Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

January 28, 2006

He's a cult

From the Chortle website....

Kenneth Williams’ bitchy, self-loathing diaries are to be made into a film for BBC Four.

Michael Sheen – who was last seen playing the role of Jeremy Dyson in the League Of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse movie – will take the part of Williams.

Fantabulosa promises to paint a portrait of ‘a fastidious performer who hankered after recognition, adulation and companionship throughout his career; yet although he could create a thousand voices and characters, he would never be comfortable living in his own skin’.

It has been written by Martyn Hesford, drawing heavily from Williams’ notorious – and bestselling – diaries and announced as part of BBC Four’s winter/spring schedule today.

I hear they recorded some Just A Minute scenes with Nicholas Parsons playing himself!

Stephen again!

Stephen Fry won both games this season. he now has passed Gyles Branderth to be the second most successful player of the game behind Paul Merton. Of course he was very funny too. It is very unusual for Paul to lose both games at a recording and it wasn't for want of trying.

A great team - it's what JAM needs to do, to get experienced players together who know each other and can score off each other. That's the secret to a good show.

January 22, 2006

This Monday

According to the BBC website, the second recording with Paul, Clement, Stephen Fry and Tim Rice is on this week. Then the first recording with Paul, Clement, Jenny and Graham on January the 30th.

I think this week's ABC show may also be a special one. We will see...

The Exeter show

My friend Keith Matthews was there - he obviously enjoyed himself!

Jenny was a time bomb in both shows. She and Graham get on so well - laughing and chatting about the show and the others during the applause at the end of the minute. A real camaraderie. Graham was on form too. Making remarks about his holiday in Cape Town, his acquisition of a dog called Bailey (a labradoodle) half poodle and half labrador. And being taught music by a strangely weird teacher called Father Glitter. But it was Jenny who rose splendidly to the occasion. The woman is certifiably funny. She obviously loves appearing on the show.

Keen wasn't the word - like a dragon using up her last bellyful of fire she scorched us all with her frantic personality and her outbursts - leaning nearer and nearer to that phallic microphone with it's foam knobhead-cover. Her voice, an octave below laryngitis, was getting louder and louder and the result was tinnier and tinnier. A gizmo on their desk that controlled their microphones, aroused Graham's suspicion, he'd never noticed it before, so he began twitching with it and then got feedback.

Nicholas, several times, edged forwards and tried to signal her that she was too near the microphone, but she continued to rave. Like a not too distant relative of Kenneth Williams she fought like a bitch rottweiller to get her subject back - and she got it!

Paul I'm afraid showed his bad side. And there is no denying it. My friend said to me in mid-show "Paul's a bit quiet isn't he ?" My reply "How can he compete with somebody like Jenny getting all the laughs. He looked thoroughly miserable. Clement and Graham, Nicholas and even Janet were enjoying the fun of the new number 1 lady player of JUST A MINUTE's modern age.

Paul must have got bored with all Jenny's frivolity and then challenged. Made a remark about Jenny, but the stinger that did the damage was one that referred to Jenny's mouth going near the phallic mike - Something to the effect "doing that reminds you of your old job." Some of the audience laughed at his borrowed line, but it was immediately followed by noises of disapproval from the rest of us. Jenny stood up and made a couple of steps away from her seat. Graham's face was a classic picture of camp mock-outrage. Faced by what was obviously a no-no in our eyes, Paul's quick as lightning mind came up with a very lame- "I meant as an ice-cream seller! "

About the incident with the swearing. Paul was speaking and off on one of his flights of fancy that no-one can challenge him on deviation for. However he slipped up, made a mistake and Clement challenged and just said "Bullshit!!". We all fell about. Even Paul laughed. It stopped the show. Nicholas was besides himself with laughter. He knew Clement was right and so let Clement continue. Paul, not wishing to be topped by what obviously was one of the biggest laughs of the evening, challenged and then just said the word "Crap!!" Graham and Jenny were shocked, while the rest of us laughed.
Nicholas said "This round will probably get edited out anyway." Paul got his point and continued and then Clement challenged and said "Bollocks!!" I never dreamt that words like that could fall from Sir Clement's mouth but they did. That was in the penultimate round before Jenny's complete minute at the end of the 1st show.

Backstage there was hardly no light and as they all left the stage Jenny patted Clement on the back and put one hand on his arm, while Graham put one on his shoulder and they helped him over the loose cables which should have been masked down with bright yellow masking tape. They obviously have a great affection for the sultan of Just A Minute. Clement seems age-less.

But other than that -it was a cracker.

January 20, 2006

exeter recording

The team recorded a show at Exeter last night. The panel was Clement, Paul, Graham Norton and Jenny Eclair - should be a riotous show.

I think there are two more recordings this season. How about these for possible panels...

* Clement, Paul, Sheila Hancock, Steve Frost

* Tony Hawks, Linda Smith, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, John Sergeant

just a guess I hasten to say!

January 17, 2006

Today's show

As is often the case, a show without Paul Merton seems not quite as good as other shows. Tony Hawks has been a great servant of the show but he isn't as funny or surreal as Paul. Which doesn't meanm it was a bad show, there were some very good moments and I thought Clement was at his best. Kate Robbins was pleasant and fun, but I don't think she did enough to demand more appearances - apart from the second show from that recording. Interestingly all three shows so far were recorded in London, each at a different venue.

And it was Clement's 500th show. Maybe that's why he was at his best, one suspects he may know his stats. What a great man he's been for the show, it's always very different when he's not on the panel.

January 16, 2006

Stephen Fry and Ross Noble

Although Clement, Paul and Tim Rice were all good this week, Stephen Fry was a clear winner in the contest and also the best performer. A lot of people have emailed me this week asking why Stephen isn't on more often. I can't say I know but there is a partial explanation. In all the years Stephen has been doing JAM - 15 now - he has never done a show outside of London. Clearly he odesn't want to spend a day, maybe two, travelling to and from a venue. And with only a couple of recordings a year now done in London, that means Stephen's busy diary isn't always going to coincide with that of the show.

Imagine if JAM could announce as its regular cast "Paul Merton, Graham Norton and Stephen Fry". Talk about a promotion any show would like!

And on Ross Noble. A couple of years ago he looked set to become a regular. Now it looks like he will miss out on this season, as he did the last season, as he has returned to Australia where his shows are sell-outs. A shame as Ross's surreal style was perfectly fitted for the show.

Of those still alive, my ideal team would be Paul, Ross, Stephen and Graham.

January 10, 2006

Janet's 100th

Today's JAM edition featured the 100th appearance by Janet Staplehurst, the wordless blower of whistles and Nicholas's assistant. Happy 100th Janet! She and Claire Jones have been a lot longer at the JAM helm than producers and whistle-blowers since David Hatch and Ian Messiter started the whole thing.

The show itself was good fun with Clement, Paul, Tim Rice and Stephen Fry. All four have good win records but Stephen led throughout and won relatively easily. Tim was last and was teased a little by Nicholas - I bet he doesn't come last in the return recording.

Good to hear Stephen Fry again - his appearances are always memorable. And he is now third equal bin his win-rate with only Paul and Gyles Brandreth ahead of him.

Next week Kate Robbins makes her debut.

January 09, 2006

JAM guest Tony Banks dies

Tony, officially known as Lord Stratford and a prominent Labour Party politician, appeared on three TV editions of Just A Minute in 1994 and 1995.

Here's how the Guardian reported the news...

Tributes paid after Tony Banks dies from brain haemorrhage

· Former sports minister dies on Florida holiday
· Blair leads praise for 'true man of the people'

Michael White, political editor

Tony Banks, the former Labour sports minister and popular parliamentary firebrand, died yesterday three days after suffering a severe brain haemorrhage during a holiday in Florida while having lunch with a friend. He was 62. Tony Blair led a flood of tributes, calling him a "true man of the people" and enthusiastic campaigner who would be sorely missed throughout the Labour movement. In fact, his friendships spread far wider.

Mr Banks was said to have been in excellent health before the stroke on Sanibel Island where he had been staying with friends. He was taken by ambulance and helicopter to the hospital trauma unit in nearby Fort Myers.

As a young leftwinger, apprenticed in the trade union movement, Mr Banks was a leading figure in the generation of politicians who stormed the Greater London Council (GLC) under the leadership of Ken Livingstone until it was abolished in a retaliatory attack by Margaret Thatcher in 1986. By then he had become MP for West Ham in 1983 and was an ally of Tony Benn, to whom he stayed loyal. But, unlike Mr Livingstone, he gradually adapted to the modernising and moderating agenda of Neil Kinnock, John Smith, and later Mr Blair, who gave him office from 1997 until he quit two years later. In 2000 he backed Frank Dobson in Mr Dobson's doomed bid to become mayor of London.

Though he unexpectedly became Lord Stratford of Stratford - my "nom de politics" he quipped - after leaving the Commons in 2005, he remained "Banksie" to many friends and colleagues in all parties who admired both his quick wit and the passion he brought to causes he loved, notably sport, culture and animal welfare.

That inevitably led him into conflict with colleagues when hunting became a protracted parliamentary battleground and Mr Blair showed a growing desire for the kind of compromise which his former sports minister deplored. But Mr Banks was the kind of politician whom opponents, including ardent pro-hunters like Nicholas Soames, found hard to dislike.

David Mellor, another Conservative friend with whom he sparred politically and joined for Chelsea football matches, said last night: "The great thing about Tony was he was a man of passion in his politics and possessed of a sharp and witty tongue. But he exuded such joie de vivre that no one could seriously take offence to his opinions. He delighted in living up to the old parliamentary convention that whatever was said in the chamber, you would be friends outside of it."

Mr Banks became a national figure and relished the notoriety achieved through a sometimes impetuously fast tongue. He was not comfortable in ministerial office and had an uneasy relationship with sports journalists who treated him more roughly, he complained, than their political counterparts did.

Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, said last night: "Tony was a man of broad reach socially, culturally and politically. He is rightly celebrated for his wit: sharp, acerbic, but never malevolent. His passion for sport in general, and Chelsea in particular, are well-known. So is his commitment to animal welfare. It is less well-known that he was an art expert of growing reputation."

Mr Blair said in a statement: "Tony Banks was one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain, a true man of the people.

"Whether he was campaigning for the regeneration of east London, fighting for animal welfare or expressing his enthusiasm for Chelsea football club, he was someone who said what they thought and was loved by people for it." He said Mr Banks would be missed by "everyone in the Labour party".

The death of the former minister came two days after the death was announced of Rachel Squire, another trade unionist turned MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, who had been fighting a long battle against cancer. She was 51.

This is the Guardian's obituary

Tony Banks

Former sports minister who was a passionate supporter of animal rights and Chelsea FC

Julia Langdon

Tony Banks, Lord Stratford of Stratford, the former Labour sports' minister who has died aged 62, was one of the most popular and passionate politicians of his generation with a remarkable ability to communicate with people of any age, social status or political persuasion. During a career in politics which lasted more than 35 years he was constant in his commitment to the causes he espoused and unfailingly loyal to his friends.

He was the MP for Newham North West from 1983, which became West Ham under boundary changes in 1997, and retired from the House of Commons at last year's general election. Although he had urged the abolition of the House of Lords in 1977, he had grown to love parliament and accepted a seat in the Lords in order to have a platform to continue pursuing his various campaigns. He took the title - his "nom de politics" he called it - of Lord Stratford of Stratford although he would have preferred Lord Banks of the Thames. A former chairman of the Commons' works of art committee, one reason he wanted to stay at Westminster was to further his aim of making art more accessible.

Banks had the manner of a cheeky chappie, a natural wit and a fast tongue, all of which endeared him to his constituents in London's East End and to MPs. He had several close friends in the Conservative party, often unexpected ones such as the late Tory MP Ian Gow. He was, more understandably, friends with David Mellor because of their mutual attachment to Chelsea football club and although he once described Nicholas Soames as Crawley's personal food mountain, they too became friendly and this was to lead to one of the little known and more bizarre political episodes of Banks' career. Mr Soames is an adviser to the Prince of Wales and at a time when the heir to the throne was trying to reshape his public image, Banks was drafted to help with suggestions on appropriate issues Prince Charles might consider supporting. This relationship foundered, predictably, over the issue of hunting.

One of the mainsprings of Banks' personal commitments was a deep love of animals. He was a vegetarian - he said he would never eat anything which had a face or a family -and he campaigned vigorously on a wide range of causes to help animals. He was vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports and when he feared the government might block the anti-hunting legislation in the last parliament threatened to resign his seat and force a byelection on the issue. He was the proud recipient of 12 jars of honey each year from the London Bee-keepers' Association and used to keep a parrot called Chunky. When he suffered a brain haemorrhage in Florida he and his wife, Sally, were staying with his friend, Brian Davies, the founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Banks was born in Belfast, the son of Albert and his wife, Rene, known as Rusca. He was very close to his father, an engineering fitter who became a diplomat, and a member of the Labour party. Banks closely guarded his private life and, like many apparently outgoing extroverts, was also protective of his emotions. In an interview once in Warsaw, where his father had served as first secretary in the British embassy, he was moved almost to tears by recollections of his father and subsequently regretted the extent to which he had revealed himself.

He was brought up in Brixton, south London, from where he took the bus over the bridge to watch Chelsea and he attended St John's primary school and Archbishop Tenison's grammar school in Kennington. He went to York University and the LSE and had a further degree from the University of London. He came into politics from the trades union movement after six years (1969 to 1975) as head of research at the AUEW during Hugh Scanlon's leadership. The confrontation between the Heath government and the unions meant he had a heady time there, during which he became known as a bright, radical original thinker on the left of the Labour party.

In 1975 he became political adviser to the late Judith Hart, as minister for overseas development. In 1976 he returned to the trades unions as assistant general secretary of the Association of Broadcasting and Allied Staffs, where he remained until he became an MP in 1983.

He was elected to the Greater London council for Hammersmith in 1970 and to Lambeth council - where he was a member with John Major and Ken Livingstone - in 1971. He subsequently represented Tooting on the GLC, until it was abolished by Margaret Thatcher, and was its last chairman from 1985 to 1986. The high point for him was as chairman of the arts committee from 1981 to 1983. During the Labour party's internal troubles in the 1970s and early 1980s he became a loyal supporter of Tony Benn and shortly after first being elected to the House of Commons in 1983, when Mr Benn was defeated in Bristol, offered to stand down in his favour. He also became a confidante of John Smith. His career might have prospered more if Smith had lived. As it was, Banks was too principled to stay long anywhere.

Tony Blair made him minister of sport in 1997 but he was never very happy in that post, despite his interest in the subject. He was loyal to the prime minister, who recognised his values. Banks knew he was often too hasty in his judgments and witticisms - suggesting William Hague resembled a foetus was one that was often decried.

But he was a genuinely funny man. In a debate on organ transplants shortly after the Tory minister Cecil Parkinson had been involved in a sex scandal, he asked: "May I put in a bid for Cecil's plonker - one careful owner," and he said about himself: "Good taste was never one of my qualifications".

He volunteered his resignation from the Blair government to lead what proved to be the unsuccessful British bid to host the next football World Cup in London. The capital city was one of his passions and he claimed to be the first person to suggest it should have a directly elected mayor. At one stage he was anxious to be Labour's "stop Ken" candidate in the first round of the mayoral election, but prime ministerial prevarication prevented it. He subsequently stood for selection as the Labour candidate for the second round, before Mr Livingstone was re-admitted to party membership, but Banks was defeated by Nicky Gavron. He is survived by his wife, Sally.

Tessa Jowell writes: London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics owes a great deal to the earlier failure to bring the World Cup to Wembley. Tony Banks, first as sports minister, then as the prime minister's special representative, was the prime mover in that bid and the energy, passion and determination he put into that gruelling process hasn't been fully recognised. Although the bid failed, we learned important lessons that shaped the Olympic bid. With typical generosity Tony shared his invaluable insights and experiences with me and the rest of the Olympic bid team. He rejoiced with us at the prospect of bringing the games to the capital.

His passion for sport in general and Chelsea in particular are well known. So is his commitment to animal welfare. It is less well known that he was an art expert of growing reputation. One of his happiest periods was as chairman of arts and leisure on the old GLC, and he drew great satisfaction from his role as chair of the House of Commons Arts committee. As minister for women, I was also conscious of Tony's commitment to the advancement of women. It was typical of him that when he decided to stand down as MP for West Ham he did all he could to ensure that his successor was selected from an all-women shortlist.

· Anthony (Tony) Louis Banks, Lord Stratford of Stratford, born April 8 1943; died January 8 2006

This is how the Times reports it

Champion of the East End with wit and sharp tongue
By Tim Hall

TONY BANKS, a former Minister for Sport, died last night aged 62 after suffering a stroke while on holiday in the United States.

The former Labour MP for West Ham, latterly Lord Stratford, was having lunch on Sanibel Island in Florida last Thursday when he collapsed and went into a coma. His wife, Sally, was shopping with a friend when he collapsed.

Figures from across the political spectrum paid tribute last night to Mr Banks, whose quick wit and sharp tongue won him friends and adversaries in equal measure. Tony Blair said that he would be remembered as a man of the people, who supported animal rights with the same enthusiasm with which he supported Chelsea FC. The Prime Minister said: “Tony Banks was one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain, a true man of the people. He was someone who said what they thought and was loved by people for it.”

David Mellor, a former Tory minister, paid tribute to his friend. “Tony was a man of passion and possessed of a sharp tongue. But he exuded such joie de vivre that no one could seriously take offence to his opinions. He delighted in living up to the old parliamentary convention that whatever was said in the chamber you would be friends outside of it.”

One of Lord Stratford’s legacies will be his succesful lobbying for a fox-hunting ban, but he will be remembered as much for his off-the-cuff sparing with other politicians.

A vicious critic of Margaret Thatcher, he once said she had “the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor”. During a Commons debate he said: “Mr Speaker, will you confirm that you actually have the power to order the fat bounder to be dragged from the Chamber.” When the Speaker intervened he went on: “Well in that case, corpulent gentleman.”

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, the director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “He devoted his life to animal welfare. He was deeply committed, articulate and inspiring to work with.”

A spokesman for the Football Association said: “Everyone at the FA was deeply saddened to learn of Tony Banks’ death. He was a true football fan.”


‘Living proof that a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament’ referring to the Tory MP Terry Dicks

‘Obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal’ his description of human beings in an early day motion

‘Woolly-hatted, muesli-eating, Tory lick-spittles’ referring to the Liberal Democrats

‘He’s so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying’ referring to John Major

‘Some people say Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson don’t get on. I asked Gordon about this and he said he didn’t know because he hadn’t spoken to Peter for 18 months’

‘Foetus’ referring to the then Tory leader William Hague during the 1997 Labour Party conference

This is the obituary in The Times

Tony Banks
April 8, 1943 - December 8, 2005
Colourful former Minister for Sport whose widespread popularity remained unharmed by stinging turn of phrase

TONY BANKS, an East End Labour MP for 22 years, was almost a caricature of the chirpy, cheeky Cockney portrayed in British feelgood films of a bygone age. Even colleagues who felt the rough edge of his tongue mostly regarded him as a good thing, a valuable part of the rich tapestry of House of Commons life.

He was much more than a comic extra on the British political stage, which has always operated that much better under the sharp eye of backbenchers who are witty, disrespectful of authority and never at a loss for words — torrents of words in Banks’s case. That kind of watchful eye was never needed more than under new Labour, when ministers and their teams of smooth-talking advisers often seemed set on cutting corners with the democratic process.

Banks was never a new Labour man. His interventions in the House would have been admired by members of the awkward squads in any parliamentary Labour Party at any time during the 20th century.

He believed, of course, in abolishing the House of Lords. He was not the first member of the awkward squad to accept a life peerage, for his own excellent reasons, when he himself retired from the Commons last year, taking the title of Lord Stratford after an historic section of East London that had once been part of his constituency.

The desire to be awkward marked his career. He had been arrested at least once for demonstrating outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square in the days when that was the focus of the politically correct. His name was ever to be found on Commons motions to get the troops out of Northern Ireland, to denounce some right-wing Latin-American dictator, to expose Freemasonry in the police force, to prohibit war toys, to decriminalise the smoking of cannabis or to criminalise fox hunting.

Unlike many of the anti-hunters, as it happened, he had a consistent record on animal welfare. Whales, badgers, imported parrots, the tortoises of the Galapagos islands and the merits of vegetarianism all featured in the Banks portfolio, and he advocated a “properly funded dog warden scheme paid for by the licence fees of responsible dog owners”.

His charm was that he was much less boring than most of the people who champion such causes, even if some of his searing phrases could not be quoted in polite society. He always came high up in the league tables showing which MPs are most popular with their own colleagues. He also came near the top of the tables showing the number of parliamentary questions asked by MPs. Quantity may be no guarantee of quality, but he had admirers on all sides of the House who recognised that there was usually a sound point to his many campaigns. His view on the arts and their funding earned the praise, for instance, of Lord St John of Fawsley, who described him as a real friend of the arts, “and so intelligent”. Of course, there was a socialist twist to it. The future Lord Stratford had little sympathy for the kind of opera-lovers who enjoyed subsidised seats for which they could well afford to pay the market price.

As a Londoner — although not a true Cockney because he had been born in Belfast — he had strong views on the absurdity of the peculiar way London is governed. He agitated for having a Mayor of London, and would have liked the job himself, only to see it go to Ken Livingstone. This damaged an old friendship that went back to their early days in local government together.

Back in the 1960s he had been inspired to join the Labour Party by Harold Wilson’s celebrated speech about transforming society through the “white heat of technology”. While working as a researcher with a trade union he got himself elected to the Greater London Council and then to Lambeth Borough Council.

Many of his generation of left-wing councillors came to be disillusioned by what they regarded as the timidity of the Labour leadership at Westminster and saw local politics as a means of flourishing the red flag. Much of what they did could be criticised as mere symbolism.

On the arts side, Banks was instrumental in stopping the GLC grant for the Royal Opera House: the arts budget was to be focused on “community-based” arts; pop music must loom larger, so must “ethnic” culture. At the Festival Hall, then run by the GLC, the Champagne Bar was closed as being “totally elitist” (and, as Banks pointed out, not even profitable).

The frustration of left-wing Labour councillors was aggravated when Margaret Thatcher came to power. Within a year or two, daggers were drawn between her and people like Banks at the GLC, whom she regarded as a serious threat to her ambitions to free the whole of the country from socialism. Invigorated by victory in the Falklands, she simply legislated to abolish the GLC. Banks was the last chairman of the GLC before this happened.

Meanwhile he had moved into national politics by becoming MP for Newham North West, later West Ham. His maiden speech attacked the Thatcher Government for making the GLC “some sort of South Bank equivalent of the Belgrano — to be destroyed merely to satisfy the power lust of the Prime Minister”.

Banks’s Commons rhetoric thus started in the way that it continued. Of John Major, for example: “He is so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying.” It was a style made for opposition rather than for office, but rather surprisingly Banks served for two years in the Blair Government, albeit in the rather peripheral office of Minister for Sport (a post he had previously described as “not so much a job as a sending to heaven without having to die first”).

Up until the end of his time in the Commons, Banks continued advocating all sorts of worthy projects: he believed, for example, in a national scheme of community service for young people. But he became fed up with the more fruitless tasks of an MP; of being a “personal counsellor” for his constituents. As the 2005 election approached he decided, although only in his early 60s, not to stand again.

He suffered a serious stroke while on holiday in Florida. He is survived by his wife, Sally.

Tony Banks (Lord Stratford), MP for Newham North West and West Ham 1983-2005, was born on April 8, 1943. He died last night, aged 62

This is how The Telegraph reported it

Tony Banks was a true man of the people, says Blair
By George Jones, Political Editor, and Matt Barnwell

Tony Banks, the former Labour sports minister, died last night three days after suffering a massive stroke while on holiday in the United States. He was 62.

The outspoken former MP, who became Lord Stratford when he accepted a peerage last year, was being moved to a hospice when he died.

He had collapsed during lunch on Thursday on Sanibel Island, Florida, where he and his wife Sally had been staying with friends.

He was taken to Fort Myers hospital, but doctors had warned that his condition was "bleak".

Tony Blair led the tributes to the peer last night, describing him as "one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain" and "a true man of the people".

The Prime Minister said: "Whether he was campaigning for the regeneration of East London, fighting for animal welfare or expressing his enthusiasm for Chelsea football club he was someone who said what they thought and was loved by people for it.

His friend, David Mellor, the former Conservative MP, said he was "immensely popular" and would be missed by politicians from all parties.

"I think the great thing about Tony was that he was a man of passion in his politics and possessed of a sharp and witty tongue.

"It is devastating for all of us who were deeply fond of him."

Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, said: "Underlying all that wit and humour was a very serious politician."

Mr Banks stood down as an MP at last May's general election and took the title Lord Stratford of Stratford after the area of east London where his constituency office was based.

As Labour MP for West Ham for 22 years, he became a parliamentary character, known for his readiness to speak his mind. While he started out on the far Left, he moderated his views enough to become a minister under Mr Blair.

After two years as a minister he resigned to campaign for England's unsuccessful bid to host the World Cup.

He was passionate about animal rights and was a vocal campaigner for the ban on hunting with dogs.

Lord Stratford was renowned for his sharp tongue. Here are some examples of his rudeness

• At a Labour Party conference he described then Tory leader William Hague as a "foetus".

• Another Tory MP, Terry Dicks, was dismissed as "living proof that a pig's bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament".

• During a Commons debate he accused Margaret Thatcher of having "the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor" and on another occasion he called her a "half mad old bag lady".

• The former chancellor Kenneth Clarke was dismissed as "a pot-bellied old soak".

• John Major, the former prime minister, was described as "so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying".

• He had no time for Liberal Democrats, who were "woolly-hatted, muesli-eating, Tory lick-spittles".

• He denounced Canadians as "dickheads" for culling seals.

• He once suggested installing Durex machines in Westminster so that the Tories would have fewer illegitimate children.

• An ardent republican, Lord Stratford was once caught on camera crossing his fingers during the parliamentary oath of allegiance to the Queen.

• Even when he retired from the Commons last year he did not go quietly. He said he was stepping down because dealing with constituents' problems was "intellectually numbing and tedious in the extreme".

This is The Telegraph's obituary

Tony Banks

The Lord Stratford, formerly Tony Banks MP, who has died aged 62, was the controversial and outspoken Minister of Sport and Heritage in Tony Blair's first government after Labour's victory in the General Election of 1997; a fanatical football fan with a talent for publicity, he was in some ways highly qualified for the job, although as a former leading member of the "loony left" Greater London Council (GLC) under Ken Livingstone, he was no champion of New Labour.

Rebellious, hyperactive and a passionate vegetarian dedicated to the anti-hunting lobby, Banks's political image owed as much to the music hall as it did to the hard Left.

Although delighted at his ministerial appointment, he had been unable to contain his surprise. "I think my exact words were 'F*** me!'," he later revealed.

Having announced that "to be offered the Minister for Sport by the Prime Minister was rather like being offered a place in heaven without having to die first", he lost little time in promoting his favourite causes.

"I shall be playing my part in stopping hunting with hounds, hare coursing and deer hunting," he announced.

But his time in office was dominated by gaffes and minor acts of rebellion. A staunch republican, he was forced to say that he had only crossed his fingers "for luck" when he took his oath of allegiance to the Queen.

When he was a few months into the job there were calls for his resignation after he joked at the party conference in Brighton that William Hague resembled a foetus. On one occasion he suggested that darts should become an Olympic sport.

Two years after his appointment, Banks resigned his post and became the Prime Minister's envoy for England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

The bid failed and, suffering the fate of most sports ministers, he failed to achieve further promotion and returned to the back benches, where, perhaps, he was happiest.

In 2002 he made a failed bid to become Labour's candidate for London mayor, after which he devoted his energies to animal rights and the campaign to ban hunting with dogs.

At the end of 2004, shortly after achieving his goal of a ban on hunting, Banks announced that he would be standing down as MP for West Ham at the next election. He explained that his interest in constituency work had waned, and he now found it "intellectually numbing" and "tedious in the extreme".

"I went into politics to solve problems," he said, "but then you realise after 22 years that you can't bloody solve them. And it's dispiriting. The same problems come round time after time, and yes, however much you care, it's bloody tedious."

Anthony Louis Banks was born in Belfast on April 8 1943. His father, an engineering fitter and Sergeant Major in the 8th Army who later became First Secretary in the postwar Warsaw Embassy, was an active member of the Labour party and a stern disciplinarian. "You didn't cross him," Banks later recalled. "I loved him but I didn't love the beltings he used to give us."

The family returned to England and young Tony was educated at St John's Primary School, Brixton, and Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School in Kennington.

There he acquired an early reputation as a trouble-maker, and he was regularly beaten for talking back to his teachers. Relations with the school disintegrated to such an extent that he failed his exams, after which he found himself forced to work as a clerk to put himself through night school in order to gain the qualifications to get into York University, then the London School of Economics.

After a stint as a trade-union research official, his political career took off in 1970 when he became a member of GLC, eventually becoming its chairman in 1986, the year it was abolished.

He played a large part in some of its most provocative "loony" policies. In 1983 he announced that Jubilee Gardens should be re-named Peace Gardens and the same year he stopped the GLC's Royal Opera House grant.

While he can be credited with helping to double the GLC's arts budget to £20 million by 1984, there were accusations that he focused much of that money on community-based ethnic arts and pop music.

The tabloid press christened Banks "the snarling czar of culture" after he abolished the Champagne bar at the Festival Hall on the grounds that it was "totally elitist".

This came back to haunt him when he later admitted a penchant for sparkling wine, adding that "if I could afford it, I would only drink Champagne".

His relationship with Ken Livingstone, under whom he worked at the GLC, was competitive - they were often compared with each other - and ultimately foundered when Livingstone left the party.

"I think Ken has squandered his talents," Banks said of Livingstone in 1997. Five years later when Banks attempted to become Labour's candidate in the London mayoralty contest, Livingstone said that it would be a "disaster" if Banks won.

After three failed attemps, he was elected MP for Newham North West in 1983, and soon established his reputation as a rebel when he threatened to resign as London whip over the suspension of his friend Ron Brown MP.

Later he did resign as Neil Kinnock's social services spokesman rather than support a motion to send British troops to the Gulf War. He was, however, a persistent and often well-informed backbencher (during the 1983-1987 Parliament Banks asked the most questions) with a legendary reputation for abusive "lippiness".

Banks raised some eyebrows when he accepted a peerage last year, becoming Lord Stratford. But he preferred, he said, to be known as Tony Banks, calling his title a "nom de politics".

In 1998 his more outrageous bons mots were published in The Wit and Wisdom of Tony Banks.

It included his notorious contribution to a debate on organ transplants in 1989, in which he referred to the complicated love life of the then Secretary of State for Transport, Cecil Parkinson: "May I put in a bid for Cecil's plonker?" he quipped. "One careful owner."

One of his last parliamentary crusades was an attempt to bring about an outright ban on war games. "If you want to know where the gun culture comes from," he told The Sunday Telegraph, "start looking at the Christmas presents you're about to buy your male children. I know I'm not on to a winner here, but my God I'm going to try."

Banks was the first to admit that he was not the greatest diplomat in Westminster. "I've done as much to destroy my own self politically as anyone else. Probably more so. Being brutally frank has let me down. I should have tempered my words more. But when people ask me a question, I like to give them an answer."

He fell out with Livingstone, whom he felt had abandoned the GLC and his party, but within Westminster he had friends on both the left and the right, not least the former Tory minister David Mellor, who shared Banks's love of Chelsea Football Club.

Banks, who was vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports, was angered by accusations from pro-hunting campaigners that he did not understand the countryside ("Bloody nonsense! I feel a huge affinity with nature,") yet his rabid vegetarianism did little for his cause.

"If people wish to eat meat," he once said, "and run the risk of dying a horrible, lingering hormone-induced death after sprouting extra breasts and large amounts of hair, it is, of course, entirely up to them."

Short and slight with a dandyish appearance ("I try to look a bit smart") Banks was a fit man, although he had been treated for circulation problems after having a near-fatal motorbike accident during his youth.

He died yesterday after suffering a stroke while on holiday in Florida.

He is survived by his wife, Sally.

Thi is how the Independent saw it

Tony Banks, minister and maverick, dies aged 62 after massive stroke
By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent

With an acerbic wit and a readiness to throw comic jibes at his political opponents, Tony Banks was one of the most colourful figures in British politics.

Last night, Tony Blair led tributes to the former sports minister, who died four days after suffering a massive stroke while on holiday in the United States.

He died in hospital in Florida, four days after he collapsed while having lunch on Thursday during a trip to stay with his family on Sanibel Island, off the west coast. He was flown by helicopter to Fort Myers where doctors found that he had suffered a stroke and severe brain damage.

Last night Mr Blair said Mr Banks was "one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain, a true man of the people".

Mr Banks, who adopted the name Lord Stratford after his home in East London when he was made a life peer last summer, was a man of one-liners who combined his ready wit with a serious passion for subjects from animal rights and football to political memorabilia and high art.

During his long political career as MP for West Ham, Mr Banks became known as one of Parliament's greatest wits. His quips, from branding William Hague a "foetus" to describing Margaret Thatcher has having "the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor" were even immortalised in a book. He once said of John Major, "He is so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying."
But the left-winger will be best known for his pivotal role in forcing a ban on fox-hunting into law.

He was born in Belfast in 1943, but was brought up in south London. He was educated at York University and the London school of economics. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a leading member of the Greater London Council, before entering the House of Commons as MP for Newham North West - later West Ham - in 1983.

For an MP seen by many as something of a maverick, the avid Chelsea fan was a surprise appointment as Minister for Sport in 1997. He eventually relinquished the job to become the Prime Minister's envoy for England's failed attempt to host the 2006 football World Cup.

On the backbenches, he was a passionate supporter of animal rights, served as vice president of the League Against Cruel Sports and tirelessly pushed for a full ban on hunting with hounds.

He chaired the Commons committee responsible for works of art, and was responsible for commissioning a statue of Margaret Thatcher to stand in the Commons. He even commissioned a replacement copy of the £150,000 marble work when it was later beheaded .

Mr Banks stood down from the Commons at the last election after representing the east London constituency of Newham North West, latterly renamed West Ham, since 1983. His decision to stand down was uncharacteristically low key but his departure spared no prisoners, as he described as his constituency case work "intellectually numbing, tedious in the extreme".

He was elevated to the House of Lords and took the title Lord Stratford as a "nom de politics", expecting always to be addressed as plain Tony Banks.

The Prime Minister said: "Whether he was campaigning for the regeneration of East London, fighting for animal welfare or expressing his enthusiasm for Chelsea Football Club, he was someone who said what he thought and was loved by people for it."

He added: "I was proud to have him as a sports minister in the first term of the Government and, like everyone in the Labour Party, will miss him and regret that he was taken from us so soon."

Mr Banks' friend, the former Conservative minister David Mellor, said: "I think the great thing about Tony was that he was a man of passion in his politics and was in possession of a sharp and witty tongue.

"But he exuded such joie de vivre that no one could seriously take offence to his opinions. He delighted in living up to the old parliamentary convention that whatever was said in the chamber you would be friends outside of it.

"These days in the Commons, that's been forgotten but Tony never forgot that."

Banks on ...
MARGARET THATCHER "She is happier getting in and out of tanks than in and out of museums or theatre seats."
JOHN MAJOR "He is so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying."
WILLIAM HAGUE "To make matters worse, they have elected a foetus as party leader ... I bet there's a lot of Tory MPs that wish they hadn't voted against abortion now."
PETER HITCHENS [After refusing to appear with him on the BBC's Question Time] "[He] is an objectionable lout ... and a bar-room bully."
BEING APPOINTED AS MINISTER FOR SPORT IN 1997 "I'm completely gobsmacked. It's a bit like going to heaven without having to die first."
CRUELTY TO ANIMALS "I just hope that I am around when that asteroid crashes into the earth and wipes out all life forms, as happened 65 million years ago."
DEALING WITH CONSTITUENTS "Intellectually numbing and tedious in the extreme."
THE INDISCRETIONS OF DAVID MELLOR "Since the great days of Jimmy Greaves, it's the only time that anyone's managed to score five times in a Chelsea shirt."

Clement - the next Liberal Democrat leader?

William Hill is offering odds on Sir Clement Freud being the next Liberal Democrat leader following the resignation of Charles Kennedy. Currently those odds are 500 to one.

JAM connection to Narnia stories

This is a nice piece on Clement's wife - apparently the inspiration for the Narnia stories from The Daily Telegraph

The question of who inspired CS Lewis to create the fantasy world of Narnia has remained a mystery for decades. Now, 55 years on, Nigel Farndale talks to Jill Freud who, as a wartime evacuee, provided the spark for his best-selling classic. As Hollywood's £75m version comes out, she tells her extraordinary story for the first time

In a yawning, book-lined drawing room in Marylebone, central London, I am left to browse a file of letters written during the war years by CS Lewis to "My dear June". The "June" referred to is Jill Freud, the now 78-year-old wife of Sir Clement, who has disappeared into the kitchen to make a pot of tea.

In 1944, she was June Flewett, a London convent girl who had been evacuated to Lewis's house in Oxford to escape the Blitz. She was also the inspiration for Lucy Pevensie, the girl who walks through the wardrobe full of fur coats and into the snowflakes of Narnia. The premiere of Hollywood's £75million The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was held in London on Wednesday, and Lady Freud had been asked to attend. She had also been asked to fly to America for the premiere there but, as she says in a crisp voice: "I was sure children wouldn't want to be told that this old lady is Lucy." Besides, she has, until now, declined all newspaper requests to discuss her extraordinary childhood.

My eye is drawn to a letter written in 1944, two years after the 14-year-old "June" was first billeted with CS Lewis, and when she had just won a place to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Lewis, who signed himself and was known by friends as Jack, writes that when June goes "the only bright spot in our prospect" goes with her. She is, moreover, "the most selfless person" he has ever known. Among the papers in my lap there is also a first edition of Lewis's Screwtape Letters, in which he has written a dedication to June in a small neat hand: "In token payment for innumerable kindnesses." She certainly was kind: she deferred her place to Rada so that she could stay on with Lewis as a "mother's help" until she was 18.

Lady Freud, 5ft 3in tall, with short hair and clear blue, wide-apart eyes, returns bearing a tray. She has a warm and engaging manner. She is energetic, too: she still goes to tap-dancing class once a week, swims 30 lengths a day and runs her own theatre company in Suffolk - called, sensibly enough, Jill Freud and Company. It is hard to believe that she has five children (one adopted) and 15 grandchildren. There are photographs of them all around us, including her daughter Emma and her husband, the writer Richard Curtis, and her son Matthew, the public relations Svengali, on a beach with his wife Elizabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert.

Did she read the Narnia stories to them when they were children? "No, I wasn't a reader-to-the-children mother at all, I'm ashamed to say. I was always too busy cooking supper. I realised when I had been a mother for some time that I had a knowledge and understanding of how to bring up a child up to the age of 11, the age I was when I was evacuated, and then, after that, nothing. I realised I never took them to museums and galleries, because no one had ever done that for me. You are brainwashed by your own childhood experiences. I was a loving mother and all that, but I was completely removed from family life as a child."

She does not exaggerate. Her family lived in Barnes, south-west London, where her father was the senior classics master at St Paul's school. She and her two sisters - she was the middle one - were evacuated on September 1, 1939. "London was in a state of high alert," she recalls. "Gas masks were being issued, trenches dug and windows crossed with tape. My sister, then 14, was nearly expelled for waving to a soldier out of the convent window. She just thought it was the patriotic thing to do."

Lady Freud remembers standing on the station platform in her overcoat, with her haversack containing two school books and a change of clothes, and saying goodbye to her mother and five-year-old sister Diana, who was being evacuated with her kindergarten class to Wales, where she was to stay for the duration of the war, seeing her mother only twice. "Diana grew up thinking she had been rejected by my mother, that was the tragedy," she says. "But what could my mother do? It was the worst day of her life. She was only given 24 hours to decide."

At first, June was billeted with a retired Oxford tutor but he died after a few months and she moved in with three ageing spinsters. "They had been Lewis Carroll's 'girls'. As children they had gone up and down the Cherwell in his punt while he told them stories. In their drawing room, they had a lot of games and toys which he had made for them. We would be allowed to play with them on Sundays. They would be worth a fortune now."

In 1942, June was interviewed by Janie Moore, "Mrs Moore", CS Lewis's "adoptive mother" - his real mother having died of cancer when he was nine. Lewis was 43, Mrs Moore 26 years his senior. They were probably lovers at first, then partners who played the role of mother and son for the sake of propriety.

Jill [bottom left] aged 14

"They lived together as mother and son," Lady Freud recalls, "but I don't think that was the relationship". She raises her eyebrows significantly. "I knew nothing about any of that at the time. She was Irish and had been very beautiful, very dynamic. Jack had fought alongside her son, Paddy, in the First World War and had promised he would look after his mother if Paddy was killed. Well, Paddy was killed."

Jack and Minto, as he called Mrs Moore, had lived together in Oxford since 1920. There were no children in the house until they started taking in evacuees at the start of the war. Lewis once wrote: "I never appreciated children till the war brought them to me."

What, I ask, were her first impressions of him? "Oh, I loved him. Loved him, of course I did. I was in the kitchen helping Mrs Moore with the hen food when I first met him. I turned round and knew this was something momentous. Jack was naturally very gregarious, he liked exchanging ideas. He enjoyed the pub, and walking.

"I had read the Screwtape Letters and, being a good little Catholic at that time, his famous book Christian Behaviour, but I didn't know then that Jack Lewis was CS Lewis. I had no idea. Two weeks later I saw his books on the shelf, then I made the connection. I realised that this man I was staying with was my literary hero.

"I didn't know where to put myself. I couldn't look at him or speak to him for about a week because I knew from reading his books that he understood human nature horribly well and I just thought, 'He will know all my faults, all my nasty little foibles'. I felt completely exposed. I got over it, of course."

Mrs Moore, Lewis and his alcoholic brother, Warnie, lived in The Kilns, a redbrick house in Headington, south Oxford. "It had large grounds and a lake where we swam," Lady Freud recalls. "The house itself wasn't that large or old. It wasn't pretty or grand but liveable-in - comfortable. - with an Aga in the kitchen and an old-fashioned scullery."

And a wardrobe? "We did have a big brown cupboard in the landing. But I don't know whether that was the one. There is one in a museum in Chicago which is supposed to be the original wardrobe."

It is said that the idea for Narnia came to Lewis when a little girl, an evacuee who was staying with him, asked him what lay behind his old wardrobe. Was that her? "I don't know. I don't think so. It might have been."

Lewis wrote the first of the Chronicles in 1948. When it was published two years later he sent a copy to June. "I read them then but haven't read them since," she says. "I had no idea I had any involvement with it at all until three years ago when his stepson wrote to me and said: 'I suppose you know you are the prototype for Lucy?' I didn't. I suppose I should read the book again, to see what I am really like." In the Chronicles, the central character of Queen Lucy the Valiant is the youngest and most innocent of the four evacuees and, at first, she is a little afraid of the shaggy-haired professor they are sent to stay with. She was also the most inquisitive, and the kindest, developing a close relationship with Aslan, the lion, who is son of the Emperor over the sea.

The stepson was Douglas Gresham, who is the 60-year-old co-producer of the new movie. He was the son of Joy, the American who Lewis married in 1956 and who died of cancer. The story of her relationship with Lewis was made into the film Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

I ask what Lewis was like to live with? "When he was working we had to be very careful not to disturb him. The whole household evolved around him. Everything was for Jack, every minute of the day was geared to looking after him. It must have been bit of a straitjacket for him. He was a don at Magdalen college and he missed out on a lot by not being there more. He didn't have the career he would have had if he had been staying in his college, socialising with the big wigs. Instead he was always dashing back to Headington to be with Mrs Moore.

"She resented it when he stayed out every Tuesday to meet his friends in the pub," Lady Freud says in a reference to "The Inklings", the informal group of writers and dons, including JRR Tolkien, who would meet in the Eagle and Child. Lady Freud recalls being taken to tea at Tolkien's house. "I also remember going to tea with Professor Fleming about the time he was developing penicillin. We had bread but were allowed either margarine or butter on it but not both."

Lewis was like an adoptive parent to her, Lady Freud says. "He influenced me hugely. He said he had developed my childish religion into an adult one. He gave me any book I wanted and said I could go to Blackwell's bookshop any time and put books on his account - but I was much too shy to do it.

"I had the benefit of two very erudite men talking at supper every night - Jack and Warnie. Jack could be very acerbic but he never was with me. If I made a stupid remark he didn't correct me, and I would only realise later. He did think I was bright."

In the autumn of 1944, June returned to London and sat her school certificate. "Mrs Moore invited me to stay for a holiday for a couple of weeks after I had taken my exams and so I went back to Oxford and ended up staying off and on for two years, looking after Jack because Mrs Moore had varicose ulcers on her legs and had to lie up. You couldn't get any help because it was wartime. They paid me 50p a week mostly to look after their 20 hens."

Two years later Lewis paid for June to go to Rada and, soon after she graduated, she embarked upon a successful career in the West End under the stage name Jill Raymond, co-starring with, among others, Michael Redgrave. When she married Clement Freud in 1950, the headlines read: "West End star marries cook."

When they met she had been wearing a dress with a plunging neckline, and he had teased her about it. "Clement is a very dry character," she says, "so quick. And he will never say the conventional thing. He's a constant surprise, full of mischief."

Was it true, I ask, that he proposed to her just four days after they met? "We met in April and married in September, but he never proposed. Instead he announced it in The Times and I said: 'Don't you think it's time you actually asked me?' He never does anything the right way round. He's very contrary."

Marriage to Sir Clement is never dull. "A worse-for-wear Dylan Thomas slept on our floor one night," Lady Freud recalls. "And Lucian [Sir Clement's brother, the artist] brought Francis Bacon to Christmas lunch once. I was always far too busy worrying about nappies to notice what was going on a lot of the time. I had three successful years in acting and then, once I was married, I never looked for work again."

She did do the occasional radio play and in the 1970s when her husband became a Liberal MP, she helped him canvass. In 1980, Lady Freud returned to work, forming her own theatre company which now employs 70 people every summer. She and Sir Clement celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2000.

I notice a small collection of books by Sigmund Freud, Clement's grandfather, on an upper shelf, alongside a jokey bust of a man with a beard. I note that not only did she have an extraordinary childhood, but she married into an extraordinary family and produced extraordinary children. Does she, I ask, ever feel overshadowed by her progeny? "It used to irk me a bit, but I think it funny now that you quite often see a dynasty of the Freuds printed and you wouldn't know any of them have a mother. I never get a mention," she says, laughing.

Quite Freudian in a way, I suggest. "Yes, quite. They were all born without a mother. I think our children have been lucky though because they haven't just got the highly sensitive, neurotic, hugely intelligent Freud genes, they've also got mine."

Which are? "Well, my mother was generous and funny and silly, and I think I inherited some of that from her. I am pretty stable emotionally, you could say boring. But that, I think, is an important counter-balance to the other, highly strung side. Emma is a good mix of both. She loves people. Clement suspects the worst and then will warm to you eventually."

At this point Sir Clement arrives home and maunders in. He is avuncular and not too hangdogish of expression and, when he sits down next to his wife on the sofa, he joins in with her reminiscences of all the intriguing people they have encountered over the years. "I remember cooking for George Bernard Shaw," he says. "That was the year before we married, Darling." Then he sees that my tape recorder is still running, looks mildly perturbed, apologises for interrupting, and departs the room.

Lady Freud's thoughts return to her literary hero and, as the years that separate them collapse and shrink, long-buried memories rise to the surface. "He looked like a ruddy-cheeked farmer: heavy jowls, stick, tweeds, big shoes, Labrador, tall - well, tall to me. I thought he was wonderful. I suppose I must have had a schoolgirl crush on him," she says, covering her mouth and laughing.

She is a young girl once more, re-entering Narnia to find, unlike Lucy, that no time has passed since her last visit.

January 08, 2006

The first in the new season

The first on the 2006 winter season (British winter) featured Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Gyles Brandreth and Sue Perkins. There was lots of banter, possibly too much as it didn't leave much time for too many good laughs. But I thought Gyles put in one of his best performances, a good fruity display. And Paul and Graham and Sue were good as always.

Paul joins Clement, Tim Rice and Stephen Fry next Monday - then Clement, Tony Hawks, Julian Clary and Kate Robbins making her debut the week after that. Kate's brother Ted did one TV edition of the show - the first brother/sister combo in the show's history.

A top 20

Here's my all-time favourite top 20 Just A Minute performers.

20th Kit Hesketh-Harvey

Kit is a good player, I like the way he often slags the others in the course of his talking and he always seems to really enjoy the show. But I don't like the way he seems to go quiet for spells and he seems to me more of a supporting act.

19th Julian Clary

Julian is almost always good fun whenever he is talking and his outrageousness is always good fun and often very very funny. But he often seems to not fully involve himself in the game and he's been marked down a bit for that.

18th Alfred Marks

If Alfred had appeared more often, he would probably have rated higher because Alfred comes across as the complete JAM package - sharp, quick witted, full of stories. But he was perhaps not on the show often enough, or dominating enough to rate right up the top.

17th Wendy Richard

I know she's not everyone's cup of tea and she's not a genuine wit. But when Wendy's there, there's an element of dramatic tension in the air which really lifts the show. The only other one who has a similar effect is Kenneth.

16th Derek Nimmo

Perhaps you will feel I have rated Derek too low. But I have marked him down because it seems to me too often he challenges without having anything interesting to say. His best moments seem to me to be outside the actual speaking often. Still a great contributor - but you couldn't have built the show round him.

15th Tony Slattery

Do you think I should have him higher? He really is very very good on his shows. Marked down only because he really isn't a team player and that's hard on JAM if you're really not interested in anyone else being funny.

14th Tony Hawks

Tony is Mister Reliable. He always has something to say and he plays a full part in any show. But he doesn't ever seem to have the killer line that keeps you laughing again and again.

13th Sheila Hancock

I do love Sheila - she's always bubbly and feisty. But the truth is what she says on the subjects isn't always that interesting or amusing. I think I have her at about the right spot. A very good member of the team but not perhaps "one of the greats".

12th Linda Smith

Witty, wonderful, winsome. Whenever she opens her mouth, a great line is just round the corner. Only marked down for her long periods of silence.

11th Clement Freud

I do think Clement has been a vital part of the show over the years - an essential bit of gravitas, a great straight man for Kenneth and Paul. But I guess I have marked him down because he so often challenges when he hasn't got really anything to say and is just filling in time. This makes him less desirable than he would otherwise be though the show never seems quite the same without him.

10th Richard Murdoch

I have Richard in the top 10 simply because he was just perfect for the show and very funny. He was always interesting and funny whenever he spoke and he was a unique challenger - he concentrated on little words! I wish he'd been discovered sooner, he would have saved a lot of rather dull JAMs in the mid 80s.

9th Peter Cook

I've avoided people who made just one or two appearances because I think it's hard to judge people on that. There are plenty of people who were very funny once, but wouldn't have been successful again and again. But I make an exception for Cookie just because he was so damn funny in his few appearances and I can't believe he wouldn't have been just as good had he appeared more frequently.

8th Jenny Eclair

Perhaps you will be surprised I have Jenny so high but she always has something funny to say and she seems to really get into the game even if she isn't that good about it. We could do with more of her.

7th Aimi Macdonald

Perhaps you will be surprised I have Aimi so high. But you know in a way Aimi was the focus of most shows she appeared in, just through force of her wonderful personality. Any show in which she starred was a success and delightfully silly. A perfect foil for the big mouths around her. Still missed.

6th Stephen Fry

You won't be surprised to see I rate Stephen so highly. He's a master of repartee, he's a genuine wit and he's never lost for anything to say. And he involves himself in what's happening. If he appeared more frequently he could be higher still.

5th Graham Norton

Graham is so often very very funny. Only marked down a little because just sometimes he doesn't involve himself enough.

4th Ross Noble

Inventive, always coming up with the unexpected, a unique style but still wonderfully suited to JAM. He just keeps getting better.

3rd Peter Jones

Peter is always funny whenever he speaks, his repartee is arguably the wittiest of anyone on the show. He graced us by his presence and it's only the fact that he had periods of silence that was a failing.

2nd Paul Merton

Paul is a supremely talented player of the game. He is always funny, he is always a big part of a show, he is quite capable of rescuing a dull team. And he is very much in the tradition of the show with his ability to follow up the comments of others and make them into a running joke - the sort of thing which gives a show some flow. The reigning King of JAM. Not as good as Kenneth. But i think there was still daylight between him and Peter in third place.

1st Kenneth Williams

supremely funny and almost uniquely there is an amazing dramatic tension around him that gives a unique element to his shows. When he's on you're always waiting for him - to give one of his performances, to flirt, to throw a tantrum, to take over and become the focus of attention. Irreplaceable.

Keith's memories

I have been corresponding with my friend Keith Matthews for four years about JAM, and he has been a fan for 35 years. These are some of his memories.

I have been attending Just A Minute since 1972 and began listening two years previously. Just looking down the lists of the programmes that have been recorded over the past 30 years has brought back many happy memories.

A gang of us used to go regularly to the shows at the Playhouse and the Paris Studio and we would see whole series of the show. You'd be lucky to get a single ticket to one of these new ones.

Sometimes if one of us turned up without a ticket we could always sidle up quietly to Kenneth explaining that the ticket office at the Beeb had let me down. Kenneth would open up the swing door with gusto and intone "it's all right ,these are with me" and we would accompany our cloth capped hero into the warm interior of the studio. There'd be no dodginess in what he'd do, it was just a kind gesture. We would always sit with his Mum and we'd share our refreshments out.

Really funny moments they were. I can recall a time when Ken gave Sheila Hancock a right ticking off about her wild curly hair calling out "Her sitting there with that awful wig on. She must have had it all cut off." Sheila gave as good as she got. I for one miss her deeply from the show. She would have dealt with Paul Merton in an instant. I wrote to her and she said she didn't want to be in it so soon after Ken had died. She said that Paul Merton had asked her the same thing when they had appeared together on that satirical news show. She continued in the letter to me that she would certainly like to do a Just a Minute show now though. I must say the Beeb are bloody sexist when it comes to older women in panel games. Isobel Barnett, Anona Winn and Aimi Macdonald all kicked out because of being slightly older than the rest. One of my favourite Sheila put downs was when she retorted that she thought he'd just been to see the film "HITLER THE LAST TEN DAYS" for inspiration.

Nicholas Parsons' contribution to the show cannot be underestimated. It would be he who would indicate to the other panelists to let someone continue with their story, especially if they had not said much in previous rounds, or even let someone carry on for more than a minute and a half. The one time when I saw Parsons take up the buzzer and Messiter take up the stopwatch he was exceptional and beat Nimmo, Jones and Williams comfortably. A very shy and late Clement Freud rolled in late in the midst of the first programme and was astounded at how good Nicholas was. Normal service was resumed in the second show and they all slagged Parsons off rotten.

I could go on and on about the show, I love it so much. Liz Fraser smoking her thick panatella cigars , Peter Jones, the only one to be bleeped in the history of the show and Kenneth Williams, amazingly grotesque monkey walk across the far side of the stage to his regular seat near Mr Freud.

A gang of us used to attend JAM recordings in the 70ss and 80ss. We got to know each other by standing in the queue waiting to go in for a recording. We would get there at least an hour and a half before they opened the doors of the studio. This ensured that we would be able to sit on the front row, in front of Kenneth 6pm arrival time and 7.15pm they would let us in. Come rain or come shine, the commissionnaires would keep us out there sipping our hot drinks from the nearby Itailian Coffee House.

We were all fans of Ken but our attitude to him was all different. One woman harboured a huge love for Kenny. She would have dropped anything to be with him. Another thought he was fun and a huge tonic. A man in our group wanted to be him. His nostrils flaired so much when he talked that you would have sworn that Kenneth had sired him. I on the other hand was being educated by all that I saw and listened to. Kenneth was my teacher in my chosen field of acting. He was by far the liveliest and funniest entertainer I have ever seen. He never gave less than 200 percent.

We all knew Kenneth's beloved mother, Louisa, as Mrs Williams and she revelled in the politeness. It never stopped us sharing out our sweets with her. He feared death greatly and he once said jokingly in a languid voice, "I love the music about the dead. Just to go to the gates of heaven with that formless din". It almost mirrored the sentiments of the Frankenstein Monster in the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN when he says in a close up full frame head shot "Like dead, hate living..."

Once the format was established the seating of those in Just A Minute was fixed. On the left of the stage would be Kenneth and on his left would sit Clement. Derek sat on the far right of stage with Peter on his right. Parsons and Messiter would be in the thick of it all in the middle. Each pair would have the microphones in front of them, plus the customary BBC jug of water and glasses. Notepad and pens would complete the players equipment. Occasionally during the recording one player would write a note to his seating partner.

At the allotted time a producer would come out and after a bit of banter would introduce Ian Messiter. What a lovely kind man he was. He would introduce Nick. Once he said "and here is our wonderful chairman, hotfoot from his dayjob of selling matches from a tray round his neck in the Balls Pond Road, Nicholas Parsons". Nicholas would introduce the guest first, then the regulars. If Parsons was going on a bit Kenneth would shout out from the sidelines "Oh get on with it... stop hanging it out". Sometimes he would even be talking over Nick's introductions of the other players and then he would deliberately move the side curtains in impatience. When he eventually entered he would do his monkey walk or his bursting for a pee or constipated entrance. From the moment he came on he was fully aware with all guns firing.

There are those people who would say that Kenneth was the only person the audience came to see. They would be wrong. Kenneth knew this too. He knew the comedic value of Messrs Jones, Parsons, Freud and Nimmo. He knew that they were the rich and varied base that he could coat hanger his comedy upon. None of the regular participants of JAM ever reached higher radio comedy heights than they achieved in Just A Minute.

None of the shows were broadcast in their chronological date. If a producer thought that a second show was not as riotous as the first show at a recording, then they would broadcast it between two stronger shows. You used to be able to point out what was the second show because a panelist would refer to a previous remark from the first recording and Nicholas would have to explain the laughter at the running gag. He would usually say "You see I must explain, this audience wasn't here the last time we met but ............" and we the audience would laugh even more because Nicholas would then explain the reference and we knew jolly well that we had heard it before. In the preamble talk before the show they used to pretend that we would be a fresh audience for the second recording. Nicholas would usually say this. It was one of the Beeb's little quirky ways of working since days gone by. Usually light entertainment shows would only do one show. But as JUST A MINUTE was basically a simple show to produce because of it's ad libbish way they would literally churn out sometimes two double show recordings a week. This would fit in with the availability of the regulars. Derek would usually be in a play in the West End or touring world wide, Clement would have his parliamentary duties, Sheila was acting regularly. It was only Kenneth who would make room in his diary for Just A Minute. They would fix up the recording date suitable to the regulars and record them. Then rearrange them for continuity. As for Nicholas, he was very happy to do them whenever they asked. As long as they fitted in with his TV quiz show.

An edition of Just A Minute in the area of 73-75 ish, the panel was Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud, Andree Melly and Peter Jones. The subject was PETE. This could be taken two ways, the first and most obvious way as somebody's name, but Peter Jones took it the other way, as PEAT. He spoke about being a young lad in Shropshire and in the early days when men used to gather peat from the bogs at a place called Wixol Moss. Nimmo charged in with a hesitation challenge and then took over the subject. He took it the other way. If I remember the interchange correctly:

DN: I have sat here quite often looking at Pete or Peter Jones as he is known more popularly and I have found it the most rewarding sight. The cherubic face, the greying hair,the sprinkles of dandruff floating down..


NP: Peter, you've challenged.

PJ: Deviation, I mean tricological deviation.

NP: What do you mean ?

PJ: Well I have no dandruff at all. As you can see. I use the new medicated shampoo. If I go to a party I have to borrow dandruff from a friend. Since I've been using it girls just wont leave me alone !!!

It is one of those glorious Peter moments that only a truly gifted comedy actor like him could bring off. Not only did he hit back at Nimmo's suggestion that he was getting old in the tooth, but he topped his joke as well without being cutting or bitchy.

This is the Peter I remember well. Kenneth was going on about fan mail and that he takes time to answer every one. Which must have been about 20 a day. Jones put in with "I had a letter once from a fan. Only once. But it was a very nice letter." Sometimes he would jokingly come on stage when he was announced at a recording and wave and say a la Elvis Presley "Hello fan". I can remember him challenging once and he said "I dont have a challenge, I just wanted to say hello to my fan in Sweden."

I do think Peter was a gently private man as opposed to the fiercely guarded private life of Kenneth and Clement. When I wrote to Clement he sent me a book. I corresponded with Kenneth yearly and always a hand written blue inked envelope would arrive shortly after. Peter just sent a publicity still from his new series KINDLY LEAVE THE KERB. It was on ITV and he starred with that other underated comedy actor also called Peter, Peter Butterworth. They played friendly rivalled pavement performers. Escapologists past their prime. It was very funny.

The other older man who I think made a mark upon Just A Minute before he died was the one time side kick of Arthur Askey's, Richard Murdoch. I saw his first outing of Just A Minute. No stranger to panel games and the only person who could hesitate more than Peter Jones and get away with it. He joined the panel when he was incredibly old. Still mobile and playing golf. But what a gentleman broadcaster of the old school. He had been a regular team-mate on Ian Messiter's other long running panel game MANY A SLIP. You may have heard this. On Just A Minute he managed to endear himself to audiences by showing his warmth and charm and they responded. A gallant loser and one not given to gamesmanship of the Freud or Nimmo variety. I remember the warmth of the audience when they discovered that he had won a show. He was as surprised as they were. It was the equivalent of a man with callipers winning a marathon.

Richard Murdoch's initial recording was sadly Kenneth's very last show of JUST A MINUTE. Kenneth said little in the show. He had taken several small white pills throughout the recording. Presumably for his ulcer. His last subject was "Gold" and that melifluous voice just faded away into nothingness. Casually relinquishing the subject to a Nimmo challenge, whereas in former times Kenneth's nostrils would have flared with outrage and expostulated loudly at the rough treatment, correct challenge or not. Something was wrong with Kenneth and my friend had spotted it and nudged me in mid-recording but I had seen Kenny do a sulk before. He would be bound to burst out of it soon. But he didn't. Richard really shone and so was invited back.

Clement is one of these people who has complete control over his life. He guards it carefully and is very scrupulous about what he answers questions about. I wrote some questions down for him to answer in the second half of his one man show. Rather than doing what most one men show performers do and select them backstage, he brought them on and read them under his breath and discarded them with a quick and sharp NO ! He did not want to talk about his accident in Montana. (A thing that he had commented upon many times in print.) Nor did he want to talk too much about Kenneth Williams. He did call him a "frustrating genius". He also said he had a huge affection for him.

When I look back at the numerous times I have watched that pairing of Freud and Williams, the one impression that gets me most is one of a pair of know-all trouble making swots in an all boys school. They complemented each other so well. They berated each other, they pinched each others subjects, they took each others sides, they attacked others that might attack them. I know of no other pairing in a panel game that was so formidable in the entertain-
ment stakes or in the aggression stakes either.

The gamesmanship in Just A Minute is so essential that manners and etiquette go out of the window. Abandon all niceties all ye who sit on this panel. Literally anything goes. If the humour led to some woman being insulted by Kenneth or Clement then that's the way the cookie crumbled. I think Freud abstained from all that niceness to women bit because Parsons did it so much in the early days. Sometimes it was sickening. I would shout at the radio I would get so angry sometimes. He could not get away with it now because of the political correct mob and the equal opportunites.

Derek and Peter would usually redress the balance on the show if Parsons did not. Normal disorder would then be restored.

Clement used to be a director and trustee of the Playboy Club in London, so he certainly loves female company. A doctor friend of mine was absolutely charmed by him when she met him in the company of a lady friend of hers. She wanted the tea party to go on for ever.

Clemnet is a unique, intelligent, warm and funny man.

He was born the son of Ernst and Lucie Freud on24/4/24. (Taurus.) His father was an architect. His grandfather was Sigmund Freud. On 4/9/50 he married Jill, the 2nd daughter of H.W.Flewett M.A. She was a good friend to C.S.Lewis. They have 3 sons and 2 daughters. It is their daughter Emma, a well-known presenter, who appeared as a guest on Just A Minute in a show recorded after the passing of Kenneth Williams. She was 'forced' to be quite spikey by the patronage of Mr Parsons and Derek Nimmo who reminded her that at one time he used to have her on his knee. She would have none of the usual quarter given by the chairman to first-time guests and played under her own steam. Her wit is as sharp as her father. She never was invited back though. Not surprising was Clement's abstinence from buzzing his daughter whenever she spoke. He left it to the two other panelists.

Clement went to the same school as Nicholas Parsons although he was a prefect in an older year. Derek always said that Nicholas had been afraid of him ever since! Clement found out that Nicholas as chairman gets more money than the panelist and he and Nimmo had great fun teasing him about it. It could not have had much effect on their friendship because Nicholas always spoke for Clement each time he stood for the Liberal candicacy of the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire and Clement held it from 1973 to 1987. He started the first show of the 1988 series by congratulating Clement on his knighthood which he received in the autumn of 1987.

During the 2nd World War he was in the Royal Ulster Rifles. He was also a liaison officer in Nuremburg. Trained as a chef at the Martinez Hotel in Cannes. Once he owned a night club in Sloane Square .He had to introduce the performer having never appeared publicly before . It was here that he honed and developed his unique untheatrical, intimate way of performing.

This night club and dining club experience must have had some help when he got the small part as a croupier in an illegal high class gaming establishment in the 1960 Terry-Thomas black and white comedy film MAKE MINE MINK. This film also starred Hattie Jacques, Athene Seyler, Billie Whitelaw and way down the cast list in a small role, Kenneth Williams. Sadly Kenneth and Clement did not have scenes together. Those were yet to come!

Besides having the distinction of appearing in and winning the most games of JUST A MINUTE since 1967, Clement has had the honour of becoming Rector of Dundee University (1974-1980). This was bestowed upon Nicholas Parsons too at one time. Clement has presided over the old English Ceremony of the Dunmow Flitch which takes place in a small village in Essex. He and his wife have been benefactors of their local Fringe theatre, the Soho Theatre Company. It specialises in encouraging new playwrights to hone their talents. It is also a company that I had worked for, for 3 years.

He has written for virtually every 'quality' English newspaper and magazine. He has written two children's books that were very popular when he turned up to read them on Jackanory, a children's weekday storytelling TV programme. GRIMBLE and GRIMBLE AT CHRISTMAS rate in Harry Potter author JK Rowling's top three children's books. Clement generously sent me a signed copy of one of them. It indeed proved to be, in his own words, "much more useful than a signed photograph". He enjoys sports. He also likes a bit of a flutter , but when he does so he studies the form carefully. He currently owns four racehorses and
he jokingly said not to bet on any of them. A few years back he was in Montana and a horse kicked him, this resulted in a fracture that took ages to heal. For a while he used a stick to help him get out and about.

He dislikes smoking. He also dislikes but makes fun of the inadequacies of modern travel. At one time keenly supported Portsmouth Football Team.

He has had his own cookery show on TV FREUD ON FOOD. Oh how English TV needs him now. We have a glut of second string TV chefs and very, very few of them have the quality of knowledge, the wit, the experience and the necessary calm about the kitchen that Clement has. Thank God for fire extinguishers.

He has also guested on many chat shows and quiz shows on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been to New Zealand and when he was asked what he thought about it, he is meant to have said "I find it hard to say because when I was there it seemed to be shut!"

About his involvement in JUST A MINUTE I can offer a few pointers. He obviously enjoys being in the show, even though it takes up very little of each year and he is a very busy man. It can only take up from 10 to 14 days maximum. Usually they are recorded in places all over Britain and he would have to stay in a hotel or else he loves to travel at night. He is not always on the panel, hence the guestimate of days. I have seen him play JUST A MINUTE many times and compared to the other usually gushy comedy types, he can look very formidable when speaking. Dare anyone challenge this highly intelligent man? They had better have a good reason for doing so. First time players must be so afraid.

His individual, quiet , low voice can lull panelists into a cosy safeness which makes them not pay attention to any rules he might break. Audiences go deathly silent when he speaks. The saying about a pin dropping could easily be applied. Well, maybe a large knitting needle.

At the recordings ,the microphones on each panelist's desk are at mouth height and when he speaks Clement's head is moved slightly more near to it than the other panelists. His head hardly moves from its initial position other than a tiny nod for gentle emphasis. You can barely see his lips move because of him sitting at a slight angle to the audience ,the full beard that he has always had, and the spell that his voice casts upon all listeners .

When he listens and is enjoying the game, his favoured seating position is to sit right back in his chair, with his legs stretched out underneath the desk with hands resting on his stomach. The buzzer in hand. Usually he has a great big smile, eyes that really twinkle and a very hearty quick chuckly laugh .

He has the kind of face that ,in repose, many would call lugubrious, rather in the same way that Alistair Sim's face was. He too, used his face to entertain with equally great effect. His face has often been satirized. Even the picture of Clement that advertises his one man show CLEMENT FREUD ENTERTAINS is a familiar cartoon that heads his column in Saga magazine. His face has been sketched and his head been sculpted by Le Roy Neiman and Jane Hamilton respectively,yet neither have captured the very human warmth of the man.

Out of all of the regulars of JUST A MINUTE, he is the least likely to court publicity or even be photographed. I noticed that when he, Nicholas, Peter Jones and Kit Hesketh Harvey recorded two shows as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival in Loughborough, it was he who rushed out a bit too fast when an impromptu photo shoot occurred on stage after the recording.

I also worked for ten years at the Gate Theatre( another well-known Fringe venue in London) and it was there that Clement and his wife came to see their daughter in the band of the musical version of ELMER GANTRY.

Emma was very easy going and talked about her Dad. She also told me what fun she had had working with Vincent Price and Coral Brown in Jean Anouilh's difficult play ARDELE at the Queen's theatre in the West End. When Clement turned up with his wife Jill, he remembered me as a regular face in the Just A Minute audience. We spoke for a while and he said that he was quite happy to play the competitive panelist in the show. It was a role that Ian Messiter, the show's creator, had suggested for him. And he stuck to it. He remembered the time when, after 18 years of suffering the wicked wit of all the regulars that Stephanie presented Nicholas with a little trophy. He jokingly added, "for bravery". He said that only occassionly did Kenneth put him off his subject by his hi-jinks. Blowing in his ears, nuzzling against his back and making faces at the audience and winding up his arm as if to say "speed it up a bit" and "doesn't he go on!"

When the play ended ,the 80+ people began to converge on the single door exit to the equally miniscule foyer. I could see Clement being caught up in the melee and there was a panic in his eyes. He hurried to me and struck up a conversation as if we had been speaking and by keeping my cool as they jostled around him, I know I helped him overcome his momentary fright. I had never seen him so vulnerable. We spoke of the new, much shorter , series of JUST A MINUTE. What were the BBC up to? From 26 shows per series, to 16, 14, what next? Could this be their way of winding the show down? I hoped not. Clement did not know either. You never knew with any type of entertainment when that comfortable feeling of safeness was going to end.

I am so glad that they have made Graham Norton a regular. He had done a few of the TV ones and had his nose put out of joint by the picky point-gaining ways of Tony Slattery and I thought well that's the end of him, but after a few twin appearances each series, bang he is back with a vengeance. I love Graham Norton so much. A lot of it is because he has brought back that heightened camp that Kenneth could bring to the show at times. Graham has become the King of Outrage. A mantle recently worn by Julian Clary and Lily Savage. He can do no ill in my eyes. I am watching the listings like a hawk to see any London recordings for the new shows recorded in the latter part of this year. It is likely that Graham will be in at least one of them.

The show does so desperately need a regular to take the michael out of the show. Before Just A Minute came along the Beebs panel games were very sedate affairs. All very formal and knowledge based. But now anything goes. Now I think all the Beeb have to do is secure Stephen Fry as a regular and the show will march on into the next decade.

I went to the first proper outside broadcast of the radio show when it went to Clement's old Parliamentary constituency and recall the sparks that flew between Slattery and Merton. Most of it got cut up in the editing room. Wendy Richard was put out by the liberties of indulgent comic invention that the two lads had drawn the show into and hardly smiled for the rest of the recording.

Paul Merton is a clever verbal comedian. He came from pretty humble beginnings and with people who have never been to an advanced level of education they have to be self taught. He has given new blood to Just A Minute and I am very grateful to the producers of the show for the injection.

I think that I must write to Janet Staplehurst and put some suggestions. It is long overdue. Suggest a few panellists to her. Please Miss Staplehurst make Stephen Fry a regular. Bring back Sheila Hancock and Aimi Macdonald. Plus Tony Slattery for my friend in New Zealand too. Words to this effect. I might even suggest a few rounds. Ian Messiter had used some of my suggestions before.

Derek I had a initial dislike to. Only because I was so partisan towards Kenneth, at the start. I felt so sincerely sorry that Kenneth and Peter hardly ever won. It would really annoy me when I was younger. Derek seemed so show offish and full of himself. I was only 11 or 12.

I can only say that when he sat next to Magnus Pyke the first time it was a miracle that they did not hit each other. Both being so effusive and over generous with their arm gestures. I think Nicholas mentioned this at the recording that they would have to watch how they went with their hands. Windmills would be static compared to them.

I know nothing of the origin of Derek's stutter, however he would fix his hands firmly in the small of his back, usually bunching up his evening jacket when he was getting to grips with it in a round. An occassional slurred or strangulated vowel sound would indicate the onset, but only very briefly and always comic and never cruelly.

His introduction would be warmly received and he would take a quiet seat with a slight nod of appreciation. Completely different from Kenneth who would sometimes engage Nicholas en route to his seat with some outrageous banter. The hands would be extended the nostrils and the nosetip punctuating the air with his superiority.

Nimmo was the only male player who actually could put Kenny in his place and sometimes top his jokes with the same heightened comedy. He could be equally loud without being too distasteful to the ears. Several times he called Kenneth "an old poofter" or a "stupid nana " as in the Bernard
Cribbins and Sheila Hancock one I went to. His flair at the game was his sheer believability that whatever he challenged against he was right. A lot of the times he would make up a challenge and many a time he would get away with it. The crafty man. All in fun though. What fun he brought to the show. He was from humble beginnings and certainly loved the trappings of fame. He had a chauffeur and suave was the only word for him. Sometimes the audience would "OOOhhh" at the vibrancy of his outfits, as he entered. Not in a garish Brandreth way. He had style. He really smiled and performed when he was given his subjects. A natural true performer's warmth. Not of the sudden rage of the moment new comedians. He was a true theatrical Ambassador of England. Many pictures in the press showed him wearing top hats. The voice was very actorish at times and I get the feeling he was a member of several clubs. My brother had to do some work on his flat about 15 or so years before he died and he told me that Derek followed him about the house all the time. A bit of a fusspot.Virgoan you see. The ones who put newspapers under cuckoo clocks ...... Derek's own words.

He had his own theatre company and at one time Peter Jones was employed by his company. I think it was part of an offshoot from Ray Cooney's Theatre of Comedy company .He had an affection for Peter and a slightly different relationship with Clement. After the last two of the shows had been in the can as they say the regulars and guests, if invited would repair to the upstairs room of The Sherlock Holmes Pub in Northumberland Avenue. This practise was continued into the 70s and 80s when the show moved to the Paris Studio and the pub was a different one. A practise unheard of today.

I think he had two by-pass operations and certainly after the first he moved slower than usual. His hair was perpetually black with grey only being allowed to show at suitable intervals. He loved to entertain at home and like all the regulars excelled in being a raconteur. He could appreciate jokes - practical or otherwise.

I will finish this with something I think is a true story. Every cab that I go in, I always ask who is the most famous person you have had in your black cab. A completely honest cockney cabbie said that he had had Derek Nimmo and Nerys Hughes in the back of his cab. I knew that they were in a play together at the time and he got the theatre right too. He then proceeded to tell me that the two of them began to act out this love scene in the back of his cab. "All over each other they were," was his description. They must have known what a reaction he would get because Derek had such a gentlmanly image on the screen. I wish I had seen it.

Derek had many visits to your neck of the globe and indeed every where else for that matter. Kenneth once said that "There's him dropping his place names and half of us are lucky to get into Jepatty's in Clapham".

Nimmo could be relied to stoke up the audience if Kenneth was absent from the line up or doing his quiet bit. So with all four of the regulars present you were always looking from one pair of players then over to the other two constantly. Quicker than at any Wimbledon Final. Many times his minute long efforts would be cheered wildly. He would be genuinely surprised because of his stutter would come in when he least expected it to. Yet he continued with such gusto and verve they loved it.

I never really appreciated him as much as I should have. He was a singularly classic comedy stage actor. But I knew his true worth to the game. All of the regulars did. He also had a quirky trick of twiddling his toes in a unique way. A bit of trivia there. I remember Nicholas proudly announcing to the assembled audience at the Radio Theatre that he spoke on behalf of all of them when sending Derek Nimmo our wishes for a speedy recovery. He said that he was on the mend and would be back soon. Strangely enough he had said the same thing on the last of 1988 of the series to be recorded when Kenneth was under the weather and was replaced by Lance Percival in the Christopher Timothy episodes. Like Kenneth, Derek never returned to the game.

Unique comedy giants giving hours of humour and pleasure. Let them not be forgotten.

I am sure Just A Minute holds the record for the world's longest running panel game. 34 years. Outlasting the 30 or so years of My Word and the 27 or 28 years of Twenty Questions. Long may it continue.