more from Richard Herring on his JAM experience
From the Metro newspaper
As a student, I would always listen to the BBC Radio 4 show Just A Minute as I made myself a veggie stew for dinner.
I remember laughing at Kenneth Williams’s indignant fury as I strained my mung beans, which sounds like a euphemism, but unfortunately isn’t.
Rarely is the euphemism less disgusting than the reality.
I was only 20 and a diehard fan of the new, cool and rude alternative comedians but I still recognised these strange, pompous middle-aged Radio 4 panellists as true anarchic comedy geniuses.
And while those 1980s stand-ups have largely sold out or given up or, worse, failed to give up, Just A Minute still steams onward, as funny as ever.
Could I have imagined that one day I’d actually take part, attempting to speak for a full minute without repetition, deviation or hesitation? Surely not.
Amazingly, this week I am making my second appearance on this astonishingly difficult panel show.
I didn’t think I’d get another chance after my first go.
I had been so concerned about not repeating any words that I didn’t pay any attention to avoiding hesitation and realised too late that my speech is naturally littered with ‘ums’ and ‘errs’ and ‘you knows’.
This time I had done a practice game with my wife and seemed to eradicate the speech disfluencies and those annoying non-verbal fillers.
Magnificently, as nerves hit on my very first round, I opened with a long ‘err’. The other players were kind enough to ignore it, proving that to err is human, to forgive is divine.
They were not so kind when my second ‘err’ showed up six seconds later.
Kenneth Williams, Clement Freud, Peter Jones and Derek Nimmo have all moved on to the great radio show in the sky, but remarkably Nicholas Parsons, the headmasterly host who’s appeared in every single edition of JAM (as all the cool kids call it), is still at the helm.
The man is twice my age, but also twice as sharp, regularly pointing out repetitions that the rest of us missed. He is an actual, factual living legend, who has worked over seven decades as an actor, a comedian, and broadcaster.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recall his cheesy grin from Sale Of The Century, if you’re of an even certainer age you might know him as Arthur Haynes’s straight man. They were on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961. Parsons was a trailblazer for the Beatles.
I felt honoured to be in his presence, let alone to be allowed to openly cheek him.
I loosened up and enjoyed myself, maybe a bit too much, as after I had made a couple of frivolous and incorrect challenges Parsons told me off quite sternly, accusing me of slowing the pace by being pedantic.
Pedantically, I was forced to point out that pedantry was surely what made this game work, but he was having none of it.
Fair enough. It’s his game and if some idiot is spoiling it they must be rebuked!
We have a habit of not lauding our living legends while they’re alive.
When they’re not living legends, we eulogise and celebrate but what’s the point in that? Let’s let our living legends know they’re legends while they’re still living and can appreciate the thought.
I am confident Nicholas Parsons will be captaining this ship of fools for many years to come but let me take this opportunity to say what a wonder and an inspiration he is.
You’re a national treasure, Nicholas. Now tell me off again. I think I rather liked it.