Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 26, 2010

Pink List 2010

The annual list of Briatin's most influential gays is out - and as always JAM is well represented.

Clare Balding was on the judging panel this year so she doesn't appear - but among those on the list are Graham Norton, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig, Stephen K. Amos and Scott Mills. Two make the top 10 - I'll let you read who...

And Stephen Fry - who scores very very well - is unhappy about the whole thing. Worth a read!

Gyles turns 50

This week was Gyles's 50th JAM appearance. That includes 42 rdaio shows, six TV shows, the 35th anniversary show where he was a guest subject setter, and the 40th anniversary show where he commented.

He joins an exclusive club of 10 - Nicholas Parsons, Clement Freud, Kenneth Williams, Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo, Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock, Graham Norton and Andree Melly.

To me he is sounding more and more as the natural foil to Paul - a totally different style but just as competitive and quick-witted. And he seems to be avoiding the old trap of repeating material too.

To me he has very good timing. He knows when to cross swords with Paul and when to leave it.

Congratulations Gyles.

And for what it's worth, the producers seem to share my view - of the 30 shows since Clement's death, Gyles is running second among the panellists...

Paul Merton 26
Gyles Brandreth 11
Sue Perkins 10
Tony Hawks, Graham Norton 8
Jenny Eclair 7
Pam Ayres, Charles Collingwood, Josie Lawrence, Liza Tarbuck 4
Shappi Khorsandi 3
Julian Clary, Stephen Fry, Dave Gorman, Sheila Hancock, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, David Mitchell, Justin Moorhouse, Chris Neill, Ross Noble, Tim Rice, John Sergeant 2
Stephen K. Amos, John Bishop, Janey Godley, Richard Herring, Fred MacAulay, Pauline McLynn, Mike McShane, Paul Sinha, Suki Webster 1

August 21, 2010

clip from non-broadcast game

The BBC has posted a clip of Scott Mills playing the game - tis funny and I think he deserves a go on air!

It's nice to see Paul and Gyles enjoying themselves so much!

there's also a chunk on the Radio 4 podcast - it starts at about 16 minutes in

Edinburgh shows

There's been some confusion over the Edinburgh shows as on the Sunday they recorded two shows in the morning and then played a couple more shows for fun in the afternoon.

But the BBC has confirmed the teams I listed are the correct ones. So if you watched the show with Scott Mills for example - well feel privileged as the wider public won't hear it! The viceo clip I posted is also from the non-broadcast show.

So the teams again

August 23rd - Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Shappi Khorsandi and John Bishop

August 30th - Paul Merton, Jenny Eclair, Fred MacAulay and Stephen K. Amos

August 18, 2010

this week's show

was very very funny - hugely enjoyable. Here's hoping we hear lots more from Ross Noble, clearly one of the best players of the game ever.

Edinburgh panels

The two teams were

* Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Shappi Khorsandi and John Bishop

* Paul Merton, Jenny Eclair, Fred MacAulay and Stephen K Amos

You can see a short clip of Paul and Jenny playing the game here.

August 11, 2010


The BBC has written to me about the Edinburgh recordings... letter follows... If you are going to be at Edinburgh this year, let me know and I will put you in touch with Natalie.

Hi Dean

My name is Natalie and I am working with BBC Radio 4.

BBC Radio 4 is setting up a stage on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh for a one-off comedy experience. If you are going to be at the festival, let us know and we’ll let you know details of how to be part of it and capture some exclusive content for your group.

BBC Radio 4 returns to the event with a selection of its best comedy, arts and festival programmes. And for the first time, to launch its exciting Edinburgh Fringe showcase, will set up stage on Edinburgh’s busy Royal Mile on Sunday 15th August at 1pm for a one-off comedy experience.

Joining host Miles Jupp on stage will be top comedians, including Doc Brown, Andrew Lawrence and Tom Wrigglesworth, to name but a few.

The people of Edinburgh will also be treated to two open-air editions of BBC Radio 4’s iconic panel game, Just A Minute, with legendary host Nicholas Parsons. Resident panellist Paul Merton and Gyles Brandreth will be teaching the likes of Stephen K Amos and others, how to play the game. Look out for some familiar faces popping up in the crowd just before the fun begins!

Those not in Edinburgh can watch here, view exclusive footage via the red button from Wednesday 25th August, and listen to a special festival programme on Thursday 19th August at 6.30pm on BBC Radio 4. You can also follow us @BBCRadio4 on Twitter and on Facebook. We’ll also be seeding a 3-min round up of the Royal Mile stunt and also the 4-5 clips capturing all the action on and off stage! Please let us know if you would like to receive the clips and we can arrange for some content to be sent to you after the event for your group.


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.

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.

August 05, 2010

more panel news

Can't wait for these shows - the team for the third show of the season is Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock and Ross Noble! Ross and Sheila are among my absolute very favouritest guests. Wow!

first of a new series

It was very funny.

But I thought the programme sounded looser than usual. I have a theory that the players are a lot more relaxed without Clement. I think even in just over a year the nature of the game has changed a bit and the panellists are more likely to mess with the rules, and the chairman.

I guess my fear is that without someone like Clement who cares about the game as a game, that the show will get even looser and head towards self-parody. There has to be that element of competition there in my view, or it's just a lot of comedians who can't really get their jokes out, but spend a lot of time laughing at themselves anyway. That would be dire.

Of course it's also quite possible that the show will develop into something different but equally good or better. Every time the regulars have changed - when Peter Jones joined, when Paul replaced Kenneth, when Peter and Derek died - the show has changed. It may be in the process of morphing now and it may end up better than its predecessors.

But I think the show definitely IS and WILL BE different without the great Sir Clement.

On Nicholas, he did get confused in a round - but otherwise he was pretty much on form, and like others I think was on the ball on humour. I think he milked the confusion for its comic potential, just like dear old Peter Jones used to.

I thought it was interesting too that Nicholas turned down a challenge for repetition of the small word "I". I wonder if that complaint he had a few months ago has changed his mind on that issue.

But to make it clear - it was a very funny show.

August 04, 2010

more panel news

Paul Merton and Gyles Brandreth are the two regulars at the two Edinburgh shows this year. Stephen K Amos is among the guest panellists.

August 01, 2010

panel news

A poster here says the panel for the second show is Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Liza Tarbuck and John Sergeant. John did one radio show back in 2005 and two TV ones in 1999. He was very successful on the TV ones but less so up against Paul and Clement. Still he's witty, competitive and brings something different to the table from the stand-up comedians so I'll be interested to hear how he goes.