As previously reported, the team for August 4th is Clement, Gyles Brandreth, Marcus Brigstocke and Dave Gorman
A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute
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.
She is just three months shy of her 83rd birthday and plans are afoot to give her the ultimate accolade of a state funeral.
But while the long-term proposals surrounding Margaret Thatcher may seem a touch morbid, I can reveal that the former Prime Minister herself is in good spirits.
So much so that she has taken on a new lease of life by embracing the company of an unusual and eclectic bunch of dining companions.
The colourful group ranges from veteran actors including Sir Donald Sinden and Robert Hardy to figures as notable as the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
Other admirers include broadcaster Nicholas Parsons and yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, both of whom have joined the dinners organised in Lady Thatcher's honour by the distinguished portraitist Michael Noakes.
The latest was held at the Garrick Club earlier this summer.
"I originally organised some get-togethers at my home in St John's Wood in London with people I knew Margaret would enjoy meeting," says Noakes, who became a friend of Lady Thatcher after first painting her while she was still in office in 1990.
"She had met nearly all of them before and enjoyed their company. Her late husband Denis knew and liked them all and that is a link."
Six years ago, Lady Thatcher was advised by her doctors to make no more public speeches after suffering a series of small strokes. But Noakes, whose portrait of Lady Thatcher as Prime Minister sold at a Tory fundraiser for £400,000, describes her as "very chatty".
He has now embarked on painting her for a third time in a commission for the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It is due to be finished next April in time for when the hospital's new Margaret Thatcher Infirmary is completed.
Says Noakes: "During our sitting she does talk about her time in government, but she likes to meet ordinary folk and takes pleasure in the company of actors and others outside politics.
"I don't think people realise how kind and considerate she is. When I took along Nicholas Parsons, Margaret got terribly excited after she discovered that his father was the family GP in Grantham and had treated all her family. She was so pleased."
From The Daily Telegraph of July 10
For an extra point, why are panel games so popular?
Over the next two days, Serena Davies can find almost nothing to watch except comedy quiz shows – which, she says, are a peculiarly British pastime
Cricket, drizzle, Yorkshire pudding: some things are quintessentially British. To that list, you could add one TV format – the comedy panel game. BBC2’s Mock the Week is back for a sixth series tonight; tomorrow, a second innings of Would I Lie to You? begins on BBC1. Also tomorrow, there are mid-series editions of BBC2’s QI and Channel 4’s 8 out of 10 Cats. Few formats can boast such abundance, loyalty or staying power –
and this in a week when the Big Daddy of them all, Have I Got News for You (next series: number 36), isn’t even on.
Dara O’Briain, presenter of Mock the Week and past participant on many another example of the genre, from Never Mind the Buzzcocks to HIGNfY, thinks there are so many panel shows because, as he puts it, “They have a format that can be pointed at anything.” He says someone’s even come up with a comedy panel show about sudoku, though that claim proves hard to verify.
In the USA, cheap television is a national pastime, yet panel shows are unheard of. “I think Americans like their funny delivered in a different way,” says O’Briain. “They do a lot more late night chat shows in America: the equivalent to getting on a panel show is getting on Letterman or The Daily Show. But we prefer the parlour game element of the panel show; it suits our dry humour. Whereas Italians like the giant variety show on a Saturday, we like people being wry and sardonic about stuff.”
For the visiting guests, a panel show can be a less intimidating prospect than a chat show appearance. “8 Out of 10 Cats is very celebratory. We want the celebrity guests to have a good time,” says Derek McLean, the series producer on both that show and Would I Lie to You?. “We don’t rip them apart. That’s very much at the front of our minds.”
Brits have also got panel shows down to a fine art. The genre plays to the strengths of many of our most popular comedians – spontaneity, and the ability to improvise. Viewers of BBC3’s Rob Brydon’s Annually Retentive – in which researchers for a fictional panel game sat down before filming and fed one-liners to the guests – might imagine that all shows are scripted. But the better shows are a lot less scripted than
you might think (barely at all in the case of Mock the Week and Would I Lie to You?, although the participants do arrive with a few jokes in their back pockets). “Basically, panel shows are a chance to do stand-up on TV,” says O’Briain. “There are three hundred comics out there who are desperate to get on television, but there are very few shows where you can just do stand-up – so you end up doing it in little chunks on a panel show.” Experienced stars such as David Mitchell perform on so many panel shows because, as O’Briain puts it, “David can produce content out of air.”
It’s the talents of these comedians that make or break a show. “The casting is so important,” says producer McLean. “Ultimately what you hope when a show’s successful is that the format almost falls away. All you notice is how the characters interact and you’re almost not aware there’s a format anymore.”
The most famous example of this is Have I Got News for You, where the banter between team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton – and their torture of each week’s guest host – provides the dynamic of the show, and the discussion of the week’s news takes second place.
“There’s an argument that what these shows really are is soap opera, as you get to know the personalities involved,” says O’Briain. “There should be as much spontaneous stuff as possible, otherwise you could just email in a series of one-liners and actors could read them out.”
So the panel show may be a bit of a con, bluffing us into thinking we’re watching a show about the news, music, opinion polls or, er, sudoku – when really they’re sparring about nothing. (“Comedians are very lazy, remember,” says Mack, on this point). But with a dozen or so currently thriving in the schedules, the time when we’ll be watching actors reading out emails instead seems a long way off.