Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

February 19, 2018

JAM is back

It seems a long time since it was on but it's back tomorrow. Panel is Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Jenny Eclair and Josie Lawrence which sounds very strong.
There have been (at least) two other recordings done - one with Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Stephen Fry and Jan Ravens, and another with Paul, Julian Clary, Shappi Khorsandi and Jo Caulfield.
The listing says there are eight shows this season so if that is right, there will be another recording to be done.

January 25, 2018

gap years

As already mentioned Jan Ravens is a panellist in the coming season, having last appeared in 1994 - a gap of 24 years!

With this in mind, I thought I would try and compile a list of longest time between appearances...

I have done a radio list - and then a list that includes the various TV seasons too. Minimum gap to be included was five years. I have included both Jan, and Jo Caulfield who are appearing in the current season.

Note Maureen Lipman appears in each list three times!

Radio only

24 years: Jan Ravens (1994-2018)  *** latest shows not yet aired
19 years: Eleanor Summerfield (1968-1987)
17 years: Helen Lederer (1992-2009)
16 years: Gyles Brandreth (1986-2002)
15 years: Sheila Hancock (1987-2002)
15 years: Martin Jarvis (1985-2000)
12 years: Denise Coffey (1970-1982)
12 years: Barry Cryer (1989-2001)
11 years: Jo Caulfield (2007-2018) *** latest shows not yet aired
11 years: Jan Ravens (1983-1994)
10 years: Maureen Lipman (1982-1992)
10 years: Alfred Marks (1977-1987)
10 years: Neil Mullarkey (1997-2007)
9 years: John Junkin (1983-1992)
9 years: Maureen Lipman (1998-2007)
7 years: Robin Ince (2008-2015)
7 years: Lance Percival (1981-1988)
7 years: Tim Rice (1991-1998)
7 years: Wendy Richard (1995-2002)
6 years: Phill Jupitus (2011-2017)
6 years: Maureen Lipman (1992-1998)
6 years: Mike McShane (2009-2015)
6 years: Richard Morton (1993-1999)
6 years: Tim Rice (2009-2015)
6 years: Tony Slattery (1993-1999)
5 years: Liz Fraser (1970-1975)
5 years: Stephen Fry (1994-1999)
5 years: Jeremy Hardy (1995-2000)
5 years: Josie Long (2009-2014)
5 years: Fred MacAulay (1999-2004)
5 years: Ian Messiter (1977-1982)
5 years: Greg Proops (2007-2012)
5 years: John Sergeant (2005-2010)

Including radio and TV appearances

24 years: Jan Ravens (1994-2018)  *** latest shows not yet aired
19 years: Eleanor Summerfield (1968-1987)
15 years: Sheila Hancock (1987-2002)
15 years: Martin Jarvis (1985-2000)
14 years: Helen Lederer (1995-2009)
13 years: Gyles Brandreth (1986-1999)
12 years: Denise Coffey (1970-1982)
12 years: Liza Goddard (1983-1995)
11 years: Jo Caulfield (2007-2018) *** latest shows not yet aired

11 years: Jan Ravens (1983-1994)
10 years: Barry Cryer (1989-1999)
10 years: Maureen Lipman (1982-1992)
10 years: Alfred Marks (1977-1987)
10 years: Neil Mullarkey (1997-2007)
10 years: Nick Revell (1994-2004)
9 years: John Junkin (1983-1992)
9 years: Maureen Lipman (1998-2007)
7 years: Robin Ince (2008-2015)
7 years: Lance Percival (1981-1988)
7 years: Tim Rice (1991-1998)
6 years: Maureen Lipman (1992-1998)
6 years: Mike McShane (2009-2015)
6 years: Richard Morton (1993-1999)
6 years: Tim Rice (2009-2015)
6 years: John Sergeant (1999-2005)
5 years: Jo Brand (1994-1999)
5 years: Liz Fraser (1970-1975)
5 years: Stephen Fry (1994-1999)
5 years: Jeremy Hardy (1995-2000)
5 years: Phill Jupitus (2012-2017)
5 years: Josie Long (2009-2014)
5 years: Fred MacAulay (1999-2004)
5 years: Ian Messiter (1977-1982)
5 years: Greg Proops (2007-2012)
5 years: John Sergeant (2005-2010)

and again

today's panel was Paul Merton, Julian Clary, Shappi Khorsandi and Jo Caulfield. Jo's first appearance since 2007!

January 18, 2018

panel news

latest recordings featured Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Jenny Eclair and Josie Lawrence

January 07, 2018

2017 player rankings

For the 11th time - the annual JAM player rankings.

There were  25 JAM panellists in 20 shows this year, not including the two anniversary shows.

Numbers of shows looks like this...

Paul Merton 18
Gyles Brandreth, Jenny Éclair, 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, Tom Allen, Andy Hamilton, Rufus Hound, Fern Britton, Al Murray 2
Fred MacAulay, Janey Godley, Paul Sinha, James Acaster, Mark Watson 1

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

click here for 2016 rankings
 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 ranking
 click here for 2007 rankings

Those who appeared in 2016 but not in 2017 include Tim Rice, Holly Walsh, Pippa Evans, Josh Widdecombe, Nish Kumar, John Finnemore, Esther Rantzen, Katherine Ryan, Alexei Sayle and Will Self .

FERN BRITTON - over the past few years a few woman TV and radio presenters have been tried, but they don't very often seem to come off. It's a hard game to play with the blabbermouths who are on more regularly, but it will be surprising if she is on the show again.

FRED MACAULAY - Last year of the five I said wouldn't be back, Fred was the only one I got wrong. He seems to have scored a place again as a Scottish voice on the Edinburgh shows. But he just doesn't seem to get into the rhythm of the game.

AL MURRAY - Apart from on the first round, when he was given the gift subject of pubs, Al didn't seem to have much to say.

PAUL SINHA - OK but perhaps not quite quick-tongued enough.

MARK WATSON - Didn't make much of a mark (pun not intended).


JANEY GODLEY - She has become a Scottish tradition of Just A Minute. She is good fun, and her Twitter feed is memorable. Not sure this game is really the best outlet for her many talents, but as the section says, she has her moments.

ANDY HAMILTON - a witty panel game player who always has some good lines.

PHILL JUPITUS - It was good to hear Phill back on the programme again and he is a good contributor.

ZOE LYONS - She did six shows this year and she has a good energy about her.

ROSS NOBLE - I am a big fan of Ross, and he always has his moments. I'd like to see him on far more often.


JAMES ACASTER - I may be slightly influenced by his recent appearance on Would I Lie For You where he was very very good, but I thought he was pretty good on JAM too and I do hope he is on the programme again. One of the best of the young comedians.

MARCUS BRIGSTOCKE - It's always good news when Marcus is on the show.

JULIAN CLARY - one of those who is always funny and just fits in.

STEPHEN FRY - the panel game great graces JAM with a few appearances each year. He knows the game well now and we can only wish he would be on more often.

RUFUS HOUND - Bouncy, energetic and funny.


TOM ALLEN - Very impressed by Tom's shows, he has good humour, a quick wit and a touch of naughtiness that is reminiscent of Kenneth Williams.

JENNY ECLAIR - She is a delight whenever she is on the show, but more a top supporting act than a star.

TONY HAWKS - Sounded good this year with his good humour and cheeky wit.
GRAHAM NORTON - like a good wine he is ageing well.

SUE PERKINS - Away for two years but immediately back to her usual sharp-tongued form.


5th best
GYLES BRANDRETH - Becoming something of an institution on the show, Gyles's quick tongue and treasure trove of stories makes him a valuable contributor.

4th best
PAM AYRES - She has a unique, eccentric and very funny style, that just makes any show she is on so much better. Just great.

Bronze medal
SHEILA HANCOCK - Is it possible she just gets better every year? To me, she is still the cheeky quick witted young women who battled with Kenneth Williams so many years ago. Except these days he turns her wit on herself in a way that is just so much fun.

Silver medal
JOSIE LAWRENCE - If Paul retired from the programme, Josie would be the ideal replacement as the show's glue. She's a cut above as a funny, sharp competitor.

Champion of the year
PAUL MERTON - In a way every year Paul wins because he is the glue that holds things together. Capable of injecting himself at any time to lift the show. The best moments pretty much always have Paul at the heart of them, and let's be honest - if he had decided a few years ago to give up the show, likely the show wouldn't have made it to 50. Britain's greatest improvisational comedian is the key reason JAM remains the king of radio panel games .

50 years of Just A Minute

I've been slow to post on the 50th anniversary special programmes, apologies for that, because the two programmes are both well worth commenting on.

The first, 50 Years in 28 Minutes, was amazing and hugely enjoyable featuring all that is best about Just A Minute and the magic of radio. For those that didn't hear it, the show was expertly edited so it featured panellists from different era talking on the same subjects so it sounded like Peter Cook and Kenneth Williams were on the same shows as Linda Smith and Sue Perkins. Including Nicholas, 34 different people featured - Nicholas Parsons, Paul Merton, Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock, Gyles Brandreth, Graham Norton, Jenny Éclair, Sue Perkins, Andree Melly, Linda Smith, Ross Noble, Wendy Richard, Liza Tarbuck, Aimi Macdonald, Stephen Fry, Chris Neill, Fred MacAulay, Shappi Khorsandi, Patrick Moore, Janey Godley, Richard Murdoch, Lance Percival, Maureen Lipman, Susan Calman, Peter Cook, Betty Marsden, Ian McMillan, David Mitchell, Annabel Giles, Sandi Toksvig and Barbara Castle.

Of course the obvious omission was Clement Freud, but Julian Clary and Tim Rice have also featured in more than 50 shows each and didn't make the cut either. I was particularly pleased to hear Aimi Macdonald on the show. She has never featured in any of the specials or on any of the CDs/cassettes before, and yet her shows really are very special and she was a part of the show's early successes.

I speak as a radio producer who does a fair bit of sound editing, when I tips me metaphorical hat to Gareth Gwynn who edited it all together so seamlessly. I thought it did show how the game had changed within the same rules. It was also interesting to hear how little Nicholas's voice has changed over the years, except for the clip of him as a panellist, from 1968. Although certainly some of Nicholas's comments had been recorded for the special, rather than taken from original shows.

And then there was the 50 Years of Just A Minute: Nicholas Parsons in Conversation with Paul Merton. I didn't have such high hopes for this because it feels like we have heard so much from Nicholas about the programme that he couldn't possibly have anything new to say. But the show worked far better than I expected. The involvement of Sheila Hancock, Gyles Brandreth, Tony Hawks and former producer John Lloyd with their own early memories worked very very well - John Lloyd's contribution, brief though it was, was especially good. How I would love to spend an hour talking to John about his thoughts on JAM and working with the old gang of four. This whole programme struck just the right note.

Graham Norton also contributed a brief taped tribute to Nicholas and the show, so all of the living centenarians were involved.

The other contributor was me. I recorded two questions and thought the other had been picked. It was played right at the end, and I rather thought I had been dropped! Anyway it was very nice to be asked and included in such select company. It is a nice nod to the importance of the fans, and it was especially nice to have my contribution to setting down the show's history so very publically acknowledged and thanked.

Two very fine programmes indeed.

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