Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

February 06, 2019

website, the long absence and falling out of love

You may or may not have noticed that I have been very poor at updating the website. There was a time when it was a source of pride to have every new edition of JAM added within hours so it's obviously very slack to have fallen so far behind.

There's a few things in play here. As a practical thing - the website was created a long time ago in another era. In fact it celebrates its 20th birthday next month.

It was originally created using a Geocities website maker... if you can now even remember what Geocities was, you have a remarkably good memory. The tools involved have long since passed on, and now every time I update the site, it involves a lot of boring time-consuming pain-staking work, copying chunks of code from place to place, and page to page. The size of the site is a factor too - every show involves amendments to dozens of pages. So amendments take a long time to do and are not much fun any more.

Then there's the personal factor that 2018 was a tough year for me. My father was ill for most of the year and in November, he died. This has been a difficult time.

Another personal factor is that I have been genuinely struggling with what seems like a small point - how to deal with the 50th anniversary documentary broadcast at the beginning of 2018. There's the issue of whether to include the chat show programme as a genuine edition of JAM. This may seem a minor matter, and of course it is. However at some point soon JAM will broadcast its 1000th show and at that point there will be interest in which show that is. I think my site will have some influence on which show is listed as the 1000th.

A factor in this - although I guess it shouldn't be - is how to deal with my own involvement in the documentary. There seems something, well, boastful to include my name alongside so many great comedians and entertainers. If It had been anyone else, it would be far less of a problem.

But perhaps most interestingly I am slowly falling out of love with JAM. There was a time when I would have been desperate to talk about such a major development as Nicholas missing shows and Gyles Brandreth chairing in his place. I find myself thinking about things like this, but not getting on to writing about it at the blog.

Some of the things I used to love about JAM have gone. Kenneth Williams obviously, but what used to make JAM stand out, even when Kenneth wasn't there, were the challenges to the chairman, the arguments over the rules, the straight out abuse of the chairman. Nicholas is now almost always referred to now as a living saint. Of course he deserves this, but the jokes about his age, his incompetence and so on were part of what made JAM fun and different. The idea of the audience as a participant has also slowly died, in part I think because the hall where JAM is now recorded has the audience some distance from the panel. The best improvisation feeds off the audience and I think it is harder to do this if you're not among them.

So where to from here?

Well I have a few weeks off and so I am going to try and get the site up to date. Once I've done that I will try to pen a few thoughts on JAM in 2018 and the chairing of Gyles. I'll try to be better at keeping up to date, and hope you'll forgive me when I cannot.

Jeremy Hardy RIP

I've been sad for several days now about the untimely passing of Jeremy Hardy. He died from cancer, which hits home for me, as does his age (only a few years older than me.

Jeremy made only a few appearances on JAM but was of course a stalwart on other Radio Four shows, especially News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

He was among the most witty and original of performers, I think arguably the best of that group of brilliant improvisational comedians that came along in the 80s. He just seemed to think funny and it just flowed from him.

He was a brilliant satirist perhaps because his interest in political jokes came from a passion about the world. So many comedians make jokes about politicians that could just as easily fit any of them. Jeremy's political jokes always seemed to have extra power because they were so often making points about how we could be working towards a better world.

And yet, in Clue in particular, he could also just be gloriously silly. He is best known for his tuneless singing, but his lack of ability in this area was something he took to with gusto. I think that's why it became such a crowd favourite. He embraced the poor singing so heartily that it became great to laugh along with him.

So we mourn the loss of such a wit. And also it brings back memories of Linda Smith, also taken far too early, a brilliant player of JAM and the person Jeremy once described as the funniest he had met. He has a lot of work we can still listen to, but it still seems like we are being short-changed. He had so many more jokes to make, pompous politicians to prick, songs to be sung ...

April 20, 2018

Dale Winton

Sad news indeed to hear that the comedian and broadcaster Dale Winton has died aged 62.

Dale was a JAM regular for the commercial TV version of the programme in 1995.

He's best known as  TV presenter, especially for the game show Supermarket Sweep.

There are many tributes today in British media.

The BBC here

The Guardian here

and this one in the Independent focusses on his impact on the LGBT community.

Worth reading!

March 26, 2018

new recording --- or not?

There are some pics and tweets of what looks like a JAM recording at the Oxford Literary Festival at the weekend. The team was Tony Hawks, Pam Ayres, Miles Jupp and the writer Felix Francis. It looks like a recording - the only thing that makes me suspicious is that sitting beside Nicholas is his wife Annie, blowing the whistle and keeping score!

Anyone know if this was a recording or just one of the occasional shows JAM puts on?

February 19, 2018

JAM is back

It seems a long time since it was on but it's back tomorrow. Panel is Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Jenny Eclair and Josie Lawrence which sounds very strong.
There have been (at least) two other recordings done - one with Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Stephen Fry and Jan Ravens, and another with Paul, Julian Clary, Shappi Khorsandi and Jo Caulfield.
The listing says there are eight shows this season so if that is right, there will be another recording to be done.

January 25, 2018

gap years

As already mentioned Jan Ravens is a panellist in the coming season, having last appeared in 1994 - a gap of 24 years!

With this in mind, I thought I would try and compile a list of longest time between appearances...

I have done a radio list - and then a list that includes the various TV seasons too. Minimum gap to be included was five years. I have included both Jan, and Jo Caulfield who are appearing in the current season.

Note Maureen Lipman appears in each list three times!

Radio only

24 years: Jan Ravens (1994-2018)  *** latest shows not yet aired
19 years: Eleanor Summerfield (1968-1987)
17 years: Helen Lederer (1992-2009)
16 years: Gyles Brandreth (1986-2002)
15 years: Sheila Hancock (1987-2002)
15 years: Martin Jarvis (1985-2000)
12 years: Denise Coffey (1970-1982)
12 years: Barry Cryer (1989-2001)
11 years: Jo Caulfield (2007-2018) *** latest shows not yet aired
11 years: Jan Ravens (1983-1994)
10 years: Maureen Lipman (1982-1992)
10 years: Alfred Marks (1977-1987)
10 years: Neil Mullarkey (1997-2007)
9 years: John Junkin (1983-1992)
9 years: Maureen Lipman (1998-2007)
7 years: Robin Ince (2008-2015)
7 years: Lance Percival (1981-1988)
7 years: Tim Rice (1991-1998)
7 years: Wendy Richard (1995-2002)
6 years: Phill Jupitus (2011-2017)
6 years: Maureen Lipman (1992-1998)
6 years: Mike McShane (2009-2015)
6 years: Richard Morton (1993-1999)
6 years: Tim Rice (2009-2015)
6 years: Tony Slattery (1993-1999)
5 years: Liz Fraser (1970-1975)
5 years: Stephen Fry (1994-1999)
5 years: Jeremy Hardy (1995-2000)
5 years: Josie Long (2009-2014)
5 years: Fred MacAulay (1999-2004)
5 years: Ian Messiter (1977-1982)
5 years: Greg Proops (2007-2012)
5 years: John Sergeant (2005-2010)

Including radio and TV appearances

24 years: Jan Ravens (1994-2018)  *** latest shows not yet aired
19 years: Eleanor Summerfield (1968-1987)
15 years: Sheila Hancock (1987-2002)
15 years: Martin Jarvis (1985-2000)
14 years: Helen Lederer (1995-2009)
13 years: Gyles Brandreth (1986-1999)
12 years: Denise Coffey (1970-1982)
12 years: Liza Goddard (1983-1995)
11 years: Jo Caulfield (2007-2018) *** latest shows not yet aired

11 years: Jan Ravens (1983-1994)
10 years: Barry Cryer (1989-1999)
10 years: Maureen Lipman (1982-1992)
10 years: Alfred Marks (1977-1987)
10 years: Neil Mullarkey (1997-2007)
10 years: Nick Revell (1994-2004)
9 years: John Junkin (1983-1992)
9 years: Maureen Lipman (1998-2007)
7 years: Robin Ince (2008-2015)
7 years: Lance Percival (1981-1988)
7 years: Tim Rice (1991-1998)
6 years: Maureen Lipman (1992-1998)
6 years: Mike McShane (2009-2015)
6 years: Richard Morton (1993-1999)
6 years: Tim Rice (2009-2015)
6 years: John Sergeant (1999-2005)
5 years: Jo Brand (1994-1999)
5 years: Liz Fraser (1970-1975)
5 years: Stephen Fry (1994-1999)
5 years: Jeremy Hardy (1995-2000)
5 years: Phill Jupitus (2012-2017)
5 years: Josie Long (2009-2014)
5 years: Fred MacAulay (1999-2004)
5 years: Ian Messiter (1977-1982)
5 years: Greg Proops (2007-2012)
5 years: John Sergeant (2005-2010)

and again

today's panel was Paul Merton, Julian Clary, Shappi Khorsandi and Jo Caulfield. Jo's first appearance since 2007!

January 18, 2018

panel news

latest recordings featured Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Jenny Eclair and Josie Lawrence

January 07, 2018

2017 player rankings

For the 11th time - the annual JAM player rankings.

There were  25 JAM panellists in 20 shows this year, not including the two anniversary shows.

Numbers of shows looks like this...

Paul Merton 18
Gyles Brandreth, Jenny Éclair, Zoe Lyons 6
Josie Lawrence 5
Sheila Hancock, Graham Norton 4
Tony Hawks, Julian Clary, Sue Perkins, Ross Noble, Stephen Fry, Marcus Brigstocke, Pam Ayres, Phill Jupitus, Tom Allen, Andy Hamilton, Rufus Hound, Fern Britton, Al Murray 2
Fred MacAulay, Janey Godley, Paul Sinha, James Acaster, Mark Watson 1

 For those interested in how I've ranked people in the past and checking out how good my picks were...

click here for 2016 rankings
 click here for 2015 rankings
 click here for 2014 rankings
click here for 2013 rankings
 click here for 2012 rankings
 click here for 2011 rankings
 click here for 2010 rankings
 click here for 2009 rankings
 click here for 2008 ranking
 click here for 2007 rankings

Those who appeared in 2016 but not in 2017 include Tim Rice, Holly Walsh, Pippa Evans, Josh Widdecombe, Nish Kumar, John Finnemore, Esther Rantzen, Katherine Ryan, Alexei Sayle and Will Self .

FERN BRITTON - over the past few years a few woman TV and radio presenters have been tried, but they don't very often seem to come off. It's a hard game to play with the blabbermouths who are on more regularly, but it will be surprising if she is on the show again.

FRED MACAULAY - Last year of the five I said wouldn't be back, Fred was the only one I got wrong. He seems to have scored a place again as a Scottish voice on the Edinburgh shows. But he just doesn't seem to get into the rhythm of the game.

AL MURRAY - Apart from on the first round, when he was given the gift subject of pubs, Al didn't seem to have much to say.

PAUL SINHA - OK but perhaps not quite quick-tongued enough.

MARK WATSON - Didn't make much of a mark (pun not intended).


JANEY GODLEY - She has become a Scottish tradition of Just A Minute. She is good fun, and her Twitter feed is memorable. Not sure this game is really the best outlet for her many talents, but as the section says, she has her moments.

ANDY HAMILTON - a witty panel game player who always has some good lines.

PHILL JUPITUS - It was good to hear Phill back on the programme again and he is a good contributor.

ZOE LYONS - She did six shows this year and she has a good energy about her.

ROSS NOBLE - I am a big fan of Ross, and he always has his moments. I'd like to see him on far more often.


JAMES ACASTER - I may be slightly influenced by his recent appearance on Would I Lie For You where he was very very good, but I thought he was pretty good on JAM too and I do hope he is on the programme again. One of the best of the young comedians.

MARCUS BRIGSTOCKE - It's always good news when Marcus is on the show.

JULIAN CLARY - one of those who is always funny and just fits in.

STEPHEN FRY - the panel game great graces JAM with a few appearances each year. He knows the game well now and we can only wish he would be on more often.

RUFUS HOUND - Bouncy, energetic and funny.


TOM ALLEN - Very impressed by Tom's shows, he has good humour, a quick wit and a touch of naughtiness that is reminiscent of Kenneth Williams.

JENNY ECLAIR - She is a delight whenever she is on the show, but more a top supporting act than a star.

TONY HAWKS - Sounded good this year with his good humour and cheeky wit.
GRAHAM NORTON - like a good wine he is ageing well.

SUE PERKINS - Away for two years but immediately back to her usual sharp-tongued form.


5th best
GYLES BRANDRETH - Becoming something of an institution on the show, Gyles's quick tongue and treasure trove of stories makes him a valuable contributor.

4th best
PAM AYRES - She has a unique, eccentric and very funny style, that just makes any show she is on so much better. Just great.

Bronze medal
SHEILA HANCOCK - Is it possible she just gets better every year? To me, she is still the cheeky quick witted young women who battled with Kenneth Williams so many years ago. Except these days he turns her wit on herself in a way that is just so much fun.

Silver medal
JOSIE LAWRENCE - If Paul retired from the programme, Josie would be the ideal replacement as the show's glue. She's a cut above as a funny, sharp competitor.

Champion of the year
PAUL MERTON - In a way every year Paul wins because he is the glue that holds things together. Capable of injecting himself at any time to lift the show. The best moments pretty much always have Paul at the heart of them, and let's be honest - if he had decided a few years ago to give up the show, likely the show wouldn't have made it to 50. Britain's greatest improvisational comedian is the key reason JAM remains the king of radio panel games .

50 years of Just A Minute

I've been slow to post on the 50th anniversary special programmes, apologies for that, because the two programmes are both well worth commenting on.

The first, 50 Years in 28 Minutes, was amazing and hugely enjoyable featuring all that is best about Just A Minute and the magic of radio. For those that didn't hear it, the show was expertly edited so it featured panellists from different era talking on the same subjects so it sounded like Peter Cook and Kenneth Williams were on the same shows as Linda Smith and Sue Perkins. Including Nicholas, 34 different people featured - Nicholas Parsons, Paul Merton, Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock, Gyles Brandreth, Graham Norton, Jenny Éclair, Sue Perkins, Andree Melly, Linda Smith, Ross Noble, Wendy Richard, Liza Tarbuck, Aimi Macdonald, Stephen Fry, Chris Neill, Fred MacAulay, Shappi Khorsandi, Patrick Moore, Janey Godley, Richard Murdoch, Lance Percival, Maureen Lipman, Susan Calman, Peter Cook, Betty Marsden, Ian McMillan, David Mitchell, Annabel Giles, Sandi Toksvig and Barbara Castle.

Of course the obvious omission was Clement Freud, but Julian Clary and Tim Rice have also featured in more than 50 shows each and didn't make the cut either. I was particularly pleased to hear Aimi Macdonald on the show. She has never featured in any of the specials or on any of the CDs/cassettes before, and yet her shows really are very special and she was a part of the show's early successes.

I speak as a radio producer who does a fair bit of sound editing, when I tips me metaphorical hat to Gareth Gwynn who edited it all together so seamlessly. I thought it did show how the game had changed within the same rules. It was also interesting to hear how little Nicholas's voice has changed over the years, except for the clip of him as a panellist, from 1968. Although certainly some of Nicholas's comments had been recorded for the special, rather than taken from original shows.

And then there was the 50 Years of Just A Minute: Nicholas Parsons in Conversation with Paul Merton. I didn't have such high hopes for this because it feels like we have heard so much from Nicholas about the programme that he couldn't possibly have anything new to say. But the show worked far better than I expected. The involvement of Sheila Hancock, Gyles Brandreth, Tony Hawks and former producer John Lloyd with their own early memories worked very very well - John Lloyd's contribution, brief though it was, was especially good. How I would love to spend an hour talking to John about his thoughts on JAM and working with the old gang of four. This whole programme struck just the right note.

Graham Norton also contributed a brief taped tribute to Nicholas and the show, so all of the living centenarians were involved.

The other contributor was me. I recorded two questions and thought the other had been picked. It was played right at the end, and I rather thought I had been dropped! Anyway it was very nice to be asked and included in such select company. It is a nice nod to the importance of the fans, and it was especially nice to have my contribution to setting down the show's history so very publically acknowledged and thanked.

Two very fine programmes indeed.