Iain Pattinson (Chairman's script, series 1–2) Dan Gaster (Chairman's script, series 3–6 & 8 onwards) Colin Swash (Series 7-18 & 20 onwards) John Finnemore (Chairman's Script, series 7–8) Christine Rose (Chairman's Script, series 19)
The Unbelievable Truth is a BBC radiocomedypanel game made by Random Entertainment, devised by Graeme Garden and Jon Naismith. It is very similar to the occasional I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue game "Lies, All Lies", which was first played in 1985. The game is chaired by David Mitchell and is described in the programme's introduction as "the panel game built on truth and lies." The object of the game is to lie on a subject, whilst also trying to include the truth without being detected. The series was first broadcast as a pilot on 19 October 2006, with the first actual series broadcast on 23 April 2007.
As David Mitchell says at the start of the programme, "the rules are very simple". The panel is made up of four players. In the game each of the panellists is given a subject on which they give a short lecture. Most of the lecture is composed of lies, but during the course of the speech the lecturer must try to smuggle five true statements past the rest of the panel. The challenging panellists must buzz in when they believe that what the lecturer is saying is true. They must state what they believe the fact was. If it was true, the challenger is awarded one point. If it was a lie, then they are deducted one point. One point is given to the lecturer for each truth they smuggle successfully without it being detected at the end of the lecture. The winner is the panellist with the most points. A perfect score is 20 points (by hiding all five of their truths, and spotting the five truths in all three of the other players' routines without making any wrong challenges), plus additional points for "unintentional" truths revealed during the monologue. However, nobody has reached this score yet, and in fact many contests have been amusingly low scoring, with most panellists having a negative number of points due to high number of guesses.
Reaction to the show has been generally positive. Many reviews have praised Mitchell's presentation of the programme, saying, "Mitchell's quick, intelligent wit gives it an edge that it would otherwise lack." Elizabeth Mahoney in The Guardian enthused: "From the first moments of its plinky plonky theme tune, 'The Unbelievable Truth' is a delight ... the success of the format isn't about how convincingly you can spin a tall story, but how well you can sneak incongruous true facts into a lot of silly nonsense. The pleasure here – David Mitchell's endearing squareness apart – is the depths to which this silliness sinks". Jane Anderson in The Radio Times described the show as "the funniest thing I've heard on Radio 4 in years and I'm considering suing the network for irreparable damage to my sides" and Chris Campling in The Times called it "The most consistently entertaining comedy panel show of the past few years" and praises David Mitchell's chairmanship.
Ian Dunn for One Giant Leap also wrote a mixed review of the show saying that it, "may not be the best panel game in the world, but it is enjoyable. It is a way of merrily passing away half-an-hour." He commented on how the show managed to be successful in the same slot as other Radio 4 panel games Just a Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (ISIHAC), although he mentioned there was a connection between ISIHAC and The Unbelievable Truth as the latter is created by the producer and one of the regular panellists from ISIHAC. Dunn also referred to the lack of input from Mitchell despite him being well known for good performances on other panel games, saying: "This sadly means that Mitchell is almost redundant and is reduced to the roll [sic] of an umpire."
In The Guardian, Zoe Williams was critical of Mitchell, writing: "The Unbelievable Truth, for instance, should never have been recommissioned. It's only funny when Clive Anderson is speaking. They could more profitably devise a show that was just Clive Anderson, speaking. Its failures as a quiz are admirably demonstrated by the fact that the scoring is now inverse to the drollery, so that Clive scores no points at all, and Lucy Porter sometimes wins. I don't care about scoring when it's like I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and it's meant to mean nothing, but they can't all be spoof game-shows. Some of them have to be actual games that work."
The BBC received "almost 50" complaints after Mitchell opened the 26 October 2009 episode with the line, "There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that the last line in Anne Frank's diary reads: 'Today is my birthday; dad bought me a drum kit.'" Complainants branded the line "insensitive".
Recent series of the show have been selected in The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Mail as a pick of the week, being "brilliantly chaired as ever by David Mitchell. More wide ranging and inventive than its TV equivalent ... this is a classic format which might well just last as long as say, Just a Minute", and Sarah Montague on Pick of the Week said of series six: "Radio 4 doesn't always get comedy right, but its comedy series The Unbelievable Truth is so funny that most presenters of this programme want to include a clip". In addition, the show received the highest AI, or Appreciation Index, figures of any comedy show on Radio 4 for 2010, and has been nominated for the 2011 Sony Radio Academy Awards. It won the category of "Best Radio Panel Show" in the British Comedy Guide's 2011 awards. In 2015 The Unbelievable Truth was nominated for the Rose d'Or in the "Radio Game Show" category.
The show's accuracy was playfully rebuffed in an episode of the television programme QI, itself having been forced to accept corrections at times, when Mitchell, one of the panellists on the subject of film and fame (Series F, Episode 11), found himself supplying answers based on information gathered from The Unbelievable Truth. The answers received klaxons on QI, causing Mitchell to acknowledge that some of the show's "unbelievable truths [turn] out, unbelievably, to be untrue." Mitchell then added in comic resignation, "People give you this shit and you read it out", and later jokingly accused QI's host Stephen Fry of trying to "kill off the medium" of radio. The show was nonetheless praised by Stephen Fry and fellow panellist Emma Thompson.
QI and The Unbelievable Truth now have something of a running gag criticising each other's lack of accuracy. Mitchell in his scripted comments for Episode 6 of the twelfth series complained that QI had referred to a lavish medieval dinner as "serving '100 eaglets' where it should have been '100 egrets'; it would be stupid to serve the offspring of eagles, whereas to serve up herons is far more sensible", and jokingly accused QI of getting "all its facts from Wikipedia".