Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

February 16, 2015

more thoughts on JAM's first for the year

The fuss over David Tennant's first in speaking for 60 minutes without interruption continues. On Saturday morning, Radio Four's popular Today programme devoted five minutes to this with Nicholas Parsons interviewed. He declared the first ever JAM to be a "disaster"! It seems to get worse every time he mentions it.

The Today programme also called Nicholas "Sir Nicholas", a mistake he didn't correct (Parsons has not been knighted). Their webpage also mis-spelled his name as "Nicolas" although I see that has now been corrected... though the knighthood remains.

I have sent an email to some of the news outlets who have made the mistake about Tennant's first, and have yet to receive a reply or see the error corrected. In a way this is understandable as most reporters will not want to spend their valuable time trying to work out whether I'm right or not, especially when they have Nicholas's word. As I say I CAN understand that, as a journalist myself. But still, it is a bit disappointing that this incorrect "fact" continues to be repeated, and that the off-the-cuff recollection of a man who is after all in his 90s is all it takes for this meme to take off.

Nicholas, as much as I love him, is not totally reliable when declaring historical firsts.

I was at a recording in 2007 when Clement Freud and Gyles Brandreth were both on the panel. At one point Nicholas declared the show "to be the first time we have had two former MPs on a show together". Clement immediately snorted and said, rather grumpily, "Gyles and I have been together on this programme at least a dozen times". Which was rather percipient of him, as Kenneth Williams might have said, as they had appeared on 13 programmes together at that point (though the first four were before either was a "former MP". Graham Norton also pointed out it was the second show recorded that night anyway, so couldn't possibly be the first.

But perhaps my favourite Nicholas mistake came in 1976 when in introducing Thora Hird, he declared her to have been a great success when she was on the programme last year. Thora immediately interjected that she had never been on the show before so can't have been a great success, adding "but I'm sure if I had been on, I would have been a success".

I'd also note that in his Daily Mail article he singled out Pam Ayres as being slow to pick up the way of speaking in the game, although she went the full 60 in her debut radio appearance and her second TV appearance!

I am not, I hope, coming across, as being too hard on Nicholas. We all make mistakes. I make them all the time. Lots of them. With Nicholas, it's a symptom of him getting excited about the programme which isn't at all a bad thing.

I think though that it has brought up a couple of thoughts that interest me.

The first is that Just A Minute is really treasured by a lot of people. Try doing a Twitter search in the past week on #justaminute and you'll see what I mean. People still love the programme after almost 50 years. A lot of people. That's why the media is using this achievement as an excuse to talk about Just A Minute.

And people loved that particular show. When I listen to a show for the first time these days, I am taking down details of subjects, and who is talking. Sometimes concentrating on that, you lose touch with the actual quality of the show. My first reaction was that, given the stellar cast, it was slightly disappointing. But that hasn't been the reaction of many many others who found the show a delight. It's hard to go past a panel with such names as Paul Merton, Stephen Fry, David Tennant and Julian Clary, I guess.

And finally perhaps, to give Tennant's achievement some perspective. It's pretty clear that in the 70s and 80s, the policy of the regulars was to allow a newcomer some latitude to get going and get into the rhythm of JAM-speak, even if they were pausing a little, or repeating the odd word. Sometimes players were allowed more than a little latitude and allowed to keep going until, or past, the point of collapse. I mentioned in my earlier post, for example, that Stanley Unwin was one of those who had achieved Tennant's feat. But look at how he did it on the subject of "communication"....

Oh! Well! The early communication of course was the tom-tom which is a wonderful form of communication between the natives of the various continents of the world. But um of the so-called civilised world I think er the er early digital, early digital communication was the morse code. Dit-dit-dee-dah-dee-dah and so on. Ah then after that ah we had um.... we had er oral communication. Now the trouble is that I find is that er our wonderful, our wonderful language which very few of us bother to speak properly, ah you might.... but um... there's always a first time on a programme you know! But deep folly! Communication ah I, I found one day that the chap wasn't listening to what I was trying to express... 

Actually hearing it is even worse with very very long pauses. Still it's good fun and if you are interested, you can also hear it on YouTube

 There are others like this, of which Fenella Fielding is perhaps the most notable example. Joan Turner is engulfed in hysterical laughter before the whistle goes, while Kenny Everett also collapses a bit well before the full 60 seconds are up.

 So Tennant's achievement is a lot better than Stanley Unwin's. I very much doubt that Paul, Stephen and Julian put down their buzzers. It's been pointed out Tennant did repeat the word "stage", but it's the sort of mistake that can easily be missed.

What this whole incident shows is how much people CARE about Just A Minute. That's a good sign for the show continuing for a long time yet.

February 13, 2015

David Tennant's first

David Tennant has received a fair bit of attention for going the full 60 seconds without interruption in his first appearance.

Nicholas Parsons declared it on air to be a first.

 He has since written an article about the feat in the Daily Mail.

Julian Clary has written this article about it and also writes entertainingly about his own JAM debut.

The BBC's PM show did a bit on it at the end of its programme the next day - listen here, there are three bits, one at 22-30 in where we hear a Kenneth Williams minute, one at 36-10 where we hear a Sheila Hancock minute, and one at 56-50 we hear a Clement Freud minute.

And both the BBC and the Telegraph have written nice articles about the achievement.

And of course it IS a big thing to do.

But sadly, it is NOT a first.

Here is a list of players who went the full 60 seconds in their first appearance on radio Just A Minute

-  Andree Melly (1968), Aimi Macdonald (1968), Fenella Fielding (1969), Joan Turner (1970), Katharine Whitehorn (1970), Liz Fraser (1970), Thora Hird (1976), June Whitfield (1978), Kenny Everett (1980), John Junkin (1980), Stanley Unwin (1987), Christopher Timothy (1988), Graham Norton (1996), Charles Collingwood (2001), and Pam Ayres (2003).

Of these, Katharine Whitehorn, Liz Fraser, Thora Hird, John Junkin, Stanley Unwin, Christopher Timothy, Graham Norton, Charles Collingwood, and Pam Ayres were speaking on the first time they'd been given a subject, like Tennant. (ie, the others had already started a subject earlier in the show.)

And Katharine Whitehorn, Thora Hird, Stanley Unwin, Christopher Timothy, and Pam Ayres were speaking for the first time on any subject, like David Tennant. (ie, the others had already successfully challenged someone else and taken over a subject mid-round.)

If we include the various TV versions, we must take out Graham Norton and Pam Ayres as they both debuted on TV. But we must add in Isla Blair (1999), who also achieved it on her first time speaking at all.

None of this is meant to detract from an amazing performance by David Tennant. But it is NOT an unprecedented performance.