Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 17, 2014

the book

I have now read through Nicholas Parsons' new book, Welcome To Just A Minute, a history of the show.

As I've said, there are a few statistical pages at the end of the book, which I compiled, and it's obvious that the book has made plenty of use of the website which Nicholas generously acknowledges in the preface. The book also includes some other statistical question type pages which I also contributed to. I say this early so you can take into account any "bias" on my part.

The book is not without the odd error, but there is nothing of major significance which is a compliment to the team that produced it.

I expected the book to be a coffee table style book with plenty of photos, as Nicholas has already written extensively about the show in his two autobiographies, and talked about it endlessly in recent years. Would he have anything much new to say, I wondered.

Well as it happens he has plenty that will be new to even the most devoted fan. There are no great revelations, but to be fair to him, Nicholas does not shy away from addressing the show's "controversies", such as they are - his clashes with Clement Freud over his style of chairmanship, the tensions that led to Wendy Richard being quietly dropped from the show.

The book is a chronological look at the show, with chapters on the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the 21st century. Nicholas runs through the show's development, how his style has changed, how the style of comedy has changed, commenting in detail on panellists and just about every imagineable aspect of the show. I guess about half of the text is taken up by transcripts of shows, artfully chosen to illustrate the points Nicholas makes.

I'\ve always thought the transcripts stand up well to text reading, and of course the way they have been chosen - to highlight the especially funny moments - makes then hugely enjoyable to read. It will be hard to get through many pages of the book without chuckling and it will ceratinly send many people looking for online versions of the various shows to hear the segments in their full glory. Most of the transcripts have a date attached which will make this possible.

Slightly surprisingly to me, the emphasis of the book is more on the "gang of four" days rather than the show as it currently stands, which may make the appeal of the book partly nostalgic. The book has 464 pages, but discussion of the post-Kenneth Williams era - more than half the show's history - doesn't begin until page 287, and even the chapter on the 21st century begins with lengthy tributes to Peter Jones, Clement and Derek Nimmo.

There are good analyses of the styles of Kenneth, Clement, Derek, Peter, Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock, Graham Norton, Gyles Brandreth, Andree Melly, Jenny Eclair, Julian Clary, Sue Perkins, Tim Rice, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Ross Noble, Linda Smith, Aimi Macdonald, Wendy Richard, Liza Tarbuck, Steve Frost, Josie Lawrence and Stephen Fry, while a few of the most eccentric guests, Magnus Pyke, Richard Murdoch, Patrick Moore, Elaine Stritch and Stanley Unwin, also get a rundown with well chosen excerpts from shows.

Nicholas also writes at length on such matters as the show's travels, the whistle, how the subjects are chosen, the success and failure of the TV versions, the JAM stage show of the 90s, how his rulings have changed (he's very critical of his early efforts), theme music, the show's international appeal with partocular mention of India, and many other aspects.

There are also short sections written by Gyles, Graham, Jenny and Sue - presumably Paul Merton is saving his thoughts on the show for his own book out this month. Theese are all good fun. Interestingly Gyles writes at length on Nicholas, Clement, Kenneth, Peter and Derek but has nothing to say about any of his current fellow panellists.

The disappointment of the book for me was the photos. There are a few, largely old publicity shots, but I was hoping for a few more.

I wonder if the BBC will be tempted to turn this into an audiobook. Nicholas reading this with the various excerpts from shows all added in would surely make a great Christmas present.

I'll be interested to see how the book sells. It is a long book, but Nicholas has a friendly chatty writing style and it has been very well edited - the book would score well in terms of lack of repetition and deviation. Because the transcripts have been chosen to illustrate points Nicholas is making, they don't break up the flow of the story at all.

It's a book perhaps for having nearby for light reading and dipping into, rather than one where yoiu feel compelled to read it in a day or two as I did, and I look forward to going back to it for a few dips!


Anonymous Lord Salt said...

Dean, thank you for all those titbits about the JAM book :)

6:33 am  

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