest, in particular the famous "In a HAAAAANDBAAAAG?!" line.
    • Whenever Humph was particularly inattentive, Barry would respond by treating him as a senile old man. ("The visitors are coming in a minute! ...Put your trousers on!")
      • This once combined with the 'gig in Hull' gag, when the teams had just finished a round with no reaction from Humph. Barry yelled "We've finished, Humph! We'll go for a walk on the seafront later!", to which Humph responded "I've just left for next Thursday's gig in Hull."
    • In games like Just A Minim and Word For Word where challenges are allowed, Humph would occassionally accept a challenge, then let the subject go to anyone except the person who had challenged.
    • In Uxbridge English Dictionary, Barry will occassionally say a word ending in '-ish' or '-y', and define it as 'rather like [word]'. (Such as "Vanish: Rather like a van.")
    • Sometimes there are running gags that only last the length of that episode, such as in this round of Uxbridge English Dictionary:

Graeme [speaking with a "pirate voice"]: Radar - an attack by pirates.
Graeme: Doodah - a cool pirate.
Graeme: Bazaar - Barry the pirate.

  • Russian Roulette: Played in one episode.
  • Sarcasm Blind: The chairman will occassionally vary the "points mean prizes" catchphrase (such as "and points mean failures at Crewe"), while still expecting the audience to yell out "Prizes!" when prompted. Occassionally, however, one or two Sarcasm Blind members of the audience will yell out the variation.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Everything the chairman says which isn't directly insulting, stealthily insulting, or leading up to a joke will be delivered like this.
  • Scare'Em Straight: In one round of Closed Quotes, the quotes were taken from PSAs. A few of them were so hilariously horrifying that the panellists burst out laughing when the real answers were shown.
    • In a round of Notes And Queries, the questions were all taken from children.

Child: What would happen if I didn't tidy my toys?
Graeme: Well, the tidy-goblin would come and chop you into little bits and then file all the bits alphabetically. Now, go to sleep.

The teams are renowned for their wit,
They're convinced that the show is a hit.
They say: "Week after week
We hit a new peak!"
But the audience know that it's...rubbish.

    • Much of the chairman's material plays on this.

"I'm often prone to bouts of misplaced optimism. This round's going to be a humdinger!"

  • Serious Business: The pretense is that the rounds aren't just sensible games, but important, especially Mornington Crescent.

Humph: If there's one thing I can't stand, it's frivolous Mornington Crescent. It wrecks the whole thing.

Humph: "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing..."
Graeme: "...isn't it?"

  • Shout-Out: In spades, especially the Songbook, Film Club or Book Club rounds, which revolve around making puns about popular films (or songs, or books). Then there are rounds like No Budget, which are about modifying book, film, or TV titles to reflect their, well, lack of budget.
    • Sometimes the panellists will play their own versions of existing games, such as their version of Countdown:

Humph: The letters are going up on the board now. G... G... G... G... Z... V... Q... Y... and... oh dear, G again.
Willie: I suppose it's too late to ask for a vowel...?

  • Small Name, Big Ego: Humph wasn't exactly a small name, but his opinion that the role of chairman made him the most important person in the world was part of his persona. Woe betide the one who discussed the rules of Mornington Crescent and came to a conclusion -- he'd always burst in with a statement of "You haven't decided anything, it's not up to you to decide anything, I'm the chairman".
  • Show Stopper: Many of the more familiar running gags and rounds such as the introduction to Mornington Crescent and "Your turn, Jeremy" in a singing round.
  • Show the Folks At Home: In any round such as Sound Charades or Scandals, the "mystery voice" reads out what the other team has to guess.
  • Signature Sound Effect: Humph had a car horn which made a distinctive honking noise, used for Cheddar Gorge or to signal the end of a round. Since Jack took over, a gong has been used for the same purposes.
  • Smurfette Principle: When Sandi Toksvig first appeared in the 1990s, she remarked how proud she was to be 'in the long line of women who have appeared on the show' (she was the third, and the show had been running for about twenty years at that point.) This provoked considerable laughter from the audience, and a sort of 'oooh' noise from Tim Brooke-Taylor.
    • Barry Cryer proceeded to make the apologetic comment "Well, they were all in the factories when we started!"
  • Sophisticated As Hell: From a round of Closed Quotes, using insults:

Jack: Graeme, one here from Oscar Wilde. Some cause happiness wherever they go, others...
Graeme: ...are complete bastards.

  • Spin-Off: You'll Have Had Your Tea? The Doings of Hamish And Dougal, a surreal sitcom about two elderly Scottish gentlemen Cryer and Garden invented for the "Sound Charades" skits.
    • A one-off Mockumentary In Search of Mornington Crescent, in which top BBC journalist Andrew Marr completely fails to find out what the rules of Mornington Crescent actually are.
  • Spiritual Successor: To I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, and in some ways to The Goodies.
  • Stealth Insult: The final sentence of the introduction to the town they're in will invariably double up as an insult to the contestants.
  • Stock Sound Effects: In the DIY round (where the panellists are forced to improvise a story around sound effects) and in Cow/Lake/Bomb (the ISIHAC version of Rock/Paper/Scissors). If the players are given access to sound effects, they can often be expected to keep popping up later in the show, such as the sound of a punch in retaliation for an insult. Very often any attempt at playing the game will be abandoned in favour of playing as many random sound effects as quickly as possible.
  • Studio Audience: Recorded in front of one. They've got such a wide range of responses that they often add to the show -- truly bad puns are given a Collective Groan, most of the Running Gags provoke cheering, and then there's the strange honor of having a single person applaud a joke, which Barry has fondly dubbed an "applau".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Averted after Willie Rushton's death. Recognising that he could never truly be replaced (and the possible replacements were mostly much younger comics with different styles), his seat was instead turned into a rotating guest spot.
  • Take a Third Option: In a round of Blind Date, Tim has a choice between three contestants (who are, of course, Barry, Graeme and Willie). He chooses number four - Colin Sell.
  • Take That: Humph gets to deliver a lot of them, mostly against the team members and Colin Sell, occasionally against other broadcasters.
    • And sometimes the panellists:

[In the Mystery Illness round, Barry's complaint is that he is turning into Ricky Gervais]
Graeme: He was alright until he left The Office, then something weird happened...

  • Take That, Audience!: Aimed at the Studio Audience more often than the listeners at home, since they're the ones responding enthusiastically to this show which the host apparently hates.

Humph: ...and what do points mean?
Audience: PRIZES!
Humph: Now go and invade Czechoslovakia.

    • Sometimes even simpler.

Humph: Points mean prizes, what do points mean?
Audience: PRIZES!
Humph: (hissing) Shut up.

  • Tempting Fate: Humph once introduced a round of Mornington Crescent by saying "I hope we won't have any of the pointless bickering that has plagued this round in the past", and said that Tim could start. Graeme immediately snapped "Why does he get to start?"
  • The Show Must Go On: Mildly -- there've been a few episodes in which the buzzers have malfunctioned or been mislabelled.

Humph: Challenge from somebody, but the light hasn't come on!
[After some deliberation]
Humph: Oh, hold on, I'll tell you what's happened, it's quite interesting. They've stuck your names on here with sticking-plaster, and Barry and Graeme's names have been stuck over the little light that comes on...

    • Or, in some cases, Humph just got confused about who was challenging:

Humph: Tim? ...Barry? Graeme?
Tim: Anybody in the audience?

    • In another episode, Graeme had Bell's Palsy while recording. He didn't bring it up until it was his turn in One Song To The Tune Of Another.

Graeme: That reminds me, I've got 'pink' and 'blue' in this song, and you won't have noticed this, but I have a touch of what is called Bell's Palsy at the moment...which means half my face has frozen. So I have trouble saying 'p' as in 'pink', and 'b' as in 'blue'...and it's rather cruel of them to call it 'Bell's Palsy'!

Humph: According to our clap-o-meter, Tim won that one.
Barry: Report to the clinic immediately.

  • This Trope Is Bleep: The "Censored Songs" round, in which they sing karaoke with strategically-placed censor bleeps to make the song sound a lot ruder than it originally was. This game arguably never bettered the episode in which we heard...
  • bleep* * bleep* and * bleep* * bleep* and
  • bleep* * bleep* and * bleep* * bleep*

* bleep* * bleep* and * bleep* * bleep* and

  • bleep* * bleep* and * bleep* * bleep*
  • bleep* * bleep* and * bleep* * bleep* all tied up with string,

These are a few of my favourite things...

    • Another brilliant one "Whenever I feel a[buzz] / I hold my [buzz] erect / And whistle a happy tune / so no one will suspect I'm a[buzz]... Whenever I [buzz] / The people I [buzz] / I [buzz] myself as well..."
    • This concept originated with I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again.
    • In one round of Closed Quotes, the quotes came from an interview with Ozzy Osbourne. Humph censored the more explicit words by honking his horn.

As for Simon Cowell, I think he's a (honk)ing (honk)hole.

    • In a round of Sound Charades, Tim and Jeremy illustrated The Sopranos by putting on high-pitched soprano voices and talking like typical gangsters, excessive swearing and all. The swearing was all bleeped out in the broadcast version, which Barry predicted -- afterward, he quipped "You'll bleep with the fishes!"
  • Thrifty Scot: Hamish and Dougal. Many listeners don't realise that their starting Catch Phrase "You'll have had your tea?" is a stereotypical Scots phrase with the subtext that "...because I'm certainly not spending money to feed you if you say no".
  • The Trope Formerly Known as X: "The artist formerly known as Prince" was the subject for a round of "Limerick" which, in five lines, managed to work in just about everything that was ludicrous about the situation.
    • And here it is:

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince;
On stage he would waddle, and mince.
Then just for a giggle,
Changed his name to a squiggle,
And nobody's heard from him since.

  • Throw It In: Humph would occassionally misread something, and the improvisation by the panellists in response to this would usually be thrown in.
    • In another episode, Jack misread "Tobacconist's Film Club" as "Tobogganist's Film Club", before Graeme pointed out his mistake. The round turned into a mix of smoking puns and winter sports puns.
    • The sound once dropped significantly in the middle of a joke. Jack asked "Did the sound just drop then, on that?", and got answers of "Yes" from the panel and some of the audience.

Jack: Oh good. I like to make sure, because otherwise Barry thinks he's having a stroke.

Barry: I wish...

  • Tomato Surprise: A few games rely on the fact that there's no visual aspect for the joke. During a round of "Who Am I?", where the panellists had post-it notes with the name of a celebrity written on them attached to their heads and had to ask questions to find out who they were, all four of them managed to correctly guess the celebrity almost instantly. At the end of the round?

Jack: I think next time we might try the other version, with the names written on the outside.

  • Unexpectedly Obscure Answer: It was a Running Gag in the "Politician's Ball" episode, where they played a game of 'Strip Quiz', which built on the 'old-fashioned principles of strip poker', that Tim got all the impossible questions, whereas everyone else got very elementary ones.

Humph: Now, pay attention here, because I'm going to go quite fast, and these are quite tricky questions. Barry, you first -- what is the capital of England?
Barry: London!
Humph: Willie -- what is one and one?
Willie: Two...?
Humph: Graeme -- what is the name of the Queen of England?
Graeme: Elizabeth.
Humph: Tim -- what is the pharmacopean name for turpentine?
Tim: ...Nigel?
Humph: No, I'm sorry -- the word is 'terebinthina'. Tim loses his shirt on that one.

  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Neither the chairman nor any of the panellists have any qualms about making insulting jokes about one another. Despite this, the close friendship of everyone on the show is obvious.
    • Humph mentioned in an interview that Colin's mother had been upset with him regarding the "awful things" he said about her son. He clarified that, off-stage, they were very good friends.
  • The Voiceless: Samantha, and her occasional replacements Monica and Sven.

"As is customary, Samantha spent some time down in the gramophone library earlier, fetching the hit singles she's chosen. She's become quite friendly with the two elderly archivists, Jack and Arthur. They've recently gone part-time, so Samantha's come to a working arrangement -- she does the paperwork, Arthur gets her 45s out and Jack's off all afternoon."

    • Colin Sell is also voiceless insofar as he has no microphone and can't return any of the endless shots taken at him. (Occasionally he says something loud enough to be heard in the background or communicates via the piano, like falling on the keyboard in response to being "killed".)
      • In Christmas Clue he played the part of Cratchit but, as the character is too poor to buy a microphone, he's still only barely audible.
      • He got a couple of properly audible lines in the Hogmanay Special of spin-off show Hamish & Dougal when he played himself (with Humph as the Laird's butler, Lyttleton)

Colin: I'm Colin Sell, you ordered a pianist?
Humph: Yes. Where is he?

Humph: One very popular recent series was Life On Mars, where the lead character slipped into a coma and woke up to find himself in 1973. Hmm. Welcome to My World.

Humph: Since our special guest today is Phill Jupitus, we all agreed it would be a waste not to make a round to fit his unique talents. ...Still, there you are, that's life.

  • What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: In one episode, a variant on the "Mystery Illness" game was played called "Scandals". The scandal Tim and Jeremy had to guess they'd been involved in was accepting honours for cash. Barry and Graeme... had accepted a booking on Quote, Unquote.

Jeremy: That's harsh!

  • Word Salad Title: "Cheddar Gorge", the game where the panellists take turns saying one word at a time to keep the sentence going on as long as possible. The introduction often claims that the title is self-explanatory. By contrast, "One Song to the Tune of Another", which is as self-explanatory as you could ask for, is treated as a Word Salad Title and introduced with an overly-elaborate analogy to make things "clearer".
  • Yes-Man: Panellists would occasionally play this for laughs, sucking up to Humph in the most obvious fashion. Once subverted, when Barry mentioned what a marvellous chairman he was and what a great job he was doing. Humph awarded him and Graeme ten points for prefacing with that, and awarded Tim and Willie fifteen points for not starting with that.
  1. Jeremy Hardy usually appears once a series, and some of the more frequent guests have included Rob Brydon, Stephen Fry, Andy Hamilton, Tony Hawks, Paul Merton, David Mitchell and Sandi Toksvig
  2. "Gordon Bennet" is an exclamation of surprise
  3. Imp alight
  4. pasties
  5. who, ironically, has made the fewest appearances on Just a Minute of the three surviving regulars, with three appearances compared to Graeme's seven and Barry's 26
  6. Which stems from Radio 4's scheduling shuffle in the mid-90s, which saw Clue and The News Quiz move and Quote Unquote promoted to the 6:30pm slot