Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

March 27, 2010

The rules

The BBC's Feedback programme - listen here but be quick as it's about to disappear and the Daily Telegraph - this should work for good - have had some fun discussing JAM's rules. I should weigh in.

Essentially a man called Rupert Read from Norfolk is worried about trifling challenges, the repetition of words like "we" and "the", and minor hesitations, he thinks they break up the flow of the game.

His answer is to penalise wrong challenges by taking a point off the challenger.

Nicholas Parsons was interviewed on the subject and although he politely said he'd discuss it with the producers, panellists and the family of Ian Messiter, he made it clear he wasn't rapt with the idea.

Said Nicholas: "I think you're intellectualising it and not thinking about the fun we are trying to generate" "it's not an intellectual game as such". This is his way of saying - ironically given he himself spends so much time on them - that the points don't matter. The purpose of the game is not to decide who is best at speaking within the rules. The key aspect of the game, as then producer Chris Neill said more than a decade ago, is the banter between Nicholas and the players.

Some thoughts...

* with all due respect to Rupert Read - and if you happen to read this Rupert, I thought you debated the issue very intelligently and eloquently with Nicholas - his answer doesn't really address the issue at all. The problem isn't that too many wrong challenges are being made. At the moment, Nicholas is agreeing with many of these trivial challenges, so the penalty for being wrong would not apply. Anyway - the challenge IS correct so applying a penalty for being right - but too petty - seems harsh.

* But for all that some shows do get a bit petty. I think it's mainly with keen newer players. Paul Merton seemed to be the main example used on Feedback, but if he challenges these days it's more likely to be a joke challenge than a petty one.

* The competitive aspect is important I think. It should be part of the challenge to keep to the rules. But I'm not sure the points aspect is all that important to the players. I think they challenge not to gain points but to get involved, realising that the show is really all about banter and verbal argument. It's the arguments that spark most of the humour! That's one of the things that are distinctive about JAM.

* Another thing is the attacks on the chairman. It's possible to get a bee in your bonnet about Nicholas's inconsistency and look back over the years to when similar situations came up and different decisions were made. All I say is that the show would be very different if say a Supreme Court judge or a cricket umpire was in the chair. Nicholas is a performer and his own dithering, inconsistency, or perhaps to use a better word, unpredictability, is a major generator of banter and jokes. That's key to the programme's appeal.

* Discouraging challenges would surely let people speak longer. But with all due respect there aren't many people who can sustain an uninterrupted 60 seconds on a subject and be funny throughout. Paul yes. Kenneth Williams yes. More uninterrupted minutes would in all likelihood be very dull.

The issue having been raised though, I would be very surprised if there wasn't a more laissez faire approach next season and less challenging on repettiion of small words. But personally I hope they don't change things too much. I reckon last season was the best season of all 56 seasons. If it ain't broke...


Anonymous Michael Curtis said...

I found this article interesting. I feel the rules are fine as they are and in fact part of the charm of JAM is only having 3 rules.

I think Nicolas uses "the benefit of the doubt" a bit too much. He is really disagreeing or agreeing with challenge and that is all he needs to say. I know it has become a bit of a running joke, but the he could use the rules a bit more.

I remember when JAM arrived on TV and Tony Slattery was a regular. He played to win, but would challenge on, it, and, is, I etc and that just spoilt the shows.

I think it is up to the players to play within the spirit of the rules and mostly they do. When they do challenge on "you", it is after 3 or 4 and normally after a list of "you could this X, you could also do Y" etc.

In my opinion the rules are fine and I don't think many of the regulars play to win. The respect each other and if they happen to win then that is fine. I believe they do crave a running joke though and if that comes along you can just see the whole show flow much better.

Love the blog. Keep you the good work.

Best wishes


6:18 am  
Blogger Dean said...

thanks for the kind comments Michael

11:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this article is very insightful and it really did make me start to think about things.

it does seem like Nicholas doesn't care about anything, because he allows everything under the sun to happen on the show, he allows all sorts of trivial challenges and petty challenges, and it just disrupts the flow.

I definitely think that repetition of small words should not be allowed anymore. also, challenging for things like repetition of letters like 'I', 'A', and especially 'B' as in 'BBC'.

I also agree that the phrase 'benefit of the doubt' is used far too often. because its become a really tired cliche, because it just seems like he gives someone 'the benefit of the doubt' just to let someone keep a subject or give the subject to someone else regardless of whether or not the challenge was correct, and it just creates confusion and outright nonsense of everything.

8:47 am  

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