Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

February 11, 2007

Sheila Hancock, Queen of Just A Minute

In the 35th anniversary special, Paul Merton, speaking about JAM in the year 2050, suggested Sheila would become Queen, adding "and everyone's so happy because she looks so regal on the stamps!" It's certainly true that there is something regal about Sheila, and I've never met a JAM fan who disliked her.

Sheila appeared on the second ep and although she's never been a regular she is still doing the show every now and then. The producers would like her to do the show more often, but the problem is that, even in her mid-70s, Sheila is heavily in demand for acting work and it's difficult to find a JAM date that suits her.

The affection for Sheila is surely deserved - she's a genuinely nice person, but it's worth remembering that in her younger days she was hardly everyone's cup of tea. A partisan socialist, she could be stroppy and independent.

Famously she was one of few who stood up to Kenneth Williams and he loved her for it. He often told the story of his playing the prank where she opened a wardrobe and he fell out of it, as if a dead body. Sheila's response: "Oh get up you silly sod!" Kenneth and Sheila were friends for the rest of his life.

But Sheila appeared on JAM before Kenneth. She appeared regualrly for 20 years. When Kenneth died, she was asked to appear again - she said it would be too emotional for her and she couldn't. But in 2001, when appearing with Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You, he mentioned a return to her. She agreed and next year she was back. She worried she wouldn't be able to do it again - but in typical Sheila fashion she picked up where she left off and actually won her first game back.

What does she bring to JAM? Firstly a competitive spirit - she is the best of our eight Queens of the game at winning. She is fluent, she can pick up someone else's error, and she can argue the point with anyone. Sheila is not a comedian but she is quite capable of the barbed remark. She's got a good memory for anecdotes. And she has a great laugh - which she does often.

And she's nice, on a show where no many of them are nice.

Sheila did the 35th anniversary show almost as a representative of the old days. But she can foot it with the new generation too. Still it's her relationships with Kenneth in particular, but also Peter and Derek that are highlights of her shows.

We'd love to have Sheila on more often. Perhaps she will take up fewer acting gigs and be able to do the show more often. Her recent book about her marriage to John Thaw and her grieving his death was a best-seller - can we hope for more autobiographical work from her? The book is emotional and beautifully written. It seems unfair someone should be such a great writer and actor - and JAM panellist. Hail Sheila, Queen of JAM.

Jammy facts about Sheila

Appeared on the show in 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1081, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 2002, 2003 and 2005.

Has won 23 of her 78 games, a 31 percent success rate, making her the most successful of our eight queens.

Has appeared most often with Kenneth Williams (64 times), Clement Freud (52 times ) and Derek Nimmo (45 times).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

we can't possibly ask a women so in demand for acting gigs to stop working just so she can appear on JAM? I mean one of the only reasons that Kenneth continued doing JAM was because regular acting gigs became fewer and fewer, especially for his brand of comedy, the same with Derek Nimmo even though he became a great producer of plays and so on. even Peter Jones lovingly remarked that and joked and poked fun at the fact that in the absence of regular work, he did JAM.

4:45 pm  
Blogger Dean said...

I'm not sure why I've stirred you up - all I meant was that as Sheila is now in her mid-70s, she will probably start to work less - most people do at that age - and at that point she might be more available to do JAM. That seems logical to me.

As for Kenneth, to say "one of the only reasons that Kenneth continued doing JAM was because regular acting gigs became fewer and fewer" is rubbish. When Kenneth started doing JAM he was hugely busy with a weekly TV show, and regular film and stage and other radio work, and he continued to find time for JAM. And he continued to be very busy until the late 70s. Despite the occasional complaints he made, clearly he enjoyed doing it and felt it worth his time - after all in his latter years he did no work that he didn't want to do.

8:48 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it didn't come out right. What I meant was that most actors love what they do, which is why they keep working. in the interview Nicholas gave, he himself said that he loves doing JAM in spite of the fact that people regularly ask him if he has ever thought of retiring, or that some people do less and less work, but he still chooses to do the show because he loves what he does.

Most actors love to keep busy, whether it be stage work, film, or television or radio, yes some of them do wish to slow down sometimes, or take a break, but sometimes stepping away from acting is either a personal choice for most actors or its a decision thats forced upon them by something else.

I'm actually surprised that Sheila is still as active as an actress even though she is in her mid-70's, and I'm quite happy about that. Do I wish she could appear more of JAM, yes I do, but I wouldn't ask her to pass on acting jobs just so she can appear on JAM.

7:11 am  

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