Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

October 26, 2011


I've been asked to provide some information for publication in an article in Britain about JAM and my interest in it.

I don't expect that more than a few lines if anything will end up in the published article, so I am copying it here.

I try not to blab on about myself too much but still this covers some personal stuff that may be of interest, and a few interesting facts and figures so I think it's worth putting up.

I’m by nature fairly modest though I am very proud of the website work. So many “fansites” on the web are ephemeral, the product of brief spasms of enthusiasm, or just regurgitate what is already publicly available. Mine isn’t. It’s also a writer’s site.... it’s very sparse on design and pictures, and though I sometimes regret that, part of me likes that whoever reads it is being drawn by the written content, rather than flashy design and finding ways to work the Google system.

Me – well... I live in Wellington, New Zealand. I work in radio, at Radio New Zealand, the non-commercial broadcaster here. I’m the deputy editor of a daily news programme, Morning Report, which is broadly similar to Radio Four’s Today programme, a mix of reports and live interviews, sports, business news, etc. It has a huge audience in New Zealand terms. I’ve worked there since 2002, before that I worked in newspapers for eight years.

My interest in Just A Minute started when I was a kid, in the mid 70s. At the time Radio New Zealand gave prominent slots to many of the BBC panel games – Many A Slip, My Music, My Word, and especially Just A Minute. I was looking at some old schedules a few months ago and was a little surprised to find JAM popping up on both commercial and non-commercial stations in prime time slots. I can remember noting times and listening avidly, keeping the score which only rarely ended up the same as that announced at the end of the show. (At the time I assumed it was me scoring wrongly.)

The main thing that drew me into the programme as opposed to the other shows was of course Kenneth Williams. I adore all the players and of course Paul Merton is a genius – but no-one will ever replace the distinctive style of Kenneth. The loquacity, the knowledge and erudition, the wit, and of course his tantrums and the abuse of the chairman. The thing was you were never quite sure with him whether he was genuinely angry and causing the most appalling scene, or whether it was all for fun. He provided a sense of real drama in the programme, a sense that something was about to happen every time he started a subject or pressed the buzzer. It is special if a comedy game show can also provide drama – it’s so easy for this sort of show to fall into a sense of smugness. The anticipation that Kenneth would come in and change the whole atmosphere in a few seconds was, and I think still is, really special. I can remember hoping each week that he would win and being almost as happy as he was on the infrequent occasions that he won.

I’d have to say too that the naughtiness of the taunting of the chairman was also a part of the appeal, something that I think is still fairly unique to the show. So much of broadcasting is staid, scripted and very civilised, when in a way, the real magic of radio, should be the anticipation that anything can happen. Here you had middle-aged men shouting “shut your row” at the authority figure, demanding he resign and so on. The way Nicholas responds to all this is a huge part of the success of the programme, but again it was a contrast to some of the other panel shows where everybody seems so pleased with themselves all the time.

I do remember being with my grandparents listening to the show but it was and is something of a private pleasure. I am sure many people of my age would remember the show but it has for a long time been off air here. Over time Radio New Zealand has slowly taken off air many of the BBC programmes, replacing them with more distinctive home-grown fare.

It is still playing every week in Australia, on the ABC’s national programme, just before their main breakfast news programme. I’m not at all sure it is playing in many other places, the BBC World Service played it for many years but stopped a few years ago. It still has many fans around the world who listen via the Internet and swap files of shows. In the 90s, the success around the world, including in New Zealand, of Whose Line Is It Anyway, drew many people to Just A Minute via Paul Merton. In more recent years, Graham Norton’s chat shows can be seen in many countries and that is drawing people to Just A Minute too.

I have been over three times now to see recordings. In 2002 I was in Edinburgh, in 2007 at Stratford-upon-Avon and I was back in Edinburgh in August this year.

Curious facts... here are some.

* Only two players have failed to score a point in an episode of Just A Minute, those two being Christopher Timothy (All Creatures Great and Small) and one of the show’s true greats, the much missed Peter Jones.

* In August, Russell Kane won the show on his first appearance. This was the first time someone making their debut had won since 1999 – in between these two wins there have been 273 radio editions of the show.

* One of the show’s current mainstays, Gyles Brandreth, appeared on the show in the mid 80s semi-regularly from 1982 until 1986 – and then didn’t return to the radio series until 2002. (He did appear on some of the 1999 TV shows.)

* Kenneth Williams is easily the player who has most often gone for the full minute without being challenged. He did that 66 times, more than twice the next in that list (Clement Freud on 30).

* There have now been 774 radio editions and 48 TV editions, and Nicholas Parsons has been part of every show. (He has been a panellist on nine shows, the others to chair the programme are Kenneth Williams, Clement Freud, Andree Melly, Geraldine Jones and Ian Messiter.)

* Does Paul Merton “always win”? Not always, but he has won 63 percent of the shows he has appeared in. Clement Freud has won most often.

* Clement Freud and Gyles Brandreth are panellists who became politicians. Other politicians to appear on the show are the former Labour Cabinet Minister Barbara Castle, the former Labour MP Tony Banks, and the Labour MEP Michael Cashman.

A few brief facts too about the TV editions....

There have been three seasons. ITV did two seasons on evening slots in 1994 and 1995. Tony Slattery appeared on all shows in both seasons, and Dale Winton also appeared on all shows in 1995. There were two seasons of 14 shows each, 28 shows in total. The BBC did a day-time series of 20 shows in 1999. There were no regulars but Peter Jones, Tony Hawks, Gyles Brandreth, Linda Smith and Wendy Richard appeared most frequently.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate that your sites are more Basic than flashy.
It was good to learn more about you Dean.
I think the BBC NEEDs to commission you for the much needed JAM programe guide/history book
(like "clue" received a couple yrs back)
Would you be interested in doing such a project? just curious.

Audio comedy is a Lost art in the usa( past & present)
the UK/BBC are a rare place to find them (& dramas of course)

11:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh forgot ladymerton is Miriam aka delmelza- usa

11:33 am  
Anonymous Robin said...

Dean, according to the BBC Press Office, ISIHAC is returning on Nov 14. For 6 shows.

So, I'm *assuming* JAM will be back on Mon 26 Dec (Boxing Day).

8:57 pm  
Anonymous Ian said...

Just curious - why is this post titled 'rant'? Seems quite calm to me!

10:40 am  
Blogger Dean said...

Ian - thanks, perhaps "ramble" would have been better!

11:51 am  

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