Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

September 29, 2013

junior just a minute

Nicholas, Josie Lawrence and Jenny Eclair and a lot of young panellists at the recent recording of Junior JAM


We're about to get a lot of attention on the chairman Nicholas Parsons. On October 10th he turns 90.

It is an incredible achievement that Nicholas is still chairing a game that is largely about being quick-witted. I don't agree with those who think he has slowed down significantly - he has always fumbled at some points. It's part of the joy of his chairmanship and has been throughout the 46 years. I also think his voice sounds 30 years younger than it is. Physically though he is beginning to look his age.

There's no sign that Nicholas will retire unless his health does take a turn for the worst. I believe he sees the 50-year and 1000-show targets in his sights.

Should we do anything special here to mark Nicholas's 90th? I'd interested if anyone has any ideas.

In the meantime - here's a lovely article in the Telegraph.

There's no deviation for Just a Minute veteran Nicholas Parsons
The 90-year-old actor and presenter of Radio 4's Just a Minute shows no sign of slowing up
“And on another occasion: 'Our romance is now the talk of the ping-pong club.’ She sent me her picture.” He chuckles. “My first wife Denise was worried that any moment she might show up – but, thank goodness, she never came.”
He refuses to call his fan crazy, even though she clearly was. And there was obviously no talk of a restraining order. “You can’t treat your fans like that,” he shakes his head, disapproving. “It may be old-school, but I think everyone deserves respect.”
He grows pink with pleasure when I suggest that these are the words of a real gentleman. “Oh darling, I would never say that. But my father, he was a typical English gentleman, who prized courtesy and respect, and maybe I take after him.”
Parsons will turn 90 on October 10. But in his dapper suit and cravat, with his white hair beautifully combed and not a Zimmer frame or stick in sight, the Just a Minute presenter looks far younger. Indeed, his schedule would exhaust a 50-year-old. Last month he hosted his comedy chat show, Nicholas Parsons’s Happy Hour, at the Edinburgh Festival – for the 13th year in a row. He’s just finished recording a new series of Just a Minute, which has been running on Radio 4 since 1967. And the evening after I meet him, he was entertaining guests at a charity dinner.
After 60 years as a presenter, actor and comedy performer, Parsons knows his profession is unforgiving and recently admitted that he tried to keep his age a secret for fear it would put off employers.
He’s kept other secrets along the way, too. For instance, he used to suffer from a bad stammer, which he overcame only with a huge effort and lots of practice. He also had dyslexia, over which he triumphed – “I couldn’t read the lines, but I’d memorise them.” And he hid, at the start of his career, his regular visits to a psychologist.
“When I was young, if you said you were seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist, people would think you were a nutcase. You probably were a nutcase, that’s why you needed to go. You have to be a little bit mad to be in this world.”
In his autobiography, The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy, Parsons describes growing up as “the unconventional child” of conventional parents. His father was a GP, his mother an aspirational woman who regarded showbusiness as “fit for drunks and low-lifes”. Nicholas was the middle child, with an older brother and younger sister, and the family lived in Hampstead, north London. He attended St Paul’s School, though he had to leave in 1942, before completing his studies, because of the Second World War.
When young Nicholas talked of his ambition to act, his parents balked. As he was good with his hands, they decided that a career in mechanical engineering would be more suitable. Thanks to an uncle with connections in Glasgow, Nicholas went to work as an apprentice in a Clyde shipyard. It was the making of him. A posh boy, he had to win over his co-workers before they beat him up. His jokes and impersonations did the trick – and confirmed his thespian talents.
“I never looked back,” he smiles. His mother, who prized academic success, never seemed to accept his rebellion – and I wonder if her disapproval left him feeling insecure and in need of therapy.
He won’t be drawn: “I had issues. I knew what they were. I got help. No doubt about it, a lot of people can benefit from it. I think it’s a good thing that mental health is something that everyone now feels more comfortable with.” In fact, I suggest, performers such as Stephen Fry talk quite openly about their struggle with depression. “Oh, he goes too far. We don’t want to be like the Americans, who talk about therapy all the time.”
In a career spanning so many decades, and both theatre and broadcasting – throughout the 1990s, for instance, he appeared on stage in the The Rocky Horror Show – Parsons has known some of the biggest names in entertainment. Kenneth Williams was brilliant “but inhibited and tortured”; Clement Freud was “difficult but a wonderful brain”; Paul Merton, who as a panellist on Just a Minute spars regularly with Parsons, “is a genius. A lovely man. He’s become a friend.” As for Jimmy Savile: “A nasty piece of work. I never guessed what he was up to, but I did think he was damn odd.”
The BBC has emerged from the Savile scandal as a secretive institution with a debauched hinterland. Does this tally with Parsons’s own memory? “No. I never came across that. Not even rumours.” What of the corporation’s other scandal, regarding pay-offs and salaries? “The BBC I knew was not the same thing at all. When I was young, it was the creative people who ran it. Now it is the bureaucrats. Sadly, they don’t understand showbusiness. Production people in the Light Entertainment department are lovely. Yet, from what I read in the papers, the people above them are motivated by greed. It’s so sad. I love the BBC, I’ve worked here for more than 60 years… they risk destroying an incredible institution.”
The monarchy is another institution he loves. He had “the great privilege” of being invited to lunch at Buckingham Palace in 1968, with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne. “She was still at school. She was off that day because she had a dentist appointment, and I got to sit next to her,” he tells me. “The Queen is wonderful and has an incredible sense of what people want. Prince Philip has helped her get that common touch – he was in the Navy and knew how to get along with people from all walks of life. Remember, he mixed with those in the lower decks. Oh, what a lovely man.”
Nicholas Parsons OBE – he was honoured 10 years ago – bubbles over with enthusiasm for people and life. The niceness is no façade, either. I happen to know one of the “hostesses” who worked with him on the TV hit Sale of the Century” in the 1970s.
Nikki Page was a stunning blonde in her twenties when, together with an equally attractive brunette, it was her job to point out the special features of the washing machine or sports car given as prizes to the winning contestant. “Nicholas was punctilious about politeness. He treated us with the same respect he gave the director and the TV bosses. He was so sweet – but also very careful about not sending out the wrong signals. He was a married star, and he made sure no one came near his dressing room, which would have got tongues wagging.”
In the hour and a half that I spend with him, Parsons speaks eloquently (no hesitation, deviation or repetition) and pulls out names and quotes from the recesses of his memory without any trouble. What is the secret to such happy longevity?
“Gardening. Keeping active. I stretch for 20 minutes every morning. If I miss a day, I do half an hour the next. And I’m blessed because I have my wife, Annie, without whom I couldn’t do a thing.” Annie, 73, is his second wife; he was amicably divorced in 1989 from his first, Denise, with whom he has a son and a daughter, and stresses that the two remain friends. “And then there are my children and grandchildren. They have kept me from ever taking myself too seriously. They have kept me steady.”
That last word suggests that Parsons’s well-being lies in having slain the demons of his early years. As, with a sprightly step, he approaches the big nine-o, the young dyslexic with a stammer and an unconventional ambition knows he has made good. That must be the best present of all.
Also this BBC Five programme has a great interview with Nicholas.

I will try and update over the next two weeks as no doubt there will be plenty more on everyone's favourite chairman.

September 14, 2013

that was the year that was.

With the final recordings for the year done we are able to list the panel appearances in 2013. I won't do my annual review of the player performances until after the Christmas special.

There were 24 panellists this year - the smallest number in some time.

Among those who didn't do JAM this year is a list that could make up a pretty good show - Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Ross Noble, Stephen Fry, Charles Collingwood, Shappi Khorsandi and Phill Jupitus are among them.

This years's list then (from 22 shows)...

Paul Merton 18
Gyles Brandreth 10
Tony Hawks, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Jenny Eclair, Pam Ayres, Alun Cochrane, Richard Herring, Stephen Mangan 4
Russell Kane 3
Sheila Hancock, Liza Tarbuck, Marcus Brigstocke, Josie Lawrence, Fred MacAulay, Kevin Eldon, Jason Manford, Patrick Kielty, Roy Walker 2
Greg Proops, Henry Blofeld, Joe Lycett 1

uninterrupted minutes and other stats

There's been some discussion on the Yahoo group on the subject of uninterrupted minutes since the recent show where Sue Perkins had two of them. Nicholas claimed that was a first.

There have been a few shows where this has been done. The record is actually three times in one show, by the late lamented Sir Clement Freud in a show in 1981.

Sue is certainly getting better and better at the game though!

Someone else pointed out that it's now been a while since Paul Merton and Tony Hawks were on a show together. They were last on a TV show together in April last year, and it's more than two years since they were on a radio show together.

Strangely they also didn't appear together for almost three years between August 1999 and July 2002. And in that period, they were second and third in total appearances, behind Clement.

I think the current absence is partly because Tony Hawks is appearing far less frequently than he was a few years ago.

A similar oddity... since Clement's death in April 2009, Gyles Brandreth and Sue Perkins are second and third in total appearances. Yet in those four and a half years, they have not been on a show together.

Just A Minute - the Book!

Nicholas Parsons is writing a book about Just A Minute, which is due to be published next year.

The story is here, courtesy comedy.co.uk

Nicholas Parsons has signed a Just A Minute-linked book deal.

He will write Welcome to Just a Minute!, the first book to cover the long-running radio panel show in which guests are challenged to speak on topics without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Parsons has hosted every edition of the Radio 4 panel show, more than 800 episodes, which was launched on the station in December 1967. The 89 year-old has also presented three TV transfers of the format, the most recent of which was on BBC Two early last year.

Publishers Canongate won an auction of rights to release the book, which will be published as an official BBC tie-in. The book is expected to be ready to launch at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2014.

Welcome to Just a Minute! will cover the history of the show and its panellists, with transcripts of its best moments and contributions from regular panellists.

Nicholas Parsons says: "While it is my responsibility as Chairman to guide the show, I consider it equally important to generate the fun we create in what is a truly unscripted and spontaneous programme, and it is an honour to be asked to bring the spirit of the show into book form."

Canongate's Jenny Lord, who will edit the book, adds: "I've been tuning in to Just A Minute for as long as I can remember. A British comedy institution, it is consistently brilliant and no surprise that after forty-five years, it is still our best-loved radio comedy."

I've known about this for a few months, since my friend Keith is helping with it .

I'm pleased to see a JAM book and fully expect a beautiful bedside tome, hopefully with great illustrations.

The idea of having some of the panellists write about their memories is a good one. Hopefully those still around from the 60s and 70s (Andree Melly? Aimi Macdonald?) won't be forgotten.

We have heard a lot from Nicholas on his view of JAM over the years, in his previous books, on the classic CDs and so on. Hopefully he will still have some interesting things to add to what he has said before!

September 07, 2013

christmas panel

the panel for tonight’s recording was Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Pam Ayres and Stephen Mangan

and I see the Radio Times is now saying the current season is SEVEN shows.... presumably one of these shows recorded today will play in this season...

September 02, 2013

Best of 2013

The promo page at Amazon for the JAM Best of 2013 CD is up, though there’s no date for the actual release.

the four shows included this time feature

Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins and Jason Manford
Paul, Graham, Pam Ayres and Kevin Eldon
Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Richard Herring and Russell Kane
Paul, Richard, Julian Clary and Jenny Eclair

as has been the case for the past few years, despite the title of the CD,  shows from the second half of the year aren’t included.

No signs of a new JAM classic edition.

But I am wondering if part of the reason the BBC is recording a Christmas JAM edition in early September is that it plans to package up some of the Christmas themed JAMs in a CD for Christmas with this latest show. There were Christmas JAMs in 1970, 1975, 1985 and 1994, and it would certainly be a fun Christmas present!