For the 22 shows of the past year, there has been one ever-present panellist - Paul Merton.
This is the first time since 1987, that a panellist has done every show over a 12 month period. (That of course was Kenneth Williams.)
It's even more interesting though, if you try and find a year when there was one person sitting on their seat through such a large number of shows. For that you have to go back to the 1972-73 season when both Kenneth and Clement Freud were there through an entire 26 show season.
Is this a good thing? I had a letter from one fan who thinks not...
I have thoroughly enjoyed JAM for decades but in recent months my enthusiasm has begun to wane due to the continued presence of Paul Merton. I wonder what your view is as personally I feel the ethos and enduring legacy of the show is best maintained by a continuous change of panellists with old favourites naturally appearing regularly. I'm sure that I'm not the only listener who is disappointed that one panellist is a fixture. Although the points are not the main reason for the show's success, Paul Merton plays to win and naturally he does that most of the time as he plays by far the most shows due to over twenty years' practice and now he is a fixture, he can continue to hone his skills at the expense of less experienced panellists. I wonder what the last of the 'Regular Four' Clement Freud would have made of a panellist appearing every time?
My correspondent makes a good point that Paul can hone his skills much more than the others in order to win. Interestingly though he has been a bit less successful than usual in the past year or two. His average is that he wins 63 percent of games. In the past year he has won 12 of 21 shows, in the past two years (since Clement's death) it's 21 of 43 shows. This is by no means a big fall of course, but Paul has said that he is trying to be less competitive and I think that he is being sincere when he says that.
I tend to think that the comic highlights are often focussed around Paul. In particular he is great at the repartee which often provide the comic highlights. The show is based very much around Paul's style these days.
Is this a good thing? Well we have a way to go before the show is as based around Paul as it was around Kenneth Williams. Kenneth provided such huge highlights on his shows and dominated the show back then in a way that Paul still does not.
Is it the lack of a possible replacement lead panellist? Could be. Tony Hawks has been the usual replacement in recent years but maybe he isn't as good a replacement as the show needs. I'm sure Graham Norton could play the part but he doesn't seem to want to do more than a couple of recordings a year.
When I went to Stratford in 2007 to see a recording, one of the questions I was asked by the producer Tilusha Ghelani after the recording was whether I was disappointed Paul wasn't on the panel (the panel was Clement, Graham, Gyles Brandreth and Phill Jupitus). I told her - and meant it - that I hadn't really thought about it in that way. I had enjoyed the shows very much and in particular I was and still are a huge fan of Graham Norton.
Still it's a good question to think about. If you had travelled some distance to a recording and the panel was say... Tony Hawks, Julian Clary, Sue Perkins and Alun Cochrane... would you be disappointed? I'm guessing you might feel slightly cheated, just slightly...