Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 20, 2009

Richard Herring on his JAM debut

He wrote this delightful post about his appearance and his love of the show since he was a teenager. I hope he won't mind me reproducing it as it really is very good.

His blog is here.

Today I fulfilled one of my professional ambitions. In fact I think I can now die happy. I was on Radio 4's "Just A Minute".

I have listened to this show my whole life and have particular memories of listening to it as a student in the late 80s in the kitchen of my digs as I made fairly disgusting vegetarian meals. It is, for me, one of the most consistently amusing and entertaining radio programmes of all time and I was a particular fan of Kenneth Williams and his sulky petulance and outrage, which seemed like a sophisticated joke to me at the time, but which was, by all accounts pretty much how he was really feeling.

I may have dreamt of the possibility of one day taking part in the show back then, but if I was being realistic I couldn't have thought it would happen. Indeed it's taken 20 years before I have been asked on, and even then serendipity played a part as I met the producer at a book launch and just boldly stated my desire to be on the show.

And that tactic worked as this afternoon I was waiting backstage at the Pleasance Grand along with Sue Perkins, Paul Merton, Janey Godley and Nicholas Parsons. It was a pretty nerve-wracking place to be and I felt the weight of the history of this programme upon my shoulders. Everyone was kind and supportive, but we all knew that this is a very hard game to play and that the first time on is the hardest of all.

I hadn't practised or prepared anything, but was hopeful that my natural loquaciousness would make me a natural. Such hubris was bound to see me heading for a fall.

Nicholas Parsons had already had one in fact, as he tripped over a speaker during the warm up for the first show. Luckily, despite being 85, he weathered the bump and the shock and was fine. He is a remarkable spry and mentally agile man. I have met him a few times in the past, but it was an honour to work with him. He is the man I used to watch on "Sale of the Century" in the Seventies, by which time his showbiz career was already a quarter of a century old. He had appeared in films and been the straight man to Arthur Haynes. And here he is, still working and still as sharp as a tack, hosting a gameshow that is so complicated that a man half his age (by which I suppose I mean myself) would find it hard to keep up with.

Paul Merton is a master of the game, with over two decades of experience and I knew how amazing Sue Perkins is, as I have heard her on the show a few times. But under all the light-heartedness and fun they both take the game seriously and Sue was ruthless with my many, many mistakes. I was so conscious of not repeating myself that I did not even think about hesitation and I discovered very quickly just how often I um and ah when I'm talking. Although I got some good challenges in and made a couple of good contributions outside of the rigorous structure of the game, I was almost embarrassingly poor at the parlour game itself and didn't manage to speak for more than ten seconds at any point. Luckily, that is all part of the fun of the game and it is the newbie's role to be the useless fall guy. But I did wish I had at least practised it a bit beforehand. Nicholas archly kept reminding people that it was the first time I had played the game, which was his polite code for "Oooh, you're shit. Aaah!" He also subtly mocked my decision to grow a Hitler moustache rather than use a stick on one. But I loved it all.

In fact at times I was enjoying the badinage and the other contributors pieces so much that I forgot I was taking part. It was as if I was sitting in my student kitchen listening along and I had to remind myself that I was meant to be joining in.

Even though I was mainly rubbish and had to sit next to Perkins as she effortlessly spoke in long and lugubrious sentences without fucking up at all I still massively enjoyed it. What an absolutely delightful way to spend an afternoon. I quite envied Nicholas Parsons for the fact that he has had this pleasure for so many decades. I hope I will get another shot at it, but even if I don't, it doesn't matter. I have done it. I've been on Just a Minute. The 20 year old me would be amazed to be told that it would really happen and the 12 year old me would probably have been totally incredulous. But I have taken part in something that is an institution and worked with a man who was working with top comedians 20 years before I was born. I love that criss-crossing of history and the way the baton is passed between the generations and the way you can link your way back through time.

Afterwards we went across town to have a pizza together, which was a nice extra touch and Nicholas and Paul told more stories about the history of the show. Paul Merton was one of the first stand up comedians I ever saw on television when I was maybe 14 and I had been amazed by his improvisational skills when dealing with a heckler. I have bumped into him a few times down the years at various parties, but only dared talk to him when I was pissed and he has always indulged me, joining in with the "joke" of my fandom and need to be drunk to converse with him. He sent me a very nice note when Fist of Fun began to tell me he had enjoyed the show, which meant an awful lot to me. So again it was lovely to work with him for the first time. Afterwards we talked about Charlie Chaplin amongst other things and it was enlightening to get his expert opinions on the subject and gratifying that he picked out many of the same things from the Great Dictator that I had found interesting.

So not only did I have this amazing company and this incredible experience and an ambition fulfilled, I got a free pizza as well. Days like these make it all worthwhile. The show will be broadcast on the 31st August. I hope you will marvel at my ineptitude.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's a very very funny man, I'm sure his first appearance will be good, I hope he gets another shot to go on it when he's less nervous.

6:36 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home