Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

October 05, 2014

sad news

The woman who regularly introduced JAM in the mid 70s was the very talented Sheila Tracy... I see she has died.

See her obituary here

September 22, 2014

JAM book launch

has been almost three weeks since the book launch, so well over due to write it up. First a coupke of pics, the first is me on the right with a couple of JAM friends, Susie and Steph, the second is me with Nicholas.

So to what happened.
The launch was held at the Ivy Club, a famous old club in the Theatre district of London. Having looked it up on the Internet, I noticed it had a dress code so dressed up a bit.
I thought it was within walking distance of the hotel, so I set off on foot, but I got lost so I had to double back and get a cab. But it was a very hot day and I arrived more than a little late, and a bit hot.
As I walked in, Josie Lawrence and Christopher Biggins were coming out of the room so I felt like I was already in good company. It was a smallish room where it was held and a bit stuffy so it got a bit sweaty. I'm not very good in this sort of sitaution anyway being crap at small talk and slightly deaf which makes it hard to hear people in a noisy room.
There were several JAM stars there - Julian Clary, Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Tony Blackburn, Suki Webster, June Whitfield. Derek Nimmo's widow, Pat was there. Annie Parsons was there, she had been very nice to me when I went to Stratford-on-Avon and said "Hello" as if she remembered me. Malcolm Messiter was there.
My old friend, Keith Matthews, who helped with the book, was there, and was in top form, getting everyone's autographs and chatting them up.
And of course Nicholas was there. At first he looked a bit frail and a bit worried, and I honestly wondered if he was a bit unwell. But it came time for speeches and it was like a light turned on. Suddenly Nicholas the performer emerged, and he looked younger and on top of things. He gave a brilliant very funny speech, full of anecdotes and reminscences. Keith and I got a mention, but it was mainly, as you'd expect, about the show and the book, with a bit of history, some memories of Kenneth, Derek, Peter and Paul, as well as Ian Messiter and David Hatch. He also quoted some of Julian's double entrendre lines. Of Clement Freud he said "he always used to womnder why everyone else got a laugh and he didn't" as a way of explaining how the show became more entertainment and less competition, against Clement's wishes. It's a good line and was meant as a joke, of course.
Nicholas was very kind to me. Keith told him I had been up at Edinburgh for the JAM recording - though I wasn't actually this year - and he thanked me for being such a devoted fan.
I didn't stay all that long as I felt like I was swimming in sweat, and as I say, these things aren't all that natural for me. Still it was a great occasion and it was clear what genuine affection the entertainment community has for Nicholas.

September 03, 2014

900 and other figures

I'm in London, and with a little time on my hands, a few thoughts.

Firstly, the matter of the 900th show. The BBC have been promoting this a little in the lead-up to the show which is to play next week. It does make you wonder how much more fuss there will be for the 1000th show which will preumably play in about 2019.

It is a grand total but it is a figure that is open to argument. To say it is the 900th edition of Just A Minute is perhaps an over simplification. Here's how the figure is made up (up to today)...

BBC Radio Four Just A Minute "ordinary" shows - 834
BBC Television Just A Minute shows - 30
ITV Television Just A Minute shows - 28
BBC Junior Just A Minute shows - 5
BBC Silver Minutes 25th anniversary compilation show - 1
BBC 40th anniversary compilation show - 1

TOTAL - 899.

Now there is room for argument. Do you combine both TV and radio? Do we include the Junior Just A Minute shows which are slightly shorter and have a  slightly different format? Do we count the two compilation shows or not?

It's perhaps the last question that I get asked about most. If you look at how other shows treat this sort of programme, in general, they do seem to regard these as broadcast shows to be included in the total. Both shows were played in the usual JAM timeslot and included some fresh material. The 40th special was attached to a season and advertised as the first show of that season. I think they should count in a total, but understand that others will disagree and my website does separate these out.

Should the Junior shows count? After all those shows even have a different name! I think they should count in a total, but should be separated from the other shows.

Ín some ways the adding together of TV shows into the total should be the most controversial. You don't usually combine mediums in that way. And as you can see above some of the shows were not even produced by the BBC.

So whether the figure of 900 is a correct one is a talking point. Still - if you do add EVERYTHING together, we do reach 900 next week. And that should count for something.

A couple of other stats points.

Paul Merton has now passed Peter Jones as the third most frequent appearing panellist. Paul is now creeping up on Kenneth Williams who he should pass next year. Then only Clement Freud will be ahead of him, but he will have to keep playing for another 10 years or so to pass the great man.

Did everyone notice the return of Claire Jones to produce the Edinburgh shows. I am not sure if this was a brief return or not though I gather Katie Tyrrell is moving on. Claire has been producing the show on and off since 2000 - the first season without both Peter Jones and Derek Nimmo. She has now produced more shows than anyone else, so no-one can doubt her genuine commitment and passion to the show. I do hope she is back for a while as she and Tilusha Ghelani will be a formidable team.

August 17, 2014

the book

I have now read through Nicholas Parsons' new book, Welcome To Just A Minute, a history of the show.

As I've said, there are a few statistical pages at the end of the book, which I compiled, and it's obvious that the book has made plenty of use of the website which Nicholas generously acknowledges in the preface. The book also includes some other statistical question type pages which I also contributed to. I say this early so you can take into account any "bias" on my part.

The book is not without the odd error, but there is nothing of major significance which is a compliment to the team that produced it.

I expected the book to be a coffee table style book with plenty of photos, as Nicholas has already written extensively about the show in his two autobiographies, and talked about it endlessly in recent years. Would he have anything much new to say, I wondered.

Well as it happens he has plenty that will be new to even the most devoted fan. There are no great revelations, but to be fair to him, Nicholas does not shy away from addressing the show's "controversies", such as they are - his clashes with Clement Freud over his style of chairmanship, the tensions that led to Wendy Richard being quietly dropped from the show.

The book is a chronological look at the show, with chapters on the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the 21st century. Nicholas runs through the show's development, how his style has changed, how the style of comedy has changed, commenting in detail on panellists and just about every imagineable aspect of the show. I guess about half of the text is taken up by transcripts of shows, artfully chosen to illustrate the points Nicholas makes.

I'\ve always thought the transcripts stand up well to text reading, and of course the way they have been chosen - to highlight the especially funny moments - makes then hugely enjoyable to read. It will be hard to get through many pages of the book without chuckling and it will ceratinly send many people looking for online versions of the various shows to hear the segments in their full glory. Most of the transcripts have a date attached which will make this possible.

Slightly surprisingly to me, the emphasis of the book is more on the "gang of four" days rather than the show as it currently stands, which may make the appeal of the book partly nostalgic. The book has 464 pages, but discussion of the post-Kenneth Williams era - more than half the show's history - doesn't begin until page 287, and even the chapter on the 21st century begins with lengthy tributes to Peter Jones, Clement and Derek Nimmo.

There are good analyses of the styles of Kenneth, Clement, Derek, Peter, Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock, Graham Norton, Gyles Brandreth, Andree Melly, Jenny Eclair, Julian Clary, Sue Perkins, Tim Rice, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Ross Noble, Linda Smith, Aimi Macdonald, Wendy Richard, Liza Tarbuck, Steve Frost, Josie Lawrence and Stephen Fry, while a few of the most eccentric guests, Magnus Pyke, Richard Murdoch, Patrick Moore, Elaine Stritch and Stanley Unwin, also get a rundown with well chosen excerpts from shows.

Nicholas also writes at length on such matters as the show's travels, the whistle, how the subjects are chosen, the success and failure of the TV versions, the JAM stage show of the 90s, how his rulings have changed (he's very critical of his early efforts), theme music, the show's international appeal with partocular mention of India, and many other aspects.

There are also short sections written by Gyles, Graham, Jenny and Sue - presumably Paul Merton is saving his thoughts on the show for his own book out this month. Theese are all good fun. Interestingly Gyles writes at length on Nicholas, Clement, Kenneth, Peter and Derek but has nothing to say about any of his current fellow panellists.

The disappointment of the book for me was the photos. There are a few, largely old publicity shots, but I was hoping for a few more.

I wonder if the BBC will be tempted to turn this into an audiobook. Nicholas reading this with the various excerpts from shows all added in would surely make a great Christmas present.

I'll be interested to see how the book sells. It is a long book, but Nicholas has a friendly chatty writing style and it has been very well edited - the book would score well in terms of lack of repetition and deviation. Because the transcripts have been chosen to illustrate points Nicholas is making, they don't break up the flow of the story at all.

It's a book perhaps for having nearby for light reading and dipping into, rather than one where yoiu feel compelled to read it in a day or two as I did, and I look forward to going back to it for a few dips!

August 16, 2014

Nicholas and Paul chat

You'll remember a couple of years Nicholas and Paul di a chat at Edinburgh about Just A Minute. They repeated it this year - and this time it was televised. You can see it here - if you watch it lket me know what it's like as sadly I can't watch it from outside the UK.

They also recorded a chat about Arthur Haynes - that can be seen here.

August 13, 2014

best wishes to a good friend and a RIP

Regular readers of this blog will have read mentions of my good friend Keith Matthews. Keith is a longtime fan of Just A Minute. He  has regualrly attended recordings going back to the 1970s, and many of the recordings that circulated from me were actually recordings from him - recordings he took off the radio as long as 30 to 40 years ago. We've been corresponding for 13 years and on my visits to the UK in 2002, 2007 and 2011 he was very very kind to me. We travelled together to Stratford-on-Avon to see a recording, but sadly Keith became ill just before the recording so I went alone.

So one of my life ambitions - to see a recording with Keith sitting beside me - remains an unfulfilled ambition.

In the past year, Keith, who is also a good friend of Nicholas Parsons, has been helping Nicholas with research for the book. I'm sure his help has been invaluable in getting the facts correct.

Regular readers of this blog will know Keith often posts in the comments with commentaries on recent recordings. His love, passion and enthusiasm for the show always shines through.

The reason for posting this today is that Keith has just posted in the past hour that his mother passed away a few days ago. I'm deeply sad by this news. Keith has been an assiduous son through his mother's illness in recent years.

Keith, I'm so sorry to hear this. I know this will be such a difficult time for you. I do hope you're coping, and will look forward to seeing you in London in early September. And I have only the best memories of your Mum.

Edinburgh panels

The two shows featured Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth and Sue Perkins with debutant Frank Skinner doing the first show and Josie Long on the second (she did one show in 2009 in Clement Freud’s last series).

I know they’ve been trying to get Frank Skinner on for a while and it sounds like he was good fun. One of these shows will be on air on Monday.

These were the last two recordings for the year so for stats geeks, here’s the figures for JAM appearances this year.... (newcomers are underlined)

Paul Merton – 18 shows
Gyles Brandreth – 8 shows
Sheila Hancock – 6 shows
Tony Hawks, Alun Cochrane, Russell Kane, Holly Walsh – 4 shows
Graham Norton, Jenny Eclair, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Liza Tarbuck, Josie Lawrence, Shappi Khorsandi, Richard Herring, Kevin Eldon, Miles Jupp, Stephen Mangan, Paul Sinha, Fi Glover, Patrick Kielty, Joe Lycett, Vanessa Feltz, Rebecca Front, Kerry Goldiman, Jonathan Ross – 2 shows
Josie Long, Frank Skinner – 1 show

August 01, 2014

back soon

a note that JAM is back on August 11th. One of the Jonathan Ross shows will be first up. Always great to have it back on air. The Radio Times listing says there are eight shows this season. These notes aren’t always accurate, however.

July 31, 2014

heading for London

very excited to say I’m off to London in the first week of September for the launch of the Just A Minute book. Any London based fans wanting to get together let me know, and hopefully I’ll be able to post lots of pics and reports from the launch!

July 18, 2014

RIP Elaine Stritch

The brilliant American actor, comedian and singer, and JAM guest, Elaine Stritch has died at the age of 89.
Her one JAM appearance in 1982 is widely regarded as one of the best JAM shows ever done – Nicholas once declared it his favourite single show. We are spoilt for choice on that accolade, but Elaine’s brassy approach, humour and disregard for the rules certainly made this one of the most memorable shows ever. It also brought out the best in both Kenneth Williams and Sir Clement Freud.
Some of the obituaries which look back over her long and memorable career...
And if you haven’t yet heard Elaine’s JAM sit back for half an hour for a listen. You won’t regret it. In fact, do that even if you have heard it and have a thought for her many friends who will miss this unique character.