After a period of split chairmanship in the first series, Humphrey Lyttelton ("Humph") served in this role from the programme's inception until his death in 2008. In April 2008, following the hospitalisation and subsequent death of Lyttelton, recording of the 51st series was postponed. The show recommenced on 15 June 2009 with Lyttelton being replaced by a trio of hosts serving in tandem: Stephen Fry, Jack Dee and Rob Brydon. Dee went on to host all episodes of the 52nd series later that year. He continues in that role for forthcoming series. The chairman's script is written by Iain Pattinson, who has worked on the show since 1992.
I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue developed from the long-running radio sketch show I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, the writers of which were John Cleese, Jo Kendall, David Hatch, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and especially Graeme Garden who suggested the idea of an unscripted show which, it was decided, would take the form of a parody panel game. A panel game with no competition was not itself a new idea: the BBC had a history of successful quiz shows designed to allow witty celebrities to entertain where winning was not important. Examples include Ignorance is Bliss, Just a Minute, My Word! and My Music on the radio and Call My Bluff on television.
The pilot episode (where it was originally called I'm Sorry, They're At It Again) opened with Graeme Garden and Jo Kendall singing the words of "Three Blind Mice" to the tune of "Ol' Man River" followed by Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor performing the lyrics of "Sing a Song of Sixpence" to the melody of "These Foolish Things". Dave Lee, who was bandleader on I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, was at the piano and a number of rounds were introduced by a short phrase of music. Other rounds included "Dialogue Read in a Specific Accent" and "Songs Sung as Animals". In 1974 Bill Oddie was replaced by Willie Rushton, with Barry Cryer as Graeme Garden's teammate, and Humphrey Lyttelton as chairman, and the personnel remained constant from this point until Rushton's death in 1996, although occasional guest panellists appeared in the 1980s and early 1990s (see below). Since then the fourth seat on the panel has featured a variety of guest comedians.
The show has over two million listeners on Radio 4 and its recording sessions typically fill 1500-seat theatres within a week of being advertised. At least one recording for the spring 2006 series filled all its seats within three hours of the free tickets being made available, and the London recording of the autumn series in that year sold out in ten minutes. Although there are twelve Clue shows broadcast per year these are the result of just six recording sessions, with two programmes being recorded back-to-back. The show was recently voted the second funniest radio programme ever, after The Goon Show. It has a large following among professional comedians such as Armando Iannucci, who turned down opportunities to work on it as he preferred to remain a listener.
The official, authorised history of the show and ISIRTA, The Clue Bible by Jem Roberts, was published by Preface Publishing in October 2009.