Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 23, 2009

The top 20 of JAM history

One of my first blog posts was my all-time top 20. Three and a half years later I think enough time has gone by for it to be worthwhile to repeat the exercise. I think too it's a good time with the death of Clement Freud clearly being something of a turning point in the series. Just as were the deaths of Kenneth Williams in 1988, and of Derek Nimmo and Peter Jones within a year of each other. It's interesting to try and assess Clement against all the others at this point.

Such a list can only be subjective - this is basically just my opinion. But as you'll see I've tried to consider long-term impact - you get marked up if you appear more often, and I've also tried to factor in general fan opinion. This of course is hard to specify but I've read a lot of emails over the years so feel I have a bit of a feeling for this.

This time I haven't included at all people who only appeared a few times so people like Peter Cook and Richard Murdoch, while still personal favourites, have fallen off my list. Maybe I'll do a separate list of people who were spectacular but short-lived. I also decided to make it a radio only list. Last time I included Tony Slattery but this time I don't feel it right to compare starring in the TV editions with the tougher competition of the radio show.

Feel free to argue with me in the comments.

20th: Alfred Marks (1973-87) (2006 rating - 18th)

I feel that Alfred had he appeared more often might have ben rated much higer because he had all the skills - sharp, quick witted, full of stories. I like it that he never just waffles, he always has something funny to say. One of the few from his era who was real competition for Kenneth, Derek, Peter and Clement. Still, 14 shows over 15 years saw him marked down.

19th: Marcus Brigstocke (2004-8) (2006 rating - not rated)

It's odd to me that Marcus hasn't appeared this year. Does he not want to do the show any more? If so it's a real shame because he has all the skills to be a Paul-type champ at the game. Funny, competitive, sharp, original. His last two shows though were a little disappointing.

18th: Wendy Richard (1988-2003) (2006 rating - 17th)

Wendy's untimely passing this year has had me reflect a little more on her contribution. I do like a lot about Wendy. I mentioned last time the air of drama she brought to the show which is still almost unique - Kenneth Williams is the only other one really. She is also the first woman - perhaps still the only one - to really go "in your face" in the banter and arguments. Against her I guess is that she is not a genuine comedian and has a limited range in making up stuff - her doggy stories are just a bit too prominent in her talking. Still I do feel that she should have appeared more often than she did. If she had done say one or two recordings a year, she would have been contributing something a bit different and would have seemed less repetitive.

17th: Kit Hesketh-Harvey (1994-) (2006 rating - 20th)

I've marked Kit up a bit on last time because I like his distinctive style, his facility with words, his ability to conjure up interesting images and tease the others. I think he should be doing the show more often.

16th: Sheila Hancock (1967-2009) (2006 rating - 13th)

I do love Sheila and think she has a played a major role in the show's history. She stood up to the blokes in the first 20 years, often winning, never letting their comments get on top of her. I did feel her shows this year weren't as great as she has been in the past, and like Wendy she is not a genuine comedian. But you can't help but love her.

15th: Gyles Brandreth (1982-) (2006 rating - not rated)

I wrote about Gyles recently at some length so won't repeat all that. But I do feel he is the big improver of the time since the last list. He's got greater range, and is one of few who dares to compere with Paul Merton in the banter. I really do feel that he will go on to become a lot more closely associated with the show, either through even more frequent appearances as a panellist, or as the next chairman.

14th: Tony Hawks (1992-) (2006 rating - 14th)

I see I ranked him exactly the same last time and I see I said "Tony is Mister Reliable. He always has something to say and he plays a full part in any show. But he doesn't ever seem to have the killer line that keeps you laughing again and again." I still feel that way. He's good, reliable, but not a real star. I've marked him up because he has dome so many shows - his 100th is coming up in a few weeks.

13th: Jenny Eclair (1994-) (2006 rating - 8th)

I've marked Jenny down a bit on last time because I don't feel she as been as involved as she was, in recent years. But she's still distinctive, original, very funny, and I always look forward to hearing her on the show.

12th: Julian Clary (1997-2009) (2006 rating - 19th)

Like with Gyles I feel Julian has really improved in the last few years. His full-on camp makes him stand out even from the other camp performers. He's always funny and can often come out with Peter Jones-like one-liners that make him really special. Could still get better I think.

11th: Derek Nimmo (1967-99) (2006 rating - 16th)

I think I was a bit harsh on Derek last time. I think I should have ranked him higher because he was such a mainstay of the show over so many years. Still I found him to be a bit of a hog, grabbing points even though he had little to say sometimes. Still very funny, and loveable.

10th: Linda Smith (1999-2005) (2006 rating - 12th)

Linda died just after my last rating, and I was a bit surprised quite how popular she was with the fans. I still get many people telling me how they missed her. I marked her down a little because she was quiet, but those shafts of wit were distinctive and are still missed. She deserves to be in the top 10.

9th: Sue Perkins (2000-) (2006 rating - unrated)

Her appearance at Edinburgh this week confirms her as one of the show's most valued stars. She now has the ability to carry a show in Paul's absence with her wonderful comedy and competitive nature. Wonderful banter too. I think she just gets better and better every time she comes on.

8th: Aimi Macdonald (1968-83) (2006 rating - 7th)

I still have her as my favourite woman personality just because she was pretty much the star of the show very time she appeared. Her giggle, her flirting, her strangely uncompetitive competitiveness - just entirely distinctive, original and engaging. Not a comedian - more a force of nature.

7th: Ross Noble (2000-8) (2006 rating - 4th)

I have moved him down a little because his appearances these days are so sporadic. I still think he has the ability to be as good as, or even better than, Paul and it's a shame he doesn't appear more often. His style os so perfectly tuned to JAM.

6th: Clement Freud (1967-2009) (2006 rating - 11th)

I've moved Clement up because I think he was more important to the show than I had him last time. That gravitas, the passion, the sly wit. I think he would be surprised how much the fans enjoyed him and miss him.

5th: Graham Norton (1996-) (2006 rating - 5th)

I still love Graham, and wish he was on more often. He's just such a great improviser and I like the way he dreams up stuff to talk about with such authority when the content is so trivial. I wish his schedule allowed him to appear more often.

4th: Peter Jones (1971-2000) (2006 rating - 3rd)

Everyone loves Peter just for being Peter. Happy to play the support act with those witty lines for so many years. A show with Peter in it is always a good show.

3rd: Stephen Fry (1992-) (2006 rating - 6th)

Moved him up on fan impact. A show with him just seems to be a special event. He has all the skills and is always top value. I think he deserves to be this high, just behind the two all time masters.

2nd: Paul Merton (1989-) (2006 rating - 2nd)

I gave a lot of thought to whether I should move Paul up to number 1. I do feel, as I wrote a couple of weeks back, that he is still getting better. Sue Perkins said recently that the show would fall over without him, and I think that is true (unless they could persuade someone like Stephen or Graham or Ross to appear a lot more frequently). Still, as wonderful as Paul is, the next bloke just offers a little more.

1st: Kenneth Williams (1968-88) (2006 rating - 1st)

He didn't come all the way from Great Portland Street not to be ranked number one. Even when treated like a load of rubbish, he was able to slip into Unwinese, or argue against having women on the show. A unique unrepeatable talent, someone who I think still has others trying to copy aspects of what he did. But they can't complete the package because he was just too talented. Just right for this and I think JAM may well turn out to be the best remembered of all of Kenneth's work just because it used all of his huge range of skills.


Blogger Andrew Sherman said...

Thanks, that was fun.

4:20 pm  
Anonymous Perra Dox said...

It´s too bad we never got a show with both Kenneth Williams and Paul Merton.

7:01 am  
Anonymous Thuvia said...

Tim Rice?

8:25 am  

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