Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 10, 2010

Nicholas's new book

is called With Just A Touch of Hesitation, Repetition And Deviation.

And it's being serialised in The Daily Express... two chunks here - on Just A Minute and Sale Of The Century and here - on some of his other favourite comedians.

The interesting thing is that Nicholas says the reason Wendy Richard was dumped from JAM was because she didn't get on with Paul Merton, who eventually refused to go on with her.

He's quite critical of Wendy...

I'll quote the bit about JAM but recommnd you read both the extracts above...

WHEN I look at all the talented people I have worked with on Just A Minute, the Radio 4 comedy panel game I have chaired for more than 40 years, I realise how lucky I have been. Many have had a significant impact but none more so than Kenneth ­Williams.
One of the most gifted men I have known, he combined strange characters, wonderful voices and outrageous stories. Kenneth was very funny but he did not admire that aspect of his talent. He denigrated it because he wanted to be accepted as an intelligent, erudite character actor.
Kenneth enjoyed the Carry On films because he was with his chums and he liked others getting a laugh on screen. But he never respected their success. If anything he was embarrassed, regarding his roles as merely requiring funny noises and shapes. It was not what an actor did, which was how he saw himself.
The question of Kenneth’s sexuality is often discussed. I maintain he was an aesthete to some extent and did not have a private sex life.
He did once propose to Joan Sims. He was very fond of her and the feeling was mutual. He said if they were married they would have separate bedrooms and bathrooms and there would be none of that embarrassing “sex stuff”.
She told him that was fine for him: he was getting what he wanted but what about her?
I believe physical intimacy repulsed Kenneth. He was very nervous about close contact with people. He did not like people going to use the lavatory in his flat. When he met the Round the Horne team in his flat he used to make them go to the ­public toilet at nearby Great Portland Street ­station.
In public he liked to show off. When I introduced him on Just a Minute he would come on the stage, stick his ­little bum out, do a humorous walk and smile that Kenneth Williams smile. The audience loved it.
His contribution was utterly ­individual. When he first came on, he was awfully nervous but towards the end of his life it was his favourite job. He always sat in the same chair, stage right, and heaven help anyone who asked him to move.
Kenneth came from a humble background and was self-educated, so Just A Minute gave him an opportunity to show off his intellectual ability. That was one of the reasons he loved it so much.
Ian Messiter, Minute’s creator, realised this and used to introduce topics in which he knew Kenneth was well versed. When I announced one of these – for instance, “Aphrodite” – Kenneth would preen himself in the knowledge that it had been planted just for him. Off he would go and if somebody challenged him before he had the opportunity to show off he would go into a sulk. “Oh, you’ve missed a very good story there,” he would say. “You are being fools to yourselves. Fools to yourselves.”
The audience would laugh, not realising this was real frustration. He would then just sit there and it was my job to try to find a way to draw him back into the game.
After a performance he would go back to his sparse little flat and start writing his diaries and the depressed side of his character would emerge. He would say the most awful things about people he knew and liked.
Someone who came into Just A Minute much later was Paul Merton. Everyone respects Paul for the flair and skill he shows but Wendy Richard did not like him and this caused problems. When Wendy first started, she was always great value. I met her in the early Sixties when she appeared in sketches in The Arthur Haynes Show. She had a real sense of fun.
I could tell she was going to achieve great things and I was delighted by her success in Are You Being Served? which ran for 13 years.
Sadly, I think Wendy changed when she joined EastEnders as Pauline Fowler, a fairly aggressive character. I felt she in some way morphed into Pauline. She always seemed to get narky with ­people.
In one show her feelings towards Paul Merton boiled over. He challenged her and Wendy snapped: “You’re having a go at me again! You’re always like that. What have I done to you?”
Wendy was not joking. This was said in deadly earnest. I did my best to cover but I felt embarrassed. Paul, who is very tolerant, could not understand her behaviour.
It reached the point that if Wendy was booked for the show Paul did not want to be cast. In the end, the ­producer decided to stop casting her.
I have no idea why she ­disliked Paul. He often makes jokes at my expense but I enjoy the banter as much as he does.


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