Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

December 06, 2017

JAM features

The Guardian talks to Nicholas here

more JAM features - the Tele on Nick

The Telegraph has a nice interview with Nicholas - as it's behind a paywall I've copied it here

Nicholas Parsons has left his walking stick at the dry cleaner’s: a rare senior moment from someone who is a one-man campaign against ageism. Parsons is 94 and has a brain like a bacon slicer, challenging my questions with a dogged persistence and showing irritation when I bring up the subject of slowing down, or the way he is treated by younger people.
“Patronised?” he splutters, a crack momentarily appearing in his quiz-show host sheen. “Why on earth would I be patronised?”
Only the foolish would patronise Parsons. He is a genial soul in many ways (the odd moment of crabbiness, he explains, is due to the errant walking stick), and when we meet is wearing a splendid sports jacket, much like the sort that used to dazzle Seventies TV audiences on Sale of the Century. He is also a heavyweight – a showbiz survivor who has diversified to maximum effect and, for the past 50 years, has reigned supreme as the host of BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute.
Like many national institutions, the panel show nearly didn’t make it past the pilot. “The BBC didn’t want it and quite rightly,” he tells me over a coffee near his home in north-west London, where he lives with his second wife, Annie. “It was a disaster. There were all sorts of inhibiting rules [from Ian Messiter, the show’s creator] – there was a round where you couldn’t use plurals, and another where you couldn’t use the definitive article. The rules hadn’t been defined properly. And I wasn’t terribly good” (Parsons was second choice to compere after Jimmy Edwards, who couldn’t record on Sundays), “but then neither was anyone else.”
So how did he stop being a disaster? “I didn’t say I was a disaster. It’s funny how you want to exaggerate it. I said I wasn’t terribly good,” he says, testily. “But the show evolved, and it has succeeded because we have never rested on our laurels. Some people assume that after 50 years, I must be on automatic pilot, but if I were, the show would have died years ago.”
My mother thought actors were all debased or degenerate
That’s me told, and I can’t blame him really. Parsons has an engineer’s brain (he trained as a mechanical marine engineer during the Second World War) and is sharply alert for any fuzzy logic that might arise during our discussion. In childhood, he was an undiagnosed dyslexic, which, given his professional life dealing with scripts, autocues and acutely rendered word play, must be a challenge.
“I have learned to rely on my memory,” he says. “It’s been a good compensation for everything else.”
Parsons’s phenomenal memory ensured he secured a place at the highly academic St Paul’s School in Hammersmith, west London, and certainly his dyslexia has never held him back. His parents, proud of their son’s achievements, were less than thrilled when he announced his ambition, after the war, to be an actor.
“They were horrified. My mother thought that they were all debased or degenerate. I was born in an era when you did what you were told and they told me that showbusiness wasn’t a proper job. It’s different now, of course. Today everyone wants to look at those people who queue up to do The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. Most of them don’t have talent, of course… Anyway, I told my parents that I had become an engineer to please them, and now I was going to please myself.”
Following 15 months in rep at Bromley, Parsons spent several years as a jobbing actor in films and in the West End before working as a straight man to Arthur Haynes on the popular comedian’s TV sketch show, where Parsons played smooth establishment figures – doctors or lawyers. “I suppose I look a little like a doctor,” he says. “I certainly never looked like an actor, and that is a problem when a saturnine chap walks in and auditions for the same role as you.”
In this profession, if you are not on form you are finished
Parsons was also adept at playing vicars, sending them up in a way that was considered taboo then.
“I have been at the coalface of all these changes. Attitudes have advanced and today, of course, you can send up the Church of England. Now there are other problems. You have to be awfully careful. You would never put a joke in with a Jewish person or one which would show the idea that the Irish are all idiots.”
Certain highlights of Parsons’s career now sit uncomfortably in arguably more enlightened times – namely his quizmaster role on the brash and brightly lit Sale of the Century, the critically mauled, but highly successful, ITV game show which, with its luxury prizes presented by glamorous ladies displaying rather too much décolletage, seems terribly sexist now. “It was of the period,” says Parsons. “People didn’t see us as sexist. That was just the way 
of thinking at the time. And in fact,
 we were the first quiz show to have a male host.”
Sexism, says Parsons, has always existed in the industry. “The difference now is that people have the confidence to come forward and report it. In those days, you didn’t. You just told them to stuff it and walk away – and then you didn’t get the job!”
After Sale of the Century, which finished in 1983 after a 12-year run, Parsons found himself out of work and discovered acting work in unexpected places: for anarchic Eighties comedy movement The Comic Strip Presents; in Doctor Who (as a vicar who tried to use his faith – and failed – against a species of alien vampires); and in the acclaimed 1990 West End premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
“I have had to work hard,” says Parsons. “In this profession, if you are not on form you are finished – you have to be on song for everything you do. I have managed it, I think, because I enjoy my work.”
Variety has been key to Parsons’s success, and he nearly added an extra string to his bow when, in the Seventies, he was invited by the Liberal Party to stand for Yeovil. Work commitments made him decline and he is not sure whether he would have been a success at Westminster.
“In politics, personality is as important as content, and the more personality you have the more likely you are to succeed.” He cites Winston Churchill, who “saved our country at a time of crisis because, although he had knowledge, he also had incredible charisma and was a great orator. He roused the nation with his performances.” Not the type of performance Parsons is comfortable with, although he does acknowledge the House of Commons is “just another arena of theatre in a way”.
I suggest it can be an arena of cruelty, too. Parsons shoots me a rueful look. “Showbusiness can be very cruel, too.”
Does he still have ambition? “Oh yes,” he says, his eyes lighting up at the prospect. “I love a challenge.”

December 04, 2017

latest panel

Two shows recorded yesterday featured Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Stephen Fry and Jan Ravens.
Jan last did the show in 1994 so breaks the record for longest period between drinks.
Her debut - in 1983 - is one of my favourite shows, in part because Derek Nimmo was so rude to her!

December 02, 2017

who's the best?

Many years ago now I had a stat which worked out the percentage of games won by the players. It showed Paul Merton to be clearly the most successful at winning the game. My dear friend Keith Matthews disagreed, as he always did on JAM matters, passionately. His view was that while Clement Freud had the greatest number of wins, he would be JAM's supreme champion.

I mention this because Paul is now just one win behind Clement. I don't know if Keith would change his mind - he adored the old gang of four, although he of course enjoyed Paul too.

In the leadup to the 50th anniversary I have updated this stat. I did wonder if Paul may have been passed by Gyles Brandreth but as you can see, Paul is still the champ. And it's all but certain that in the next season Paul will also have the highest number of wins. I think that even if he was competing with Clement, Derek Nimmo and Kenneth Williams "in their pomp" Paul might well be top of this particular stat. (qualification is five games)

58.78% Paul Merton 231/393
55.56% Gyles Brandreth 60/108
51.72% Tony Slattery 15/29
51.61% Stephen Fry 16/31
44.33% Derek Nimmo 133/300
43.53% Clement Freud 232/533
40.15% Tony Hawks 55/137
40.00% Libby Purves 2/5
37.93% Marcus Brigstocke 11/29
36.67% Sue Perkins 22/60
36.36% Dale Winton 4/11
34.78% Josie Lawrence 16/46
33.33% Liza Goddard 2/6, Jean Marsh 2/6, Nicholas Parsons 3/9, John Sergeant 2/6
32.65% Tim Rice 16/49
29.73% Sheila Hancock 33/111
25.64% Ross Noble 10/39
25.42% Julian Clary 15/59
23.08% Wendy Richard 9/39
20.93% Kit Hesketh-Harvey 9/43
20.59% Aimi Macdonald 7/34
20.39% Graham Norton 21/103
20.00% Rufus Hound 1/5
19.29% Kenneth Williams 65/337
16.67% Martin Jarvis 1/6, Maureen Lipman 1/6, Richard Morton 1/6, Neil Mullarkey 1/6, Paul Sinha 1/6, Barry Took 1/6, Holly Walsh 1/6
16.41% Peter Jones 54/329
16.33% Andree Melly 8/49
15.28% Jenny Éclair 11/72
14.29% Pam Ayres 4/28, Miles Jupp 1/7, Alfred Marks 2/14, Maria McErlane 2/14, Richard Murdoch 1/7
12.50% Phill Jupitus 1/8, Russell Kane 1/8
11.11% Richard Herring 1/9, Richard Vranch 1/9
9.52% Alun Cochrane 2/21, Linda Smith 4/42
9.09% Steve Frost 2/22, Patrick Moore 1/11
8.33% Liza Tarbuck 3/36
8.00% Barry Cryer 2/25
6.67% Geraldine Jones 1/15
6.25% Shappi Khorsandi 1/16
5.56% Fred MacAulay 1/18
5.26% Charles Collingwood 1/19
0.00% Janet Brown 0/6, Susan Calman 0/5, Denise Coffey 0/6, Kevin Eldon 0/8, Graeme Garden
0/7, Janey Godley 0/9, Dave Gorman 0/5, Jeremy Hardy 0/6, John Junkin 0/8, Helen Lederer 0/6, Zoe Lyons 0/8, Stephen Mangan 0/7, Pauline McLynn 0/6, Chris Neill 0/24, Dara O’Briain 0/5, Lance Percival 0/7, Greg Proops 0/12, Arthur Smith 0/9, Jim Sweeney 0/5

November 27, 2017

the first of the Just A Minute anniversary features

This one is in the Sunday  Mail

Paul says his fave ever panellist was... Peter Jones!

November 23, 2017

more deets on anniversary specials

Looks like there will be two...

On Christmas Day a highlights programme but it's being edited to sound like Kenneth, Derek, Peter and Clement are interacting with current panellists...

the publicity material for Just A Minute: 50 Years in 28 Minutes says...

Ever wondered what would have happened if Kenneth Williams had faced Sue Perkins across the Just A Minute desk? Now you can find out, in this special archive celebration of 50 years of Just A Minute, based on an idea by Paul Merton and lovingly mashed-up by audio wizard Gareth Gwynn.
In this one-off archive programme to celebrate Just A Minute's Golden Anniversary on the airwaves, Nicholas Parsons hosts a version of the popular panel show as you've never heard it before as guests from across the programme's history are brought together for one night only. Listeners of a sensitive nature should be warned that wanton hesitation, repetition and deviation will feature from the start.

 The other programme is on New Years Day and 50 Years of Just A Minute: An Audience with Nicholas Parsons features Nicholas interviewed by Paul... and others...
As part of the special programming celebrating 50 years of Just a Minute, Paul Merton talks to Nicholas Parsons about his life, and his 50 years of hosting Radio 4's beloved panel show, with guest appearances from some of the many regulars who have appeared over the years.
In a career which started in 1945, Nicholas Parsons has worked with an extraordinary range of people - from the golden age of British cinema in the 50s and 60s, to the seedy glamour of the Windmill Theatre where he rubbed shoulders with the cream of stand-up talent including Bruce Forsyth and Tommy Cooper.
He formed a famous double act with the legendary comic Arthur Haynes, and worked with him on both sides of the Atlantic - all before Just a Minute was even thought of.
In later years he worked with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, guest starred in Doctor Who, and will shortly be heard as the voice of God in a TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens.
Not bad for a lad who started his career as an engineering apprentice on the Glasgow Docks...
 sounds good fun doesn't it - good on them for thinking up a new way of doing a clips programme!

November 22, 2017

Paul Merton video and other things

Paul did a talk/chat at the Oxford Union a few days ago and the video has been placed on YouTube.
You can see it here

Inevitably most of the questions are about his TV work, Have I Got News for You in particular. But he does answer a couple of questions on JAM. He says the show works because of the banter between the panellists when they are not actually playing the game. This is true, I think and it's certainly very true of the Kenneth years when the relationships between the panellists and Nicholas were the highlight really. Paul says a show where the players were consistently speaking without interruption for the whole minute probably wouldn't be much fun and that's true too.

He also talks about how one panellist used to glare at the others and be grumpy but the listening public couldn't see this. As he was saying it, I thought he was referring to Clement Freud, but he then said "she" so I guess he meant Wendy Richard.

It does make me think that an interesting thing would be to hear Paul and some of the other long-serving panellists being interviewed about the game. Paul is clearly very thoughtful about his comedy.

Inevitably though the centrepiece of the 50th anniversary celebrations is an interview with Nicholas to be conducted by Paul. I've been asked to submit a question so you may hear my voice as part of this programme - though it may also be dumped.

There is also to be an archive programme "with a twist". I've asked for broadcast dates so will post again if I get these.

Finally - an updated list of appearances this year... just 20 shows this year - though I guess the anniversary programmes may also be this year.

Paul Merton 18
Gyles Brandreth, Jenny Eclair, Zoe Lyons 6
Josie Lawrence 5
Sheila Hancock, Graham Norton 4
Tony Hawks, Julian Clary, Sue Perkins, Ross Noble, Stephen Fry, Marcus Brigstocke, Pam Ayres, Phill Jupitus, Rufus Hound, Tom Allen, Andy Hamilton, Fern Britton, Al Murray 2
 Fred MacAulay, Janey Godley, Paul Sinha, James Acaster, Mark Watson 1

It's interesting that there were far fewer debutants this year. Also Zoe Lyons appeared in all three seasons -  it's good to hear her but am not convinced she is a futre regular or semi-regular. What do you think?

March 09, 2017

the season so far

thought I'd post on the season so far - we are already halfway through it, sad to say. Still there must be a new season coming up, as they have already started recording for it - two shows with Paul Merton, Julian Clary, Pam Ayres and Zoe Lyons are in the bag.

Enjoyed the first show with Paul, Graham Norton, Josie Lawrence and Zoe. Josie was in great form. There was some comment on Twitter that it sounded like Paul and Graham don't like each other. I think this was referring to Paul making a big deal of Graham using one of his plyos - when he doesn't know anything about a subject he fills rime by saying Ï'm looking forward to talking about this, I know so much about it, I am really knowledgeable about this..."etc etc. This is a ploy Paul sometimes uses too. But I guess Paul feels Graham over-uses it or perhaps he just feels 40 seconds of it is just a bit boring. Anyway I don't get the feeling they dislike each other - it's just one of the ways Paul tries to keep interest going and keep the energy of the programme going.

The show with Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Sheila Hancock and Tom Allen was a top show. I thought Gyles was the best here (not just on the scorecard) - he was very inventive and funny every time he talked and the bit aboyt him losing more graciously was a deserved running joke. Sheila was great - I like it that she plays the show in the old style where she talks aboiut what she know about the subject rather than making up stories. That's very reminiscent of the way Kenneth Williams, Clement Freud, Peter Jones and Derek Nimmo used to play the game and while I do love the way Paul conjures up a fantasy world, it's nice to hear others using a different style. Tom Allen was interesting and pretty good - his voice sounds a little like Kenneth, though he needs to go a long way to be as outrageous as he was.

This week's show with Paul, Jenny Eclair, Marcus Brigstocke and Al Murray. Al Murray started well on his pet subject of pubs, but then he failed. Jenny was good and a bit different, Marcus good but didn't get in as often as usual, but this was very much a Paul show. Nothing wrong with that.

February 21, 2017

2016 player rankings

For the 10th time - the annual JAM player rankings.

I found this year very hard to do as there were so many newcomers that were really much of a muchness. Can one really distinguish between say John Finnemore and Rufus Hound in terms of contribution? The practice has become that newcomers, even those that do reasonably well,m are something of a running joke for the regulars and are patronised by Nicholas. There was one major exception this year - more below. In some ways I could have placed more than half of the panellists in the average category... but doing that seems like cheating!

There were  28 JAM panellists in 21 shows this year, including the Prince of Wales whose brief appearance I have not ranked. With the Christmas pantomime I have given those that appeared in part of the show a half point!

Paul Merton 19
Gyles Brandreth 7
Josie Lawrence 6
Sheila Hancock 5
Graham Norton, Marcus Brigstocke 4
Nish Kumar 3
Tony Hawks, Julian Clary, Rufus Hound 2.5
Jenny Eclair, Tim Rice, Ross Noble, Stephen Fry, Pam Ayres, Holly Walsh, Josh Widdicombe, John Finnemore, Zoe Lyons, Esther Rantzen, Katherine Ryan, Alexei Sayle, Will Self 2
Pippa Evans 1.5
Fred MacAulay, Janey Godley 1
Tom Allen, the Prince of Wales 0.5

For those interested in how I've ranked people in the past and checking out how good my picks were...

click here for 2015 rankings

click here for 2014 rankings

click here for 2013 rankings

click here for 2012 rankings

click here for 2011 rankings

click here for 2010 rankings

click here for 2009 rankings

click here for 2008 rankings

click here for 2007 rankings

Those who appeared in 2015 but not in 2016 include Susan Calman, Alun Cochrane, Sue Perkins, Liza Tarbuck, and Shappi Khorsandi. Sue is a big loss - I guess she's just too busy - or perhaps her greater fame these days makes her too expensive! I am surprised Susan Calman wasn't back this year after being very good in 2015.


NISH KUMAR - among a bunch of newcomers this year, Nish seemed nice enough but didn't contribute all that much. I'm guessing they'll look elsewhere this year.

FRED MACAULAY - When he first did JAM back in the late 90s, alongside veterans like Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo and Clemenet Freud he seemed new and funny - a breath of fresh air. These days - and perhaps it is that he seems to do a show every three years or so - he just falls flat.

ESTHER RANTZEN - Paul described her as one of the worst players ever which doesn't bode well for future appearances! Not sure she was that bad but it does take a sharp wit to make a success of challenging on repeating small words...

TIM RICE - He has a good body of work on the show in his almost 50 appearances, but just not as funny as the others.

ALEXEI SAYLE - one of the most talented performers of his generation, or any generation. Just A Minute isn't his thing. Seemed intimidated.


TOM ALLEN - I do like how Tom comes across when he is on the show. Would be worth another try.

STEPHEN FRY - as I noted last year, Stephen Fry's appearances used to be real highlights. But whether for lack of practice or what ever other reason, he just seems quieter, more mellow these days. Needs to get back in the old groove.

JANEY GODLEY - Not a great contributor but I have warmed to her, mainly because of her campaign to uphold her freedom of speech right to hold up placards declaring the current President of the United States to be something rhyming with runt. If you don't follow her on Twitter, you should.

RUFUS HOUND - one of the new breed who does okay without being really memorable.

ROSS NOBLE - in the early days of this blog I used to rate Ross as one of the best players of the game ever. His last few shows have been disappointing. He definitely needs to do the show much much more often and get back to his brilliant best.

HOLLY WALSH - can't remember much of what she did to be honest.


JULIAN CLARY - always great fun on any show.

PIPPA EVANS - was very impressed with her chattiness and courage on her opening appearances - she could really develop into a star of the future.

JOHN FINNEMORE - had some very good moments and could really develop if he has a few moire goes at it.

TONY HAWKS - thought he did very well on the pantomime show. Only two regular appearances this year for the man who used to do half the shows each year.

ZOE LYONS - the ex reality TV star made a pretty good start on her shows.

PAM AYRES - Her distinctive style and accent is always welcome on a show where so many play in the same style. She should be on more often.

MARCUS BRIGSTOCKE - he's an old reliable these days. He comes on, he plays well, he's funny and clever, he doesn't overshadow Paul, he lets the others have a go. Yes.

JENNY ECLAIR - like Pam she has a style of her own that really acts like a shoot of adrenaline into any show she appears on. More, more, more.

GRAHAM NORTON - perhaps not as naughty and outlandish as the Graham of 20 years ago, neither on TV nor in Just A Minute. Nevertheless he remains the king of the camp style of playing, something that is a more than honourable tradition on JAM.

KATHERINE RYAN - another who did very well on her first shows - let;s have her back soon.

JOSH WIDDICOMBE - this guy is great on any panel show he does - JAM could well be his thing if he gets more goes at it.


5th best
WILL SELF - Since Clement's death JAM has missed having someone playing in that unique style. Someone  who can use the rules and act as if they matter, or rubbish the rules if that is a better tactic. Someone prepared to argue with Nicholas, while also knowing the right time to finish and move on. Someone who talks about the subject in a non-stand-up sort of way. If the producers were looking for the next person to play that way, they may have found him. Will Self was a breath of fresh air for a show that is in danger of sounding stale. He was funny, dramatic and just right. I don't know if Self wants to be permanently associated with a panel game, but I'd ben signing him up if it was up to me. He's grumpy, erratic, cheeky, witty and knowledgeable. Just what we need.

4th best
JOSIE LAWRENCE - a great contributor these days, she just never makes a mis-step.

Bronze medal
SHEILA HANCOCK - formidable and funny, the grand old dame of the show and someone who just makes any show she appears better.

Silver medal
PAUL MERTON - Over 10 of these, I've used every superlative possible for this master of improvised comedy. Let's use them all again!

Champion of the year
GYLES BRANDRETH - This guy gets better every year. His different way of playing is energising for the show. These days the best editions of JAM all have Gyles in them.

December 26, 2016

Just a Minute panto - Merry Christmas

For a variety oif reasons, my enthusiasm for Just Minute has cooled a bit recently. But the Just A Minute panto was absolutely excellent, one of the best editions of the show ever.

The surprise to me was the involvement of Prince Charles. I can take and leave Royal messages for anniversaries, but I thought what he said was nice. He was the only person to reference the panellists of the past despite all the talk of 50 years of Just A Minute, and did so in a natural and interesting way.

The pantomime material was really well integrated with the "game" which was played between two teams, I assume because the fourth seat was changed between four guest panellists, Tony Hawks, Tom Allen, Rufus Hound and Pippa Evans. Gyles Brandreth wrote the panto material and was in top form, I thought.. Paul was as funny as he has been in many years, Sheila Hancock was excellent. I would have liked to hear a bit more from Julian Clary who played a genie but didn't have much to do.

This really was an excellent production, and I loved some of the small touches, like the different sounds for the whistle. The song at the end was excellent - hasnb't Sheila Hancock got a great sionging voice.

Matt Stronge should take a bow - that was a really top-class production.

They jkept mentioning 50 years - in fact we have just passed the 49th anniversary and have almost 12 months to the 50th. But if this production is a taste of what is to come to mark the 50 years, we are in for a lot of fun in the year ahead.

Trivia question for someone - who is the lovely West Indian man (I think) who often does continuity at JAM time and was announcing at the beginning and end of today's show? What a great voice!