Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

June 24, 2012

praise from high places

Look who is a fan of Just A Minute...??? from the Guardian

Aung San Suu Kyi's praise for the BBC World Service was not without qualification. She said the global broadcaster, which has had to make big cuts after its funding was slashed by the government, was "not as versatile as it used to be". "There used to be so many different programmes on," she added, namechecking Just a Minute, Bookshelf and of course Dave Lee Travis's Jolly Good Show. "I miss the old programmes, are they still on the World Service?" The BBC's director, global news Peter Horrocks, caught on this BBC News clip, does not appear entirely comfortable with the question. "Some of them are, not all of them," he replied. "You see what I mean by saying it's not what I used to be!" responded Suu Kyi. The campaign to bring back Bookshelf starts now.

June 23, 2012

more brilliant WILTY

this show features JAMmers Marcus Brigstocke, David Mitchell, Rob Brydon and Lee Mack

and this one features David, Rob, Lee and Josie Lawrence


June 20, 2012

what the....

I am really not worried about how many people look at this blog or the website. But today - accidentally - I looked at a graph that shows I am averaging 200 hits a day....??????

I know this is hardly big by most standards. But it seems a lot to me.

I am going to have to raise the quality here.

RIP Victor Spinetti

very sad to hear that JAM guest Victor Spinetti  has died.

Victor did two JAMs in 2004 and another two in 2005, appearing with Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock and Steve Frost.

The BBC has a nice tribute to him here. A good read.

Victor Spinetti, Welsh-born star of stage and screen, has died at the age of 82.
Born to an Italian-Welsh father and Welsh mother in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, he was a regular performer in London's West End as well as with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He appeared in more than 30 films, including the Beatles' movies and Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
He had been diagnosed with cancer.
Spinetti's agent, Barry Burnett, said: "He had cancer for a year, but he was very cheerful to the end. I spoke to him on Friday and he was talking about his plans and everything."
News of his death prompted a stream of tributes from fans and members of the entertainment world on Twitter.
Actor Rob Brydon tweeted: "So sad Victor Spinetti has died. The funniest story teller I've ever met and a lovely warm man. Proud to have been his friend. 'Eh, Vic...'"
Britt Ekland, actor and singer, wrote: "Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius."
Welsh actor Sian Phillips told BBC Wales she was shocked and saddened, adding: "He was such a force of joy and vitality. When one saw him across a crowded room, one couldn't wait to get together with him and have a chat and a catch-up."
Barbara Windsor, his co-star in the West End stage play Oh! What a Lovely War which transferred to Broadway and a lifelong friend, had visited Spinetti last Thursday.
"We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man," she said.
"We just chatted and chatted and talked about old things. But he said, 'let's not talk about all that, let's talk about the future'.
"What he was trying to say was that everything was happy in his room. I was happy to see him. He didn't look ill. He looked great. He was swearing a lot, like that would get rid of the illness, and we just laughed."
Spinetti had recently appeared on her two-part radio series Clubland, and she wanted to play it for him.
"I got the nurses to wake him up to hear it," said Windsor.
"Some of the nurses didn't know who he was so I wanted them to hear it too.
He was part of my life and I'm going to miss him so much. We'd go out for lunch and have a great gossip together.
"He was such a good actor because he took notice of people and used their characters. He portrayed them wonderfully, whatever he did."


Spinetti was born in the living quarters above the chip shop his family owned in Cwm, Ebbw Vale. He attended Monmouth School and initially had ambitions to be a teacher.
But after turning to acting he studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff.
His early stage career saw him make a number of memorable performances with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, whose production of Oh, What a Lovely War! transferred to the West End and Broadway.
It was his performance in Oh, What a Lovely War! that prompted the Beatles to ask him to appear in A Hard Day's Night (1964), the first of the group's five films.
It is suggested George Harrison told Spinetti that he had to be in the film because "me mum will only go to see them if you're in them".
Spinetti's collaboration with the Beatles saw him appear in their next two productions, Help! (1965) and the hour-long television film Magical Mystery Tour (1967).

'Great eccentric'

He also worked with John Lennon to turn Lennon's book, In His Own Write, in to a play which he then directed at the National Theatre.
Sir Paul McCartney described him as "the man who makes clouds disappear".
His stage career saw him win a Tony award for his Broadway performance in Oh, What a Lovely War!, as well as co-starring with Jack Klugman when The Odd Couple toured London.
His film career included starring in Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew, again alongside Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Return of the Pink Panther as well as The Krays in 1990.
In his television career, he is perhaps best known for voicing the arch villain character Texas Pete in the S4C animated series SuperTed.
Spinetti was also a noted raconteur whose creative output included poetry, an autobiography and his one-man show, A Very Private Diary.
A BBC documentary on his life and work saw contributions from Barbara Windsor and Rob Brydon praising a "great Welsh eccentric".
Spinetti died at a hospice in Monmouth on Monday morning, his agent said.

and the Telegraph's take is here

Victor Spinetti, who has died aged 82, was a versatile comic actor, half-Welsh, half-Italian, best known for his roles in the Beatles films of the 1960s; he admired and befriended the group, in particular John Lennon, to whom he became close.
When they made their first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the Beatles (with no previous acting experience) were still comparatively impressionable, and not a little star-struck to find themselves working with the likes of Spinetti. With his dark eyes, turned-up nose, short receding hair, Italian looks and slightly pained expression, the extrovert Spinetti, who liked to style himself “the Welsh wop”, was already a familiar face on television and in the cinema, and knew or had worked with Noël Coward, Tennessee Williams, Laurence Olivier and many Hollywood stars.
Cast as a camp, nervy and irritable television director recording a “live” Beatles concert in front of an audience of screaming girls, Spinetti immediately hit it off with the group, and found them unpretentious, despite being in the eye of a media maelstrom.
“You’ve got to be in all our films,” George Harrison told Spinetti, explaining that otherwise “me mum won’t come and see them because she fancies you.” Spinetti was duly cast in the group’s follow-up film Help! (1965), as a surgeon employed to cut a ring off Ringo Starr’s finger.
Although Help! was filmed on location in the Bahamas and in Austria, Spinetti did not consider it a happy time. “The spirit of invention that had seen us through A Hard Day’s Night had gone,” he wrote. “Tiredness and sullenness permeated the shoot.”
Back in London when filming finished, Spinetti found himself drawn into John Lennon’s social circle, with nights out with the Beatle in West End clubs and invitations to Kenwood, his mansion at Weybridge.
Spinetti was present on at least one drugs bust by the police, and — at the urgent pleading of Lennon’s first wife Cynthia — dealt with hangers-on who had worn out their welcome at Kenwood.
Sensing that the Beatles’ media honeymoon was over, and as Lennon became more absorbed by drugs, Spinetti furnished him with an unexpected brand of distraction; at Spinetti’s invitation and expense, Lennon and his wife would slip into a box at a West End theatre to watch a light musical show.
On one such occasion, entertaining the couple to a production of The Desert Song at the Palace Theatre, Spinetti also laid on jam “butties”, a Lennon favourite. “You don’t need hash, do you, Vic?” asked Lennon. “You’re permanently ------- stoned on life.”
The eldest of six children, Vittorio Georgio Andrea Spinetti was born on September 2 1929 at Cwm, a mining village outside Ebbw Vale where his Italian father, Joe, ran a fish and chip shop; his mother was Welsh. When war was declared, Joe Spinetti was interned on the Isle of Man. At Monmouth School, where Victor’s English master noted the boy’s “dramatic instinct”, he was a bright pupil, coming top of his form and winning prizes.
Artistically-inclined from an early age, Victor entertained his friends with impressions of people he had heard on the radio, from George Formby to Adolf Hitler, and only gave up piano lessons out of embarrassment because the woman who taught him was afflicted by chronic flatulence.
As a teenager, he joined the Ebbw Vale Playgoers’ Society, which was short of men with an English accent . For his National Service, Private Spinetti was confirmed A1 even though he was deaf in one ear, but in 1948 was admitted to a TB hospital with a pleural effusion. After a question in the House of Commons by his local MP, he was invalided out of the Army on a full disability pension of £2 10s a week.
Having proved unsuitable to take charge of the family chip shop, Spinetti enrolled at the Cardiff College of Music and Drama and, to eke out his grant, performed in the evenings in local shows. A South Wales agent, Betty Kellond, spotted him and offered him work, not all of it theatrical; his early bookings included a job looking after the classical pianist Solomon when he appeared at the Llanrwst Eisteddfod.
After joining a Welsh concert party in 1953, and appearing in revue at the Irving Theatre, London, three years later, Spinetti made his West End debut in 1958 playing four different roles in Expresso Bongo at the Saville. This led to his being cast in two parts in a production of Candide at the same theatre.
After his first London booking, Spinetti was offered words of encouragement by Bud Flanagan — “You’ve got it, son” — and shortly thereafter joined a provincial tour of South Pacific, in which a fellow actor in the chorus introduced himself, while naked and urinating into the dressing room sink, as Sean Connery.
In 1959, after working in a strip club off Leicester Square, introducing a nude act, Spinetti auditioned for Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and, having appeared in Make Me An Offer at Wyndham’s Theatre, flew to New York to play the IRA officer in Brendan Behan’s The Hostage. After a run on Broadway, the play went on a US tour, but not before he and Behan had climbed to the top of the Empire State Building to conduct a memorial service for King Kong.
Recalled to London, Spinetti took over as Tosher in Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be (Garrick), and, as the loud-mouthed drill sergeant, appeared in Oh What A Lovely War! (Wyndham’s, 1963), Littlewood’s West End hit with which he also transferred to Broadway, earning a Tony award.
In 1966 Spinetti played Felix opposite Jack Klugman’s Oscar in Neil Simon’s comedy The Odd Couple at the Queen’s Theatre in London. When Spinetti was invited by Olivier to direct a play based on John Lennon’s books A Spaniard In The Works and In His Own Write (Old Vic, 1968), the project involved working closely on the original script with Lennon himself. “Eh, Vic,” Lennon suddenly announced, “let’s go somewhere warm”, and within hours Spinetti found himself whisked to Marrakesh.
He claimed in his autobiography, Victor Spinetti Up Front (2006), that for a time in the late 1960s he was scooped up into Princess Margaret’s social circle. She was guest of honour at the London premiere of the film Staircase (1969), which Spinetti attended at the invitation of its star Richard Burton, who was accompanied by Elizabeth Taylor. Afterwards at the Savoy, while the Princess monopolised Burton, Spinetti consoled Miss Taylor, who was wearing a particularly large diamond ring. (“How vulgar,” remarked the Princess, “but I’d love to own it.”)
Spinetti’s cameos with the Beatles raised his film profile. He subsequently landed a tiny but much recalled role as a Swiss hotel desk clerk in The Return of the Pink Panther (1974) in which, when Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau inquires: “Der yer 'ave a rheum?” Spinetti queries simply: “A rheum?”
In the 1980s and early 1990s, he toured in his one-man show A Very Private Diary, in which he successfully merged personal reminiscences and anecdotes from his 40-year career.
Two of Spinetti’s Beatles’ film relics became collectors’ items: the fluffy mohair sweater he wore in A Hard Day’s Night was put on display at a girls’ school in Philadelphia, and his fur hat from Help! was reportedly offered for sale on the internet for $10,000. He also appeared in a cameo role in the third Beatles’ film, Magical Mystery Tour (1967).
Victor Spinetti was, for 44 years, the partner of Graham Curnow, who died in 1997. 

June 16, 2012

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.

June 11, 2012

Ross Noble on the Graham Norton Show

JAM fans will know that Graham Norton and Ross Noble have a very good relationship on JAM when they are on together - and both happen to be among my very favourite all-time players.

Ross appeared on Graham's show this week and was very funny - definitely worth a look!

another couple of WILTYs to enjoy

some more Would I Lie To You - learn more about why this show is so good.

This show features JAMmers Julian Clary, David Mitchell, Rob Brydon and Lee Mack.

and this one features David, Rob, Lee and Marcus Brigstocke

June 05, 2012

since Clement

I thought I'd update the stat on appearances in the three years since Clement's death... have included the TV shows as they were clearly trying to fit in with the radio talent. New players have been underlined, to show that there hasn't been a lot of new voices developed past one or two appearances over the past three years.

Total shows - 82

Paul Merton 72
Gyles Brandreth 27
Sue Perkins 24
Tony Hawks 22
Graham Norton 18
Julian Clary 16
Jenny Eclair 13
Josie Lawrence 11
Liza Tarbuck 10
Sheila Hancock, Shappi Khorsandi 8
Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Ross Noble, Stephen Fry, Charles Collingwood, Marcus Brigstocke, Pam Ayres 6
Alun Cochrane 5
Rick Wakeman 4
Phill Jupitus, John Sergeant, Richard HerringMiles JuppPaul Sinha 3
Tim Rice, Chris Neill, Greg Proops, Dave Gorman, Ian McMillan, David Mitchell, Justin Moorhouse, Cyrus BroachaKevin Eldon, Fi Glover, Jason ManfordAnuvab PalTerry Wogan 2
Fred MacAulay, Pauline McLynn, Janey Godley, Mike McShane, Stephen K, Amos, John Bishop, Hugh BonnevilleJason Byrne, Ruth JonesRussell Kane, Stephen ManganRussell ToveySuki Webster 1

the season so far

With four of six shows gone, I thought I should write something on the season.

After the  high profile of the TV shows, it has seemed a little low-key... or is it just me? The two shows with Paul, Sue, Julian and Greg Proops were both very funny. The best show so far this season was the one with Paul, Graham and Gyles - probably the three best players all-round of the current regular and semi-regulars.

The show today with Tony, Jenny, Richard Herring and Paul Sinha had a different feel as Richard says in his blog. He thinks Paul and Sue make things more competitive. The show today was quite competitive too - even Richard was challenging on repetition of "you" but still there did seem to be a different tone. I thought both Paul and Richard were better than I expected but still neither was quite so good that you would say they should have got a run ahead of many others or that they would be top of the list for another run soon.

Each of the shows have included players that have yet to be a real success on the show. Greg Proops has now done 11 shows, and I am a big fan, but it seems the format doesn't work for him. I also enjoyed Alun Cochrane's stand-up show last year and he seems keen and can be funny but just isn't enough of a player I think.

Good shows and many laughs though.

Richard Herring on JAM

The first of the shows recorded in Bridlington went to air today.

Richard Herring has written an interesting blog on his experiences recording the show. The blog can be found here, and I hope he won't mind if I copy it here.

I first appeared on Just a Minute back in August 2009, fulfilling an ambition, but not acquitting myself all that well (at the game at least). The fact that it has taken so long to get me invited back on is perhaps a testimony to my mediocrity, but I was glad to get the offer to return, even if it meant a long train journey to Bridlington where the show would be recorded. I love this show and am in awe of Nicholas Parsons, who is still at the helm despite being 88 years old and is able to keep up with this pacey game with great control and wit.
I was guaranteed a third performance on the show as we were recording two episodes tonight. I wasn't as nervous as before and with all due respect to my fellow panellists they were not as intimidating as Merton and Perkins who I'd been up against last time, so I suspected I would have more fun. I was pitted against the charming and gentlemanly and tanned Tony Hawks, my old mucky mucker Jenny Eclair and quiz nerd and stand up Paul Sinha and they were all friendly and supportive before the record.
My main concern this time was to avoid the hesitations that had plagued me last time I'd played. I say "um" and "er" and "you know" an awful lot without even realising. But I had a little test run in the morning against my wife and I seemed to have eradicated the ers. And suddenly a minute didn't seem all that long to talk continuously - maybe I could go for longer than the record 12 seconds that I had managed on the last occasion. Not a hope. In fact my very first go tonight began with an "er", which the others kindly ignored (I know that Sue Perkins would not have been so kind), though they picked me up on my second one about six seconds later. Was it going to be another hesitation marathon for me?
I got a grip and managed to avoid too many more needless non-verbal fillers and had the confidence to use my buzzer and try out challenges (some more spurious than others it has to be said). I also executed a neat trick on my opponents, talking about Somerset and then referring to the county as Somersetshire. I knew someone would think this was a repetition and indeed the massive fool Paul Sinha fell right into my trap, but alas Nicholas Parsons erroneously decided that Somersetshire was not a word and my scheme backfired. I hope there will be many letters of complaint. It's an outrage not seen since England had that clear goal disallowed against Germany. Who knows how different the results might have been had I been allowed to keep the subject?
I really enjoyed myself though, perhaps a little too much and was chastised a couple of times, once quite harshly, by Mr Parsons for buzzing in for challenges which were poor. I quite enjoyed being rebuked though. Parsons reminds me a bit of both my father and my headmaster (admittedly they are the same person) and in spite of his lack of knowledge about 19th Century and Middle Ages county nomenclature, I have massive respect for this remarkable man and if he felt I was spoiling his game then I can only bow down to him and admit that I was at fault. I enjoyed him criticising me for being pedantic and spiritedly defended myself saying that that was pretty much the whole point of the show.
There was a delightful moment when the subject was "romantic gestures" and I managed to steal the subject from Jenny Eclair with another bit of pedantry and Nicholas Parsons warned the lady with the whistle to ready herself saying, "Stick it in your mouth, darling." The double entendre was not lost on the audience, and juxtaposed nicely with the subject of the round and the host was lost in giggles as he realised what he had done. How marvellous to be a part of all this and to work with this man whose career has spanned seven decades. Even after a tiring train journey he was sharper than any of us and able to spot repetitions that the rest of us missed entirely. Throughout the two games my ability to speak for long-ish periods improved and in the second show I took a subject with 20 seconds to go, improvised a story based on what the last two people had been talking about and rode a wave of spontaneous applause and laughter right up to the whistle. That felt pretty good. If they let me on another ten or twenty times I might actually be able to play this game with the proper degree of skill and without getting over-excited and interrupting too much.
Anyway you can listen for yourselves in June. I think I did OK, despite worrying about having been over-enthusiastic on the buzzer
Afterwards we went out for a meal and a few drinks and it was an honour and a pleasure to spend time with this entertaining company, especially Mr Parsons, who apologised with some reservations for telling me off, whilst making it clear that I had still deserved the verbal spanking. I love hearing the stories about which celebrities and ex-panellists have been nightmares to work with. But Parsons wins by staying alive the longest, which is my ultimate showbiz aim. Just keep working until you achieve the status of being a national treasure, just by dint of refusing to die. It's my only hope.
I felt very privileged to be amongst such company and the long trip has been more than worthwhile. Not just to Bridlington, but from the kitchen table in my student digs when I used to listen to this show making mung bean casseroles.