Keith started in the late 70s taking notes on every show, listing the scores for each show, writing down the subjects and who started each round. He kept these old exercise books all his life, his notes scrawled in pencil, but with love.
And he and a group of friends started attending each show, sitting up front near where Kenneth Williams's mother always sat. Kenneth was Keith's favourite and a few times Keith chased Kenneth as he walked home from the Paris Studio where most shows were recorded. As is well-known, Kenneth didn't always appreciate fan attention, but he seems to have tolerated Keith, as he was reasonably forthright in his opinions, describing one of his fellow panellists as a "silly bitch".
Keith and his friends would get together to attend recordings and play Just A Minute. And Keith used to record all the shows on to cassette tapes and keep them.
Keith first got in touch with me way back in 2001, I think. He sent me long rather rambly, but enthusiastic and appreciative emails about the website and JAM. He would send me copies of some of the letters he had sent producers and some of the answers he had. Kenneth was certainly his favourite but he had a deep appreciation of all of the players and treasured any contact he had with them.
One letter that I still have here was written just after Kenneth died to then producer Teddy Taylor. At the time Kenneth seemed to think Barry Cryer was being lined up to replace Kenneth as the regular and Keith wrote that Barry wouldn't be good enough because he had only just once won a game of JAM. He then sent a long list of people who he wanted to hear on JAM - they were all big names of British comedy, people like Bruce Forsyth, Spike Milligan, Ronnie Corbett and Barry Humphries (either as Dame Edna or as himself, Keith said). Keith also wrote that he wanted Nicholas to do the odd show on the panel with Peter Jones or Derek Nimmo or Clement Freud as chairman. He received a nice reply, although Teddy didn't respond specifically to the critique of Barry Cryer, he did respond to some of Keith's other comments, and thanked him for the suggestions.
Keith also sent me letters he had received from Sheila Hancock and Aimi Macdonald in answer to his requests that they return to the programme. Both seemed open to it. Aimi said she would love to "but you have to be asked". Sheila wrote back saying that she had been asked to appear on the show just after Kenneth's death, and then felt she would be too upset to do it, but that she might be open to a return now. And a few months later she did return to the show, after Keith had sent her letter to then producer Claire Jones.
Keith had a huge impact on the JAM website that I still run. His notes about shows and dates provided the nucleus of the complete list of shows that I always wanted to have. And he sent me literally hundreds of shows on cassette wich I transcribed and copied for others - the begnning of the sharing of shows that continues now. Many of the recordings you can hear on the Internet today come from Keith's old cassettes.
In 2002 I holidayed in London and spent a bit of time with Keith. We walked the famous walk, often mentioned on JAM, between the Paris Studio and Great Portland Street, near where Kenneth lived. I can remember Keith trying determinedly to get me into a closed theatre where the first JAM was recorded, arguing at length with a security guard. We went to a couple of shows together, though not JAM. He was great fun and was hugely energetic - I used to struggle to keep up with him as he charged down the street. And of course, he talked endlessly about JAM - there wasn't an aspect of the show he didn't love. We went to one of the evenings where he was playing the show with his friends.
It was one of my ambitions to see JAM recorded with Keith and we made plans to do this in September 2007. We travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon together to see the show. The story of the recording is told in detail on this blog - part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here. It's worth reading. The sad aspect was that Keith became very ill and we were unable to go to the show together. He of course insisted that I go and I did. After I had left, Keith recovered a little and got a taxi to the theatre, but then became ill again and an ambulance returned him to the B and B where were staying. So my ambition of seeing a JAM with Keith remained unfulfilled, and alas, will now always be unfulfilled.
As Keith's health deteriorated, he was unable to send emails, but he was able to cope with writing on the blog - I think the darker colours helped - and would write delightful comments in the comments section, often describing at length the latest recording he had attended, or passing on news of who would be on the next one. If you look through the comments on this blog you will see many from Keith, his last just a couple of weeks ago.
He became interested in the idea of writing a book about Just A Minute and would occasionally give me updates on how this was going. He spent a lot of time at the BBC archives going through the old correspondence about the show. I always had some doubts that he was a good enough writer to get a book professionally published and encouraged him to aim to have a book published by himself which he could share with friends. Keith had no doubts though, and wrote off to the BBC and others with his plans.
But in the end, Keith did get his book published in a way. He had struck up a friendship with Nicholas Parsons who would ring up occasionally and chat to Keith. He would put aside tickets for Keith to attend the shows and pass on info on who was appearing. This info would be passed on to me and put up on the blog.
When Nicholas mentioned his plans to write a book, he asked Keith to help with some of the research for the book which of course Keith did with enthusiasm and the book - with commendably few mistakes - was published last year. I went to London for the book launch and Keith was there, as happy and energetic as ever. I don't remember exactly what he was wearing but he was certainly wearing the loudest clothing in the room and he was in typical Keith fashion, bowling up to every celeb in the room, insisting they autograph the book. He also found time for me and his other friends who were there. It was a special evening and I know Keith was delighted that he had been able to contribute to Nicholas's book.
So it seems the illness Keith suffered from for years, a form of epilepsy, has taken him from us. JAM will never have a better friend. And I'll miss a dear dear man who contributed so much to me, to the website and through that to many JAM fans around the world.
A couple of friends have written to me... I won't name them as I haven't asked permission, but here's a little of what they had to say...
one - I’d known Keith for about 10 years through JAM and since the time that we first got talking he’d been kindly taking me along to shows about twice a year. I live close to the Oxfam shop where he was the manager and it’s a popular port of call for many who live in Kentish Town, not just the bookworms but those who enjoyed the relaxed social conviviality which Keith and his team managed to generate. Keith alerted me to your blog a few years back, which I’ve been frequenting ever since.
two - I know you and Keith were very good friends and go back a long way. Keith spoke about you an awful lot when we were working on the book. He was very appreciative of all your help on that specifically and in general over the years, sharing your passion and interest in Just a Minute with him.So rest in peace, dear Keith. We'll miss you.
Hei maumaharatanga ki te tino hoa. . Kei konā te aroha me te whakaaro.