Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 11, 2010

this week's show

I'm sure sometimes I must come across here as an unthinking admirer of JAM, someone who loves every edition and everything about it. If I do I can't complain really, because I do LOVE the show and enjoy virtually all of the panellists.

But anyway occasionally the opportunity is there to say that a particular show didn't work. That's what I would say about this week's show.

Paul Merton and Sue Perkins are arguably the two best and funniest players of the game among current players. (I would put Graham Norton up there as funnier but he is not as skilful a player of the game itself as Sue.) Liza Tarbuck, as I've said before, can make good contributions but they are usually spread thinly. This week's show was typical - of seven rounds, she had the subject in just two of them, and didn't say anything especially memorable.

John Sergeant was a problem. John's career was as a political reporter, but as someone who could come out with a bon mot or two. He won a couple of games in the TV series of 1999, but against the not exactly stellar opposition of Brian Sewell, Barry Cryer and Su Pollard. He had one previous radio appearance in 2005 when he was overwhelmed by the heavy artillery of Paul and Clement.

Since retiring from day to day reporting, he has become a sort of part-time game-show celeb, popping up in various places, most memorably perhaps on Strictly Come Dancing, a celeb dance contest where he was a public favourite.

So he was worth a try. But I rather think in the context of being up against players who could keep the comedy flowing. If say Chris Neill or Kit Hesketh-Harvey or Josie Lawrence had been in Liza's seat, the show may have worked better.

Instead John became the centre of attention for not being funny and not getting many points. Jokes were made about his ponderous delivery, and the last round degenerated into one of those rounds where people kept challenging him and Nicholas kept rejecting the challenges even though they were clearly legitimate. That can work to liven things up, but it needs the person being challenged to come to the party, play along and have a few witty things to say. Peter Jones was a master of it. John just seemed like a possum trapped in the headlights.

The teasing of John Sergeant just seemed over-the-top and boorish to me, as he didn't have the verbal skills to return fire. And the last round just seemed silly.

The things is from John's perspective is that all he was trying to do throughout the show was PLAY THE GAME. He was trying to speak within the rules. But in the Paul Merton era, that isn't enough any more.

Often people say to me that it would be nice to have people who aren't professional comedians and entertainers on the programme. They mention people like Magnus Pyke and Patrick Moore who contributed well in the 70s. But that was a different era. If John Sergeant had been on in the late 70s with say Kenneth, Clement and Peter, they would probably have praised his verbal acuity and dexterity. But there weren't enough jokes per second for the liking of the others so they reacted as they did. Used to be if you had nothing to say, you kept trying - remember how often the great Kenneth used to turn to accents or Unwinese gibberish to keep going and hide the lack of content. These days you're encouraged to shut up once the jokes run out. John didn't.

And I thought neither Paul nor Sue was at their best either. The show really needed Paul to race to the rescue with some improvisational brilliance. He often does. But he's human and in this show, he didn't.

So yes, John Sergeant wasn't a great choice. I assume there is a second recording with him still to come. But Tilusha Ghelani must be wishing she had booked Kit Hesketh-Harvey or Chris Addison or Marcus Brigstocke.


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