The "Hat" Is Familiar

Well, I don’t drive. Sitting in the car for a few hours, as I have been on two separate trips to the south of Wales these last few days, and failing to make scintillating company for my partner at the wheel, I pass the time that always seems longer when the body is at rest while in motion by listening to comedy and quiz programs on BBC 4. Quick, witty, and thoroughly radiogenic, shows like I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and Just a Minute continue to provide the kind of smart broadcast entertainment introduced in America back in 1938, when Information, Please premiered on the CBS radio network.

Like those present day BBC offerings, the Information, Please relied in part on well-known guest panelists, mainly writers and entertainers, publicly to make fools of themselves for our private amusement. Now, Information, Please is still a darn good quiz program; but I tend to listen to it for information other than that requested by host Clifton Fadiman. The program sure tests the memory. It also attests to the transitory nature of what constitutes the memorable and the retrievable, trivia and common knowledge.

To me, the most intriguing questions of Information, Please are raised by the very voices and names of those who answer. On this day, 18 July, in 1939, Information Please featured the voice of one Clarence Budington Kelland. Apparently, the speaker was deemed popular enough to become a celebrity guest guesser. Not only did he join a long list of Information, Pleasers including Lilian Gish, Gracie Allen, Rex Stout, and Alfred Hitchcock, he was invited to return and second guess.

On an earlier edition of Information, Please (the transcript of which was included in an anthology of Best Broadcasts), Kelland was introduced as an “ever popular” author “whose stories and novels have delighted millions” (23 May 1939).  While it is clear that those millions did not bother to pass on their delights to future generations, it remains open to speculation just when the “ever popular” made way for “whatever,” the yawn of indifference.

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