Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

April 18, 2009

48 hours...

It's about 48 hours since the sad news came out. It's been busy for the blog and it's been interesting to see the reaction to Clement's death.

I don't pretend to know how Clement would feel about the reaction. But I've been a little surprised by the intensity of it. Clement's death led the Today programme at 7.00 and they had a second hit after 8 interviewing Stephen Fry, whose kind and exceptionally generous comments have since been repeated everywhere. It seems to have been very prominent on newspaper websites - I obviously can't say how prominent in the papers themselves. As I mentioned, I spent some time collating some of his best remarks to help the BBC out with press requests and I've since seen some of those comments popping up here and there.

I am a little surprised I guess because, JAM apart, Clement didn't strike me as a significant public figure these days. Since leaving Parliament in 1987, he has hardly courted publicity. A spell as a Rector at a Scottish university, some newspaper work, but not much that would give him real profile. Although his time as a Liberal MP has been prominent in the obits, it could be argued that he was not an especially significant politician - a middling figure in a perenially third-placed party that was nowhere near as large as it is today.

The most prominent aspect in the obits has been his 42 years on Just A Minute and the reaction shows how much an institution the show is, and how Clement was so vital to it. Clement's challenges and ability to talk on, essentially his competitivesness was the key counter-balance to the silliness of Kenneth Williams. The show never quite became "The Kenneth Williams Show" because of Clement's skill at the game. Both Kenneth and Paul appreciated Clement's wit - but also I think appreciated the fact that he kept the show going as a game. Paul is of course competitive himself, but he does need someone to compete against or he begins to sound like a bully. He alludes to this on the most recent Just A Classic Minute CD, lamenting turning up to a show without Clement on the panel.

That was the magic that Clement brought to the show.

The reaction too has been very kindly. Clement seems to have had long-standing feuds with various people and there has been some interest in whether his brother will turn up to his funeral. But these comments are very much in a minority.

Many people have used the cliche that Clement is irrepaceable. There are others who bring gravitas, competitiveness and an interest in the rules to the programme - Tim Rice, Gyles Brandreth, Sheila Hancock... maybe Tony Hawks. I'd guess we may be hearing more from them.

But he is the last of the "original" gang of four on the programme, and it leaves Nicholas rather isolated - he is now 85, and will often now be 30 to 40 years older than the next oldest performer on the show. At 85 of course he must be thinking about when he would like to finish up - can he want to continue into his 90s? There must be a real chance that Nicholas's retirement or passing would be the end of the programme.

But the reaction also tells us something else - that Just A Minute has become an English institution. People love it, adore it, feel they've grown up with it. It's also a big part I'm sure in the continuing affection towards Kenneth Williams. Like Clue, I think it will be a hard show to shut down.

Clement had the reputation of being a grump, humourless, doleful, rude. I met him once, on a train going to a recording. My friend had a fit. All other passengers sat doing nothing. Clement enquired after him and came to his aid with assistance. He didn't have to. Not the actions of someone who had no interest in his fellow man, or who was selfish and uninterested. Thanks for that Clement, and thanks for all the fun you've given me.


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