Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

July 23, 2008

Nicholas - views on money

This is from The Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Parsons: Fame and Fortune

Nicholas Parsons, 84, presented the long-running ITV show Sale of the Century in the 1970s and still hosts BBC Radio 4's Just a Minute, which he has been presenting since 1967. He lives with his wife, Annie, near Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire. He talked to Mark Anstead.

How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?

My parents were very frugal in the way they brought us up. My father was a successful doctor who earned a good living and we lived very comfortably, but they were both very meticulous about money. My father had elderly parents and lost his own father when he was young, so he grew up having to be terribly careful. And there is Scottish blood on my father's side, and although the Scots are not mean they do have a good sense of the value of money. In many ways he was generous, but he was always very careful with electric lights and things like that.

Did that make you cautious with money?

I think an early training in those things stays with you, but I am much more liberal because I've earned more money and I've allowed myself to be less conscious about it. But I do like to get value for money, so I research the price of things.

Now that you are better off, are you happier?

I don't think having money equates with happiness. Success and the love of my family and friends is what makes me happy.

When I was a young man my parents stopped me being an actor and were determined I should become an engineer. I did that, but I eventually gave it up and became a struggling actor with no assistance or encouragement and living on a pittance. I couldn't even afford to buy nice fruit in a grocer's because I was literally counting every penny, but I was happier with hardly any income as an actor than a better income as an engineer. I was doing the work I wanted to do.

Does talking about money embarrass you?

I was brought up when it was considered very bad form to talk about money, particularly at mealtimes. Even the price of things wouldn't have been spoken around the table when I was younger, but nowadays people seem to talk about nothing else. I don't think there's anything wrong with it (I've no idea really why it used to be considered bad manners), but I won't discuss how much I earned for any of my jobs.

Are you good with money or irresponsible?

I've never been clever at investments. In the past I've invested in stocks and shares and one thing I have learned is you've got to follow market trends. If your shares go up, you sell when they go up and then buy something else just coming up. But I would buy things and leave it there and then they'd go up and down again and I still hadn't sold. So I didn't make money.

How do you separate responsibility for finance with your partner?

We discuss every financial decision openly and we're very together, but we don't operate a joint bank account. It gives Annie much more sense of security to have her own bank account and her own money - she can spend what she likes and make whatever contribution she wants. I employ my wife as my secretary and I like it that if she wants to spend what she earns, she doesn't have to come and ask me.

Have you learned any difficult lessons about money through mistakes?

I bought my last property near Burford in the Cotswolds 30 years ago, but I made the mistake of buying before selling the house we were moving from. So I had to have one of those ghastly bridging loans that nearly ruined me - interest rates went shooting up and it was a desperately worrying time. I learned a valuable lesson the hard way, and when in 2004 we moved again, I made sure we sold first and put the money in a high-interest account. We went with ING, who were offering the best rate at the time. We were then able to camp in my very small flat in London, where I stay when I'm working in the city, while looking for our next home.

Of course, the value of our house in Princes Risborough has probably gone down since we bought it, but that doesn't matter if it's your main home and you haven't got a mortgage.

What do you hate about dealing with money?

Trying to understand everything that has to be put together for [Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs]. I have a good accountant who does my company accounts and goes through everything with me and explains it, but I often wonder why we can't just simply declare the amount that came in, the amount that went out and the balance left.

He says they don't want to see it that way, and understanding the devious minds who've worked out how accounts must be presented defeats me - it's a world of its own.

What has been your best buy?

I have a huge pine desk in my office with lots of drawers. I saw it for sale when I was doing a pantomime in Wolverhampton 20 years ago for only £800, which I thought was a very reasonable price. I do all my work at this desk although it's really nothing special - it has a lot of personal associations. When I die it is probably too big for any of my family to want it.

What is your most treasured possession?

I've always liked clocks. I've got one or two old grandfather clocks, but I've got a particular one from my father. He used to call it a Cromwell clock, but it's actually a lantern clock. It's very old and he had it on a bracket in the hall and it wasn't going. I took it away to my little workshop, cleaned it up and got it started again and before he died he insisted I have it. It's been present throughout my childhood and even my daughter associates it with her childhood because she remembers its loud chime. My father bought it for seven shillings and sixpence and it's probably worth £2,000 now, but I'd never sell it.

And your worst buy?

I recently bought four new wireless phones and they don't always work. They cost £120 for the four. When things go wrong I expect them to be repaired, but I am told, "No - it would be cheaper and easier to buy new ones."

I was brought up at a time when everything was repairable, so I have difficulty coming to terms with our disposable age. When something breaks down, we throw it away and the landfill sites get filled up, which seems wrong to me.

How do you prefer to pay for things: cash, card or cheque?

I always pay by credit card and get Airmiles, but I never get into debt. That to me is the craziest thing of all, because if you're in debt you are ever owing. That's why I paid off my mortgages when I could afford to and now I make my credit cards work for me.

Do you have many credit cards?

I've tried to simplify it - I just have two. I have a business MasterCard with NatWest and a private Amex card. You can't use Amex in many places, but it's useful when you go abroad.

How do you tip? Are you an easy tipper or do they have to work hard with you?

I think tipping is one of the huge embarrassments of life. You don't go into a shop, buy something and tip the man behind the counter afterwards. If someone does a job you expect to pay the price, not to have to pay extra on top. But if someone gives extra service over and above the call of duty, then I'll tip.

I gave a tip to a man who came to service my boiler because he was very nice and he explained it all to me. He was very surprised, because he doesn't normally get anything extra.

But in restaurants the tip doesn't always go to the waiter - it often goes to management. It is an embarrassing situation.

Do you invest in Isas?

As I get older, I find I don't want to gamble on the stock market because by the time shares have gone up in value I might be too old to benefit. But I have tucked away money for my old age in Isas because then at least I get any growth tax-free.

Do you use high-interest savings accounts?

My private account is with NatWest but my company account is with Cater Allen and I think I get a very high rate of interest there. And then I still have my ING account, so I have options.

Do you bank online?

No, I'm not very computer literate and I'm not very comfortable with the idea of banking online. Maybe it's something to do with the way I was brought up and the way I have learned to think - I get unsettled when I think about what can be done without me having to be there.

Do you use a financial adviser?

I speak to my financial adviser only very rarely because I don't have any more stocks and shares and only a simple portfolio of Isa funds.

What has been your favourite holiday?

The Maldives. My wife and I usually like going somewhere new to explore, but 10 years ago we went to the Maldives and it was a little island on its own with a fabulous villa and wonderful swimming. You could just switch off entirely - I found it so relaxing.

Do you think pensions are a good idea? If not, why not?

We didn't take out pensions when we were young. My wife, who is younger than me, used to work for a bank and she asked me why. People just didn't advise you to do it. Showbusiness people are casual with money - one job finishes and you never know when another is going to start and you might have weeks or months with no income coming in. Instead, I took out life insurance so if anything happened to me there was capital available.

Then I changed accountant and he encouraged me to start a pension late in life.

I happened to have two extraordinarily good engagements at that time and I started a fund. I cashed it in when I was 75, so I've now got a little mini-pension, but I am still working.


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