REVIEW: Sorry I Haven’t A Clue at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on Monday (April 28)

Jack Dee.

Jack Dee. - Credit: BBC

The show is due to be broadcast in the next Radio Four series. Angela Singer joined the audience on her kazoo.

It’s the most listened to comedy on British radio with an audience of two-and-a-half million. Its visit to Cambridge Corn Exchange sold out weeks in advance. On the panel were Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden (who thought up the show 40 years ago) Tim Brooke-Taylor and Jeremy Hardy.

In the chair, of course, was Jack Dee – the comedian who actually had a cheerful chappy delivery when he first started out. He wasn’t getting anywhere, so on the night he thought would be his last gig because he just couldn’t be bothered any more - he went on stage with a glum face and just reeled off the jokes dead-pan. After that, he never looked back.

The show opened with Dee’s usual description of the fine city we are in. He said:“The greatest university in the world... Oxford is 85 miles away”. A mixture of groans and laughs were followed by: “We do that one the other way round in Oxford. They don’t get it there.”

Basically the live show is twice as long as the broadcast, so it can be edited. You get two shows at once, so it’s a good two-hours of entertainment. Apart from that, it is just the same as the broadcast, except that it isn’t because you have audience participation, disparaging local references (“thieves broke into the trophy room at Cambridge United and made off with the carpet”) and it’s absolutely filthy.

An excited audience of all ages filed in and found a kazoo waiting for them on every seat. Jon Naismith, the show’s producer for over 20 years, who was in Footlights when he was at Cambridge, came in and told a few jokes: “A man goes into a pub and meets a POW, no, it’s not a prisoner of war, those initials have been reclaimed. It’s a predatory older woman. He goes back to her place. She asks him if he is up for a mother-daughter threesome. After a moment’s thought he says yes.

She calls out: “Mum!”

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Then he explained how to play the kazoo. “One theatre manager on the tour said your kazoos don’t work. I think you have a duff batch. That is to grossly over-estimate this instrument’s technological sophistication.”

He explains that you have to make the noise yourself. We all have a go and then he tells us that we are now grade eight.

There really is something magical about hearing One Song to the Tune of Another live. Barry Cryer really can sing. His I Predict a Riot to the tune of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square was quite beautiful. Graeme Garden’s Girlfriend in a Coma to the tune of Tiptoe Through the Tulips was splendid and at the end of the night the biggest cheer was for Colin Sell on the piano. Colin Sell is under-sold.

Samantha wasn’t there, of course, because she doesn’t exist. Jack Dee sits next to an empty chair. Every so often Jon Naismith re-appears with a card to hand to Jack Dee offering her latest excuse for her absence. None of them is suitable for publication in a family newspaper. The double entendre is definitely intended. Rammed home with a broom handle.

Naismith also comes back for Sound Charades, where the teams have to invent little scenes to evoke the name of a book or film.

Naismith carries in a big piece of white card with the name written up in black marker and shows it to the audience. Then he shows it to one of the teams and they nod sagely and say “oh yes” as if they haven’t seen it before. There is no electronic board, referred to on the radio, just as there is no Samantha.

Among the other parodies (with the Uxbridge English Dictionary – “Suffragette” equals Ryan Air) and Mornington Crescent, (with the infinite variation of its rules) is a wonderful mixed up medley of television game shows with Dee doing Noel Edmonds, Chris Tarrant and Anne Robinson. (For the weakest link, the teams all hold up signs with “Colin” written on them, he slinks off, head down, as the audience says “aah”).

There is an extended version of Jack Dee’s send-up of Nicholas Parsons, presenting Just a Minute: “In the game we love to play, in the rules of this splendid game that we love to play, this player who is new to the game but in a very strong last place, in this excellent game that we love to play, broadcast not just across Britain but across the world, on Mars and on Venus where they love to hear the game we love to play.”

At the beginning of the second half – just for us, not for broadcast – we have a spoof of other radio stations, including a list of programmes on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire such as Thick and Thin, how the Beckhams’ marriage has survived, and Wallis and Vomit, the problems Mrs Simpson had on sea journeys.

After the show has apparently ended and the thunderous yells and applause are starting to die down, Jack Dee and the teams return and lead the audience in a glorious kazoo finale. We blow away to The Blue Danube and end with We’ll Meet Again.

The amount of tune some people could get into this instrument, as opposed to out of it, led by maestros Cryer and Garden, was impressive. The secret of this long-running show’s success could well be that the audience leaves it feeling rather clever.