Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 23, 2011

JAM in video

Two clips from the Just A Minutes recorded in Edinburgh are now on the BBC site.

You can see them both here on this page.

Or look at the one featuring Nicholas Parsons, Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Alun Cochrane, Jason Byrne and Sarah Sharpe here

Or look at this featuring Nicholas, Paul, Gyles, Sarah, Shappi Khorsandi and Russell Kane, with an interview of Nicholas by Arthur Smith.

August 16, 2011

Nicholas Parsons' Happy Hour

I went to this last night. It was good fun and very JAMmy. The crowd was a bit elderly and clearly Nicholas fans.

He chats to the audience a bit and then has guests. Last night he had Gyles Brandreth - great as always, Ken Orkian, also very good, and then Lorraine Chase and Joe Simmons. Lorraine even talked about her one JAM back in 1979, as well as working with Kenneth Williams.

Nostalgic, nice and funny - I very much enjoyed it.

Brandreth - the sequel

At the recording, while they were testing the mikes Nicholas talked about his Edinburgh show. He then invited each of the others to talk about theirs. Gyles talked about his son Benet Brandreth who is doing a show up here. Gyles said Benet was funnier than him as well as better-looking and Paul piped up with "have we got the right Brandreth here?"

Benet Brandreth is actually a lawyer - his website makes him sound as if he has a very good career in the law. His show here sounds like fun though I don't think I will now get the chance to see it.

We had the Freuds together on the show - is it time for two Brandreths. I must say Benet looks - and I believe sounds - a hell of a lot like Gyles. That would really make Paul's eyes pop.

Here's a nice article about them both from The Telegraph.

Interview: Benet and Gyles Brandreth - That's my boy
By Jackie McGlone

Self-proclaimed ‘cult figure’ Gyles Brandreth has passed on the performance bug to son Benet. Here, the pair tell Jackie McGlone the truth – but perhaps not the whole truth –about this family tradition

WELL, aren't I a lucky lass? Here I am, sitting in the darkened lobby of a smart London hotel, with a brace of Brandreths. It's like having them in stereo - one in each ear, father and son. We're meeting over coffee - which the gallant Gyles insists on paying for - to talk about the fact that the son also rises. For 36-year-old Benet Brandreth is making his Fringe debut this month, with a solo show, The Brandreth Papers. His father Gyles, 63, is a seasoned Edinburgh performer, after disporting himself in many guises, most notably in fishnet stockings and suspenders - a first for a former Conservative government whip. In public, at any rate. In other words - his, in fact - he's "a cult figure".

Seasoned does not begin to describe the rich, fruity tones of Brandreth Senior. If a plum pudding could talk, it would sound like Gyles. Let us take a deep breath and enumerate his many personae listed on his website: "Author, broadcaster, after-dinner speaker, awards ceremony host, entertainer and former MP and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury."

Educated at St Paul's School, London, and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, Benet is a mere beginner, a barrister, specialising in intellectual property rights. He's also a prize-winning exponent of the art of rhetoric, "whether it is debating, rabble-rousing, after-dinner speaking or court-room advocacy".

Something in the genes, perhaps? "I guess," responds the dashing, derring-do Benet, who boxed for Cambridge University, where he was vice-president of Footlights (David Mitchell was a contemporary). He's also an expert Filipino knife-fighter and recently completed a course in "accelerated freefall skydiving". He sounds uncannily like his father, of whom he's the spitting image - only more handsomely muscular, but every bit as charming. Indeed, the Brandreth brand is charm, oodles of it oozing out of every pore.

It is the art of rhetoric that Benet, two-times world public speaking champion and rhetoric coach with the Royal Shakespeare Company, deploys in The Brandreth Papers, a tall tale told by a tall, tailored chap, with cut-glass vowels, involving Socratic irony, mind-bending erudition, the curdling of hopes of Hollywood stardom and an epic love life. It is, claims Benet, the only show on the Fringe in which jokes by Cicero will have them rolling in the aisles.

When we convene, Gyles arrives early; Benet is in transit from Chambers. So there's just time for Gyles to tell me how his hopes of making yet another appearance on the Fringe have been dashed. He and his wife, Michele, have just become grandparents for the fifth time - they also have two daughters, Saethryd, a writer, and Aphra, an economist. ("My wife is responsible for their names - Saethryd and Benet are from the writings of the Venerable Bede; Aphra comes from the playwright Aphra Behn," explains Gyles.)

Benet's wife, the multiple award-nominated American actress Kosha Engler (one of lesbian cop Kima's girlfriends in The Wire) has just given birth prematurely to their first child, Cornelius.

I am shown photographs on Benet's phone of this delightful scrap, who is currently smaller than his father's hand. Cue opportunity for Gyles to repeat the story he's already regaled me with. "I was hoping Cornelius would arrive six weeks late, then I could go on for Benet, but it was not to be." Then he adds hastily: "Delighted, of course, that mother and baby are both doing well."

By now Benet's eyebrows are more arch than the Marble. In fact, it's a miracle they are not permanently so because Gyles - who has a very disconcerting way of leaning into your space to address you as if you were at a public meeting - has his son's eyes rolling heavenwards every few minutes. "Do you need me to cosy any further up to you?" asks Gyles. Errr, no thanks.

What was it like growing up with a parent as garrulous as Gyles? Surely no one ever got a word in edgeways at the dinner table? "You have not met my clever, witty mother and sisters, who are nothing like as ego-maniacal as my father and myself," declares Benet. "We sat back and listened to the women. We know the meaning of the word respect - we didn't say a word at home. The cat said more," adds Gyles.

So, don't put your son on the stage, Mr Brandreth? "Oh, that's a very good opening line," exclaims Gyles, who is as expert at barbed flattery as his son is with a Filipino knife. "I couldn't agree with you more. Happily, my son is a successful and brilliant barrister and although this is happening on the Edinburgh Fringe, it is nothing to do with me.

"Michele and I have seen the previews - we bought our own tickets. No family discount. It is strange to see your own son perform, although I have seen Benet in school plays where he was excellent and at Cambridge, when he starred in a production of Hamlet before he went off to become a lawyer. Then he announced he was doing this and sent us a flyer.

"We had no idea what to expect. It turns out to be completely unique; it is rip-roaring, rib-tickling, surreal storytelling. I would willingly have paid ten times as much as people will soon be doing in Edinburgh on the black market." (Benet's eyes roll upwards.) Ah, but Gyles, you're biased.

"I hope so," murmurs Benet. "Possibly," his parent concedes. "But I may just be biased against. I did try to talk him out of it. My advice would be, 'Don't put your son on the stage, Mr Brandreth,' but he's put himself on stage and his show is sensational, even if it is not my kind of storytelling. I will shut up now. Thank you and goodnight. Proud father sits back." (Chance would be a fine thing.)

The Brandreth Papers grew out of Benet's work with the RSC. "I'd been coaching the actors in the art of rhetoric and I thought I'd really like to have a go myself, find out whether if, as well as teaching, I could also do it," he reveals.

A friend asked him to take part in the Tall Tales series he stages around London Fringe theatres - "a cross between Armistead Maupin and Lake Wobegon," according to Gyles. "I'd no idea what to do, then I thought, 'I know, I'll tell the most enormous lie, the biggest lie I could think of'," says Benet.

"The best lies are always 99 per cent true; it's the one per cent that is untrue that is astonishing. So I told a story about the time that I went to the British Museum to attend the parade of the acquisition of new objects, in the course of which I saved the life of our Queen. From this grew further appearances at Tall Tales and it was fantastic to be in front of an audience again. The laughter, the tension as a story unfolds. Suddenly, I understood why my father is so addicted to performing."

"May I butt in?" asks Gyles. "What intrigued me is Benet's remark about the big lie; then he tells us of his first story that he rescued the Queen, so I want to know which is the one per cent lie." Benet's lips are sealed, however.

Surely being called to the Bar is pure theatre? "Absolutely," Benet agrees. "When I became a barrister, I remember thinking how much I wanted to be an actor, but they never seem to make any money. I thought about becoming an academic but that seemed dry and dusty, so I became a barrister. You get to do all the performing, you actually get to be an actor but you also get to earn all this fabulous money.

"But my disappointment has been that the judges at the Chancery Division don't laugh at my jokes quite as often as I would like them to. But the mirth aside, I do love the academic aspects of the law, I love explaining abstract aspects of it - the rhetoric, the oratory, the performing."

"May I point out that there is a familial history of storytelling?" asks Gyles. Telling lies? "Just because I was a Member of Parliament there's no need to get that dig in. The interviewer is trying to get in on the act." He proceeds to tell of an ancestor, Dr Benjamin Brandreth, who went to America to sell pills that claimed to cure everything.

A snake-oil salesman? Gyles: "She's sharper than she looks. You are right, but I think they worked as they were homeopathic. He was a pioneer of advertising. He created the billboard and made a fortune. So we come from a long line of storytellers - Dr Brandreth could certainly spin a yarn."

So, interjects Benet, the Brandreths have been telling lies for a living for centuries. "I hope that what makes my show unique, though, is the fact that it's story, it's stand-up - and it's a very big lie."

• The Brandreth Papers is at Gilded Balloon Teviot until 28 August. Today 6pm.

does experience matter

Contrasts in the make-up of the teams for the first two shows of this season.

The first show featured Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock and Graham Norton, the four most experienced players of the game that are still alive. The result was a really outstanding show full of fun and good banter. Sheila in particular I thought was outstanding. I might write a separate post on her but I thought she really offers something fresh.

The second show featured Julian Clary, Josie Lawrence, Phill Jupitus and Rick Wakeman. Julian was the most experienced with 39 shows, Josie was on her 11th, Phill 4th, Rick 3rd - so an inexperienced panel. I thought the players sounded like they were having fun and there were some good lines, but the thing didn't quite get going, the programme never established a flow.

I have a feeling there has never been a really good show without at least one of these four - Kenneth Williams, Peter Jones, Paul Merton or Graham Norton. They need someone of that ability to anchor the show. I wondered if Julian might be the one, but he wasn't quite strong enough. The best player I think was Josie, and she can only get better. She needs to learn to be not quite so picky on repetitions, for example.

August 15, 2011

oh and also

I meant to mention that the shows were being filmed for the BBC's Red Button coverage. I think this means they put video of some of the shows up on the website - not sure if it goes on TV as well. Anyway Brits will no doubt know what this means. They also filmed some of the audience after so if you see a fat bald bloke in a blue shirt....

JAM in Edinburgh

Am just back from the JAM recording in Edinburgh, so a bit of a write-up while things are fresh in my mind.

The BBC has taken all its shows out of the Pleasance and to a big tent at Potterow. Inside the tent it was dark, with dry ice in the air, and the top of the tent was littered with little lights so it did look as if you were looking up at a starlit sky at night. (I mention this because Paul made a joke of it which the listeners won't really get.) The producer Tilusha Ghelani described it as the most camp venue they had had yet and it was a bit camp.

They were playing ads before like ay a movie theatre, including the JAM one. Marcus Brigstocke's line towards the end of that always makes me laugh.

Anyway for those who haven't been to a recording - it starts with a recorded announcement about emergency exits and turning mobiles off, voiced by Arthur Smith, who interestingly was in the audience at both recordings, and smoking like a fiend outside.

Then Tilusha comes out, repeats some of that, tells us when the show will be aired (August 22 and 29). She then introduces Nicholas who warms up the audience a bit with some jokes and chit-chat. He told us at the first one he had just been listening to the show on the radio and thought it was awfully good. So did I!

He then introduces the panellists who come on one by one. For the first show, the team, was Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Alun Cochrane and Jason Byrne. For the second show it was Paul, Gyles, Shappi Khorsandi and Russell Kane.

Jason and Russell were both making their debuts and are both rising stars in stand-up. Both have popular shows here. (I am going to see Jason's later tonight and will now try and see Russell too.)

Anyway they test the mikes and buzzers and the show begins.

I am no good at remembering jokes and punchlines so just some impressions. Paul won the first show but wasn't ultra competitive. He always has a look on his face as if he's a bit worried about what is being said, a slightly grumpy but puzzled look. He remains a master of the game and could bring the house down any time he wanted with a witty line.

Gyles was in top form, mugging madly at the audience and got different running jokes going in both his shows. One was on Royalty which he weaved into every subject, on the second show he pretended to be Russell Kane's father. He really is very very fluent these days and very original too. A hard man to challenge.

Shappi looked a bit nervous. She was described by both Tilusha and Nicholas as being almost new to the game, though the show was actually her tenth. There is a Peter Jones-ish quality to her in that she builds a rapport with the audience even though she isn't a great challenger. She had some good lines.

Alun Cochrane had a big grin on his face the whole time - he really loved it, and he seemed to enjoy chatting to Paul who he was sitting beside. He wasn't that competitive but as in previous appearances, he had something funny to say every time he had the subject.

Jason Byrne is an Irish comedian who specialises in interaction with the audience. He was a big chatter, before during and after the show, but didn't really get going when he had the subject. Nicholas had to resort to pressing his buzzer for him twice to get him involved! But when it didn't matter points-wise, he was very funny. I'll be interested to see how he sounds in the edit. It's possible a lot of his stuff will be edited out because it was outside the game.

Russell Kane is a stand-up - couldn't quite pick his accent, he said he was from Essex but I'm not sure if that was a joke or not, because he didn't sound Essexish. He is sorta camp, but if the Internet can be trusted, is actually straight. Has done some TV, things like I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and Big Brother. When he came out he looked bloody nervous and he indeed tweeted he was nervous. Well he was as funny as any of the others and ended up winning the game! Not many win on their first show, especially against Paul and Gyles. Gee he looked like someone who will be doing the show a lot - just fitted in, was great at the banter and so on.

The other thing I noticed is how much Sarah Sharpe enjoys doing the show. She had this huge smile on her face the whole time.

Nicholas - what can I say? He did bugger up his introductions and farewells more than once. But he ran the shows so well, a virtuoso performance. And the crowds just love him. A reminder yet again of just how good he is.

Afterwards I spoke briefly to Tilusha and Gyles. Tilusha said Nicholas had wanted to say hello but had to leave for an interview. I am hoping to have a yarn to Tilusha in the next couple of days.

Well, two really tremendous shows. Really enjoyed them.

August 14, 2011

JAM today

am off today to see the JAM recording in Edinburgh.

Shappi Khorsandi has tweeted that she is on with Paul, Gyles and Russell Kane.

Radio Times says one of the shows is to include Paul, Gyles, Jason Byrne and one other.

We shall see...

Gyles and Sheila on Kenneth and his diaries

August 11, 2011

new recording

They're recording two more shows on Sunday 4th September at the Radio Theatre.

I can't quite work this out because they have already recorded six this season with two to go at Edinburgh, and the season has been advertised as eight shows - it seems awfully early to be recording for the following season already.

Maybe this summer season will be 10 shows?

August 07, 2011

Peter Jones - the fans' all-time favourite panellist

We've been having a bit of fun on the Yahoo group.

We did a series of one-on-one polls to establish who was the fans' favourite.

I ranked the top 16 panellists by appearances (both TV and radio) and then paired them off in one-one-one polls until we got a winner.

My initial ranking (by number of appearances) was
1. Sir Clement Freud
2. Kenneth Williams
3. Peter Jones
4. Derek Nimmo
5. Paul Merton
6. Tony Hawks
7. Sheila Hancock
8. Graham Norton
9. Gyles Brandreth
10. Andree Melly
11. Sir Tim Rice
12. Linda Smith
13. Kit Hesketh-Harvey
14. Wendy Richard
15. Sue Perkins
16. Jenny Eclair

The voting went like this
ROUND ONE - Gyles Brandreth (8) beat Graham Norton (4)
ROUND TWO - Clement Freud (15) beat Jenny Eclair (3)
ROUND THREE - Sheila Hancock (11) beat Andree Melly (1)
ROUND FOUR - Tony Hawks (15) beat Tim Rice (3)
ROUND FIVE - Derek Nimmo (7) beat Kit Hesketh-Harvey (5)
ROUND SIX - Peter Jones (15) beat Wendy Richard (0)
ROUND SEVEN - Paul Merton (11) beat Linda Smith (3)
ROUND EIGHT - Kenneth Williams (16) beat Sue Perkins (2)

FIRST QUARTER-FINAL - Clement Freud (15) beat Gyles Brandreth (4)
SECOND QUARTER-FINAL - Kenneth Williams (10) beat Sheila Hancock (8)
THIRD QUARTER-FINAL - Peter Jones (13) beat Tony Hawks (4)
FOURTH QUARTER-FINAL - Paul Merton (18) beat Derek Nimmo (5)

FIRST SEMI-FINAL - Clement Freud (12) beat Paul Merton (11)
SECOND SEMI-FINAL - Peter Jones (12) beat Kenneth Williams (10)

GRAND FINAL - Peter Jones (12) beat Clement Freud (11)

Oh the irony of Peter beating Clement on the whistle! That didn't happen very often in the game!

Some thoughts, bearing in mind the low numbers voting.

* Don't get me wrong, I love Gyles and think he is a great asset for the show. But I just can't imagine anyone not voting for Graham Norton who is so funny and original on the show.

* In only four of 15 contests did the one with fewer appearances win. In only five of 15 did the person who started playing the game more recentlyr win. People say the show is funnier today than it was in the past, but seems people love the olden days when it comes to players.

* Neither of the two stars of the show Paul Merton and Kenneth Williams made the final. Of course Clement and Peter were both brilliant in their own ways. But could they have carried the show. Clement while witty was something of a straight man while Peter went long periods without saying anything at all. I don't think the show would still be going without the contributions of Paul and Kenneth.

* Women did very badly. Six of the 16 were women but only one of the 14 contests was won by a woman and that was when Sheila was paired off with another woman. I'm sure, were she still alive, that Linda Smith would be much further up the rankings, perhaps between Sheila and Tony. Perhaps she would even be a regular with Paul - she certainly had a wonderful wit and her style of humour is an effective contrast to that of Paul.

But overall women fared badly. Could Kenneth have been right all along?

* Finally I can't help feeling that one who would have been surprised he did so well is Clement Freud. He is clearly held in great affection by many many fans.

In London and Edinburgh

I’m in London for the next week... then Edinburgh. If any fans would like to get together for a chat about JAM, send me an email. If enough reply maybe we could even have a go at playing the game...

the lovely Aimi Macdonald

August 05, 2011

back on monday

The first show of the new season features Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock and Graham Norton. This Monday.