Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

February 28, 2006

musical chairs

In his last four recordings, Gyles has now sat at a different seat each time.

January 2004 - GYLES BRANDRETH, Nick Revell, Maria McErlane, Fred MacAulay

July 2005 - Paul Merton, Clement Freud, Jenny Eclair, GYLES BRANDRETH

January 2006 - Paul Merton, GYLES BRANDRETH, Sue Perkins, Graham Norton

February 2006 - Paul Merton, Clement Freud, GYLES BRANDRETH, Tony Hawks

The seating order has a certain order to it. The far left chair hosts Paul Merton - the one beisde it Clement Freud. The woman guest is usually in the second from right seat, while Graham Norton is in the far right chair. Tony Hawks will be in one of the far seats, depending on whether Paul or Graham is also on the show.

So it's unusual to see someone move between all four seats.

February 25, 2006

Audience - get less involved!

The audience has always been a player in Just A Minute. Nicholas used to appeal to them a lot to make up his mind for him and still does sometimes - to be fair today's generation is less likely to challenge him than those of 20-30 years ago. Kenneth Williams in particular played to the audience shamelessly both on and off air as it were. At the one recording I went to we were told to be noisy and vigorous.

At the recording a couple of weeks ago, priducer Claire Jones passed on an instruction to the audience not to boo challenges and decisions. She told the audience this was at the request of JAM superstar Paul Merton.

Listeners will have noticed that Paul has been booed a few times recently over various decisions. Paul likes to win, or perhaps more accurately stay in the game, and there's no doubt that he is very good at being first to the buzzer.

Is Paul being too sensitive? I think so. The audience booing is always good-natured and is just them signalling their support for the person who is the underdog or in the middle of a good story. Generally Paul seems to me not to challenge someone in the middle of a good story - he has better comic timing than that. So usually the booing simply recognises the fact that Paul is a considerably more experienced player than anyone else, and that he usually dominates a show both in terms of speaking time and points. That makes an audience prepared to listen to someone else.

Paul despite his somewhat gloomy facade has always been a popular performer with the audiences. Perhaps he's not used to being booed. But I'd be asking him to be realistic. A bit of audience interaction adds considerably to the show - if you don't think so, perhaps the show could be recorded in a studio without them!

And there's always been something of the pantomime about JAM. And everyone likes to boo a villain. Paul shouldn't mind this - after all the truth is everyone knows he's the best. They probably wouldn't boo him if that wasn't the case.

I've come all the way from Great Portland Street

From the Camden New Journal


Fears that Regent's Park could become Central Park flanked by skyscrapers.

The former home of Carry On star Kenneth Williams is to be bulldozed as part
of a controversial development in Euston and Regent's Park being
spearheaded by renowned architect Sir Terry Farrell.

Williams' former appartment in Marlborough House in Onasburgh Street, will be
demolished to make way for new buildings ,including a high-rise residential
block dubbed 'Terry's Tower'.

Apparently it went to a knife'edge vote of 5-6 last Thursday amongst
Councillors in the Town Hall despite the tower wrecking views of Regent's

Comedian Kenneth lived for almost 20 years there. The building was, after his
death, fitted with an English Heritage blue plaque in his honour .

One of the new buildings in the complex is to be a community arts centre and
a youth theatre.

February 17, 2006


One of JAM's most regular - and most silent - participants is about to finish with the show.

Janet Staplehurst has been blowing the whistle and keeping score at Nicholas's side since 1999 and has now blown the whistle more often than anyone since the show's founder Ian Messiter.

An interesting point - since Ian signed off, no male has had their lips on the whistle. Could a man be Janet's replacement? On history it seems unlikely, but surely in this day and age there is no reason why these positions should be regarded as a job for a woman?

The diva

Nice piece here on Wendy Richard....

'In the early days all I ever got were crying scenes'

As EastEnders turns 21, Wendy Richard tells Emma John about Pauline Fowler, cancer and why British TV comedy is rubbish

Thursday February 16, 2006
The Guardian

Wendy Richard's washing machine broke down once. Forced to haul her washing to the laundrette, she discovered she didn't know how to use the machines. "There was a row of women sitting behind me and I knew their eyes were boring into the back of my head," she remembers. "Do you know, not one of them stepped forward to help me."

Not surprising, really. It would take a brave person to presume to tell Pauline Fowler, Richard's alter-ego and the high-priestess of Albert Square's coin-op, anything about a rinse cycle. It also shows, as the show celebrates its 21st anniversary, how difficult it is to separate the two women. Richard is one of only two actors to have been with the soap since day one (true 'Enders fans will know that the other is Adam Woodyatt, who plays Ian Beale) and to mark the occasion, Fowler is finally marrying again, after 10 years of widowhood.

Unlike the bride, Richard was not keen on the idea, worrying that it was betraying her husband Arthur's memory. "I thought Pauline would be like her mum Lou Beale - she'd never have remarried. I thought she would sit in her chair in the corner and watch her grandchildren grow up." Eventually convinced by the executive producer, Richard nevertheless battled - successfully - for Fowler to keep her famous surname.

Working out where Richard ends and Fowler begins is not always easy. They have the same tight smile and the same hard, London vowels. To be fair, you're unlikely to catch Fowler wearing a fur coat, smoking through a cigarette-holder or giggling "I regard champagne as a necessity, not a luxury"; but even the once-drab housewife has moved on from cardigan couture ("She's even wearing eyeshadow now," points out Richard). And, of course, Fowler can be a fearsome woman. I've been warned that Richard, too, is someone you cross at your peril. She guards the role of EastEnders' chief matriarch jealously, and directors have been known to feel her wrath if the Fowler fruit bowl is out of place.

So when we meet in her dressing room she is warmer than I expected, showing photographs from her wallet and sharing shopping tips. She jokes about her recent fan mail from the US, where Are You Being Served is still very popular. Yet there's something unavoidably steely about Richard. She has married and divorced three times, and chose not to have children for the sake of her career. She carried on working through not one but two cases of breast cancer, shooting scenes in the morning and having radiotherapy in the afternoon.

"I've always looked upon it that your work is the most important thing," she says with a shrug. "When I think of how hard my late mother worked to raise the money to send me to drama school ... she passed away in 1972 but I still feel she's watching over me and seeing a return for her hard-earned money."

While hundreds have passed through the Square on their way to TV fame or gossip-column oblivion, Richard has never seriously considered leaving. She feels too loyal to Fowler - "she's all I've thought about for a third of my life and I'm very fond of her" - and she cares, too, about the programme's educational function. Richard is particularly proud of the way the soap handled Mark Fowler's HIV, raising awareness of an illness that was still the subject of much ignorance when EastEnders tackled it in 1991. She does feel sorry for Fowler, though. "Since we started Pauline's had one problem after another but they're all problems that people have had in real life." She quickly adds: "Probably not all happening to them."

It's a natural sympathy for someone she sees, like herself, as a survivor. Richard's parents were licensees and ran a pub in Mayfair, but her father killed himself when she was only 12. Because he had been a freemason, a place was found for her at the Royal Masonic School for Girls, a "very strict" establishment. For a while she wanted to be a continuity girl, then decided on drama school. To fund her way, Richard worked as a junior in the fashion department at Fortnum & Mason. How prescient. After her breakout role in Gumshoe with Albert Finney, she was back in a department store, as the flirty Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served?

The show ran for 10 series and more than 12 years. "German Week was one of my favourite episodes because Mollie [Sugden] was so funny," she recalls. "Not only am I out of step with everyone else, I'm laughing my head off in the background. She was such a good sport, when you think of the things they used to do to her, and what she had to wear ..."

Richard is militant about the show's oft-criticised innuendo: "self-cleaning jokes," as she calls them. "Political correctness had not raised its ugly head and British humour was still funny." She is damning of the current crop of home-grown comedy, with the exception of Julia Davis's Nighty Night. "Otherwise I'm afraid it's American TV all the way. It's awful because at one time Britain led the way and the BBC made the finest comedy programmes ever but they don't seem to do that any more." What does she think the problem is? "Television companies are very ageist and they think only young people can write humour. That is not so."

Richard lives a quiet life in Marylebone with John, her partner and personal assistant. She's not a great socialiser and is in bed by 9.30pm; she does watch EastEnders sometimes to check if her any of her scenes have been cut. The only thing she wishes for at the moment is a dog, to fill the absence left by the death of her Cairn Terrier Shirley Brahms II (Shirley certainly isn't forgotten; she's cast in bronze at the top of the staircase). In the meantime, she lavishes her affection on Fowler's terrier Betty - she even bought her a ruff in New York to wear at the wedding.

With no family of her own, her EastEnders co-workers have become "very precious" to her. She has watched Woodyatt grow up from a teenager to a 36-year-old and James Alexandrou, who plays her son Martyn, has been acting alongside her since he was 10. She says she has become very protective of them all.

But there have been rumours of friction with various cast members, from Leslie Grantham (Den) and Bill Treacher (Arthur) in the grand old days of the soap, to Barbara Windsor, whose arrival as Queen of the Vic was said to have put Richard's nose out of joint. All false, says Richard. "I've known Barbara since I was 18 and I've never had a cross word with her or indeed anyone in the show at all," she says, her tone becoming flinty.

She takes criticism hard. "I do get picked on in the papers for the fact I have bags under my eyes and lines on my face. Well I'm awfully sorry but I have had cancer twice and you can't come through that without it leaving a mark on you. But I have never had a bad critique for my acting. So I think I must have handled it pretty well over the years." She admits she has had plenty of emotions to draw on, and laughs that she has always been a "good cryer", which was not always a blessing. "In the early days, when they found out, all you ever got were crying scenes."

No wonder Fowler's been so unhappy, I say. Richard counters that she has had her more light-hearted moments; she particularly enjoyed last year's holiday camp. "But of course that ended in Pauline learning that Mark had died, and that was an awful lot of crying." Doesn't all this get depressing? She nods: "You do sometimes think, I wonder how long I can keep this up for."

But the wedding, she believes, offers Fowler a real chance of happiness: "I think she has been give a new lease of life." Whether Richard will follow in her footsteps and marry again, she doesn't know. But it seems their lives will be intertwined for a while yet. And she's keen that they should both be understood. "They're not hard people. Do make that clear, they're not hard people at all. But they are survivors".

February 11, 2006

Upcoming shows

Teams for the last two recordings of the current season.

For the recording next week at the Shaw Theatre in London - Paul Merton, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Chris Neill and Liza Tarbuck.

For the recording later in the month in Exeter - Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Tony Hawks and Gyles Brandreth.

Points to note...

* my suggestion that Gyles appear more often is taken up.
* no Linda Smith this season - or Ross Noble.

February 08, 2006

Paul v Graham

I'm always interested in the relationship between the major players. Paul and Graham are the biggest names among the current players. They often appear together. But they seldom seem to interact. Perhaps there is a certain rivalry. After all both are usually the key person in their own shows. All of the Graham Norton shows are essentially about Graham Norton, and although Paul plays in teams on Have I Got News For You, and the Comedy Store Players, in both he is clearly the major player in both environments. Of course their styles are completely different and you sense despite any rivalry a mutual respect.

Graham is always a great pleasure to have on the programme. Before he started doing his chat show five days a week, he was doing half of the recordings each year. It would be great if he could start doing that again as the show needs that outrageousness he brings. I hope he does one of the remaining two recordings this season.


The writer has to admit to not being the greatest fan of Gyles Brandreth as a player on JAM. When he first appeared in the 80s, he was clearly helped by being a close personal friend of both Kenneth Williams and Derek Nimmo. In those intimidating times, not being in awe to those two was a huge plus for him. And of course he was able to keep going and compete at the game much better than most.

But to me he was too prone to recycling the same material again and again, particular rhymes and anecdotes always seemed to come out whether or not there was much relevance to the subject at hand.

But in his two appearances this year Gyles has been particularly good. He's had new material and confidence, he's been funny and able to compete well with the powerful personalities of Paul and Graham.

There's an argument for having Gyles on the programme more regularly. His style is reminiscent of Derek Nimmo's, and that puts him in contrast with everyone else currently playing the game. A fun combination of a memory for anecedote, and personal recollection, makes him good fun to listen to.

There is another reason for promoting Gyles at least to the position of semi-regular. In a couple of months, Nicholas Parsons will turn 83. Clement Freud will turn 82. Both belie their age and seem if anything more energetic and busy than ever. At least one can say with certainty they show no signs of wanting to start taking life more quietly.

Nevertheless when you're in your mid-80s, there must at least be questions about whether they will still both be attending most or all recordings in five years' time. For either gentleman Gyles would be a good replacement. You could see him in a Clementine role, the older head who likes to see the game played properly, with an element of gravitas.

He is also the most likely replacement for Nicholas if the person is picked from among the current players - not a certainty of course. Gyles has experience as a presenter, he understands comic timing, he is a powerful enough personality to impose himself on the other big mouths, and, not unimportantly, he would be a good target for the barbs and jokes that Nicholas is currently the recipient of. And although he has a mix of work, none of it seems so pressing that he wouldn't be prepared to commit to 10 Sundays a year and the occasional promotional appearance.

It will be interesting to see if Gyles is used again in the winter season. Maybe he will even do one of the remaining recordings this season.

February 03, 2006

Oooohhhh Missus!

Graham Norton is the most outrageous of the current JAM male guests. Jenny Eclair is the most outrageous of the women. So with the old faithfuls, Paul and Clement, that makes for a good combo. And it was! Notab;y the bad language round that was described so well by Keith in a post a couple of weeks ago didn't make it to air!

Paul and Graham are back on Monday, joined by Sue Perkins and Gyles "Tommy Two-Ways" Brandreth.