Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

June 28, 2006

JAM back

The show is back on Radio Four from Monday. The panel for the first show is Clement, Paul, Julian Clary and Pauline McLynn. Pauline is a comedian probably best known for her role in Father Ted.

June 17, 2006

Just A Classic Minute Volume 3

features a great cast - Sir Clement Freud (three shows), Derek Nimmo (three shows), Kenneth Williams (two shows), Peter Jones (two shows), Paul Merton, Wendy Richard, Stephen Fry, Ray Alan, Dame Thora Hird and Bob Monkhouse.

New material from Nicholas Parsons too - well worth buying.

June 13, 2006

Linda Smith tribute

Jen was in the audience - here's her description of the show

Jo Brand kicked off the evening by arriving on stage about 10 seconds after she was announced to a massive round of applause. As compere, she reappeared throughout the night with jokes, banter, and of course, anecdotes about Linda. At one point, when Jo was talking about when she spoke at a Labour rally, there was a sudden loud crack from the sound system, which Jo took to be a sign of Linda showing her disapproval, as she detested Tony Blair. This turned into a running gag, along with her flirting with a fat stage assistant, asking if they could make a "double bouncy castle"!

Just A Minute - hosted by Nicholas Parsons with panellists Paul Merton, Jeremy Hardy, Liza Tarbuck and Chris Neill (produced by Clare Jones) *
It started just as the only other JAM I've been to did, in that Nicholas' microphone didn't work. But, seasoned professional that he is, a host without sound isn't an issue... as soon as Paul had established that his microphone worked, he announced "Nicholas, there's a reason we can't hear you...we meant to discuss it with you before the show...", and then Nicholas had to swap his microphone for Janet Staplehurst's, which he pointed out was ironic because she doesn't speak.
The first round "What people like about radio 4" was given to Paul, who carried on the joke by talking about it's immaculate sound engineering.
Liza took "getting on the right side of the audience" and claimed that this could be done by talking about Nicholas' childhood, and how he had the "looks of an angel". Obviously, she was interrupted for deviation (by Chris), and as Nicholas couldn't judge, he asked the audience. I was amongst the many who shouted "yes" to whether or not he had these looks, and so Paul told us we were cruel for "bewildering an old man".
Jeremy was very deliberately given "My talent as a singer", which got a huge laugh from fellow "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" listeners. He said that "tune & pitch are like friends that I haven't met yet", and you can't really argue with that! But eventually, someone did challenge, so Jeremy staged a protest and walked off... then back on again. The end of the round finished in chaos as Paul wandered around looking for a phone that was going off, and found it on the speaker... it was later revealed that it belonged to the fat stagehand who Jo Brand had been flirting with!
The last round was obviously for Linda "Why we should all be humanists". Jeremy described the humanist belief in no god, but he believed "there is a god and he's just shit". To say this, he had repeated "god", so got challenged on "too many gods"...to which he replied "no, there is one god!".
At some point, Janet was described as Nicholas' nurse, which led to the usual "you've got visitors, Nicholas" routine!
Paul won, as usual, but did what other reviews have described as a lap of honour, which Nicholas said Paul had always wanted to do, and you could see that in his face. It was a good game with an unusual mix of panellists, I thought. And, of course, memorable to see Janet Staplehurst blowing the whistle for what was probably the last time.

News Quiz - hosted by Simon Hoggart with panellists Andy Hamilton, Phill Jupitus, Sandi Toksvig and Jeremy Hardy (produced by Katie Tyrell)
More sound trouble for the host, when Simon Hoggart had to share Charlotte Green's microphone, leaning over Janet Staplehurst to do so! The game itself was dominated by Phill talking about the Paul McCartney/Heather Mills situation, saying "if you will fuck a pirate...". From where I was sat, Sandi & Jeremy were blocked from my view by a speaker, but at this, they leant forward, almost head on desk, with Sandi saying "you can't say that", yet laughing... which was everyone else's reaction! Phill then said this was the type of bit they normally edit out, and why he wasn't asked back very often! Each panellist got one question each, and Sandi's referred to an accidental house fire caused by a child, so she went on to give advice about having children, including "never have more children than you have car windows".
Simon Hoggart, hosing for presumably the last time, said "the scores at the end of the game...who cares?!"
Memorable headline: "Family planning clinic: use rear entrance"

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue - hosted by Humprey Lyttleton with panellists Jeremy Hardy, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Barry Cryer (produced by John Naismith)
Jeremy's singing voice came in for more criticism when he had to sing "Teenage Kicks" to the tune of "Jerusalem". It really is a shame that won't go out on radio! Barry also swayed with his lighter to Graeme's song. He was also having to sing into Barry's microphone as he had been given the faulty microphone that Nicholas Parsons and Simon Hoggart had had.
In the "New Definitions" round, Tim gave a sweet little tribute to Linda by saying "Wordsmith: the lovely Linda".
In pensioners' songbook, Jeremy Hardy said "Don't Go Breaking My Hip" and "Stayin' Alive".

Arthur Smith
He told the story of how his grandfather had trodden the boards at the Victoria Palace Theatre, just as he was doing now, followed by an unrepeatable joke (which Linda had told him), a poem, followed by an article he'd written about Linda, including a story about her beating off many younger people to be crowned "last person on the dancefloor" at his birthday party a few years back. He said his job was to come out, say a few words, introduce Just A Minute and fuck off!

Mark Steel
He spoke about Linda's humanist beliefs, joking how he "hoped she wasn't looking down on us saying "call the benefit off, god exists...". If he does, after these jokes I'm fucked...but then, you (to audience) laughed at them, and he'd know!".

Hattie Hayridge
She spoke about what it was like, in the male-dominated world of stand-up, to have two women, her and Linda, working together at times, having to synchronise periods...

Mark Thomas
He told his story about going into an arms fair, which was both entertaining and linked to Linda's negative opinion on the war in Iraq.

Sandi Russell & Trio
They performed three songs, including "My Favourite Things", which I presume was an echo to the title of "An Evening Of Linda Smith's Favourite Things"

Humphrey Lyttleton & Quintet
More of the jazz that Linda loved, with Humphrey Lyttleton being as entertaining as on "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue", doing ridiculous actions to the lyrics.

Steve Gribbin, Richard Morton & Skint Video
Steve, initially on his own, "rocked the Victoria Palace Theatre" by singing songs about Richard Branson, John Prescott & The British Test. He was then joined by the other two members of Skint Video for a reunion, which Richard Morton said should now be called "Skint DVD" to bring it up to date.

Barry Cryer & Ronnie Golden
Sang their song "Peace And Quiet" (with Barry reading his own lyrics off a piece of paper, saying he could never remember them), as Linda had liked it. It gradually got louder and louder until one by one, the whole theatre got the joke!

Warren Lakin
Introduced by Jo Brand as "Linda's long term gentleman caller", Warren Lakin came on to thank everyone who had had anything to do with the show, and also "Linda's very own Radio 4 Barmy Army". He introduced the Blockheads as Linda's favourite band.

Phill Jupitus & The Blockheads
Phill took the late Ian Dury's place as lead singer, and did "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick", "Wake Up And Make Love With Me" & "Billericay Dickie" before Phill introduced Andy Hamilton's amazing idea of who would be singing the final song. Murmurs of "Jeremy Hardy" went round, so everyone was surprised when it was the straight-laced & proper Radio 4 continuity announcers.
Charlotte Green, Corrie Corfield, Peter Donaldson & Brain Perkins took to the stage to sing "Sex And Drugs And Rock n Roll", conducted by Phill Jupitus to keep them in time. After a while, the stage was crashed by the rest of the cast, Jeremy Hardy & Mark Steel taking to a microphone and the rest, particularly Paul Merton dancing like maniacs. A memorable and unique finale to a wonderful night, tribute to a wonderful life well lived. The standing ovation and wild applause from both the audience and the performers with one thing in common...we all miss Linda Smith.

June 11, 2006

Just A Classic Minute Volume 3

The BBC has just released the third in its series of archival editions of Just A Minute.

No news yet on who is on the latest CDs - will let you know when it arrives!

June 10, 2006

Simon Hoggart on the Linda Smith tribute

Shoo, or I'll clean your clock, buddy

Simon Hoggart
Saturday June 10, 2006
The Guardian

To the Victoria Palace theatre last Sunday night for Tippy-Top, another tribute to the late Linda Smith, featuring her favourite performers and the shows she loved appearing in. The green room looked like one of those Victorian paintings in which all the leading artists, or politicians, or aristocrats of the day were gathered artificially together, as if they were all in the same place at once. Except they were actually there: Paul Merton, Barry Cryer, Jo Brand, Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy, Andy Hamilton, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Sandi Toksvig, Graeme Garden, Liza Tarbuck, Mark Thomas, Hattie Heyridge, Phill Jupitus, with Humphrey Lyttelton sitting down, gazing with grandparental concern over the teeming throng. I was there to chair The News Quiz for the last time, a quick 10-minute slot in the first half.

As at all charity events the timing went wildly awry. Things were running 10 minutes late by the end of the first turn. We got on stage 20 minutes after we were due to finish. But that was fine, because it gave me the chance to eavesdrop the backstage gossip and hear the gags comedians tell each other. There is good reason for this - many of them are far too filthy for not just a family audience, but for many unmarried persons too. One I can repeat came, once again, from Barry Cryer. He was apologetic because it's an Irish joke, and was well aware that we don't tell Irish jokes these days. But who can we tell similar gags about? Is there any social or ethnic group left we may draft for the purpose? Possibly not, in which case an entire genre of jokes is lost. Anyhow, here it is: Irishman goes for a job at a blacksmith's. The blacksmith asks, "Have you ever shoed a horse?"

"No, sorry," says the Irishman, "but I once told a pig to fuck off."

Interesting piece on JAM regular Julian Clary

from The Daily Telegraph

Years of being hideously bullied at school led Julian Clary to develop into an outrageous performer who took pleasure in shocking people. Now, he tells Elizabeth Grice, he is planning a dignified retreat into middle age and country life

To find Julian Clary these days, you make your way down the deep green lanes of Kent, like a caterpillar through cabbage. Eventually you come to a forgotten-looking house, half-timbered at the front, tile-hung at the back, that seems to be subsiding exhaustedly into its meadow. There is no guttering, the electrics are unsafe, but this is a place - "16th-century, or maybe 14th" - that people wait all their lives for. Noël Coward did, and stayed for 30 years. Now Clary has the same feeling about it. "This is where I'll grow old."

The high priest of smut and exemplar of camp comedy is waiting at his front door, cigarette in shaking hand. In Coward's old home, he feels cigarettes are the correct accessory, even though the place could spontaneously combust at the shake of a matchbox. Clary is a surprisingly tall man and some of the ceilings are so low that he brushes his highlights on them as he glides about, making tea and fussing over his companion, Valerie.

Valerie is a small, affectionate hound, but rather talentless compared with her predecessor, Fanny the Wonderdog, who became such a celebrated part of Clary's grotesque cabaret gigs when he was in the foothills of fame, performing as The Joan Collins Fan Club. Today, Valerie is the one wearing sequins. Her glittery, bright-red collar, decorated with a flower is the only piece of kitsch ornamentation to be seen. Her owner, in his loose jeans and with no make-up except for a little light concealer, looks like the under-gardener.

"However light-hearted you try to be about it," he says, in that quiet, frou-frou voice of his, "the loss of youth, and everything that goes with it, is quite a trauma. That's why I moved here. I thought a dignified thing to do would be to live in the country by the time I'm 50 and write books."

This must be Clary's biggest reinvention since he first put on his sister's purple feathered waistcoat at the age of 14. Embedded here with his potatoes and sweet peas, he seems so utterly and uncharacteristically content that you fear for his reputation. The other day he tried to save a lamb that was having convulsions (it died). Now he's talking about keeping hens. How can he pursue a career shocking people and live the life of a Kentish smallholder? Is this the same man who remarked, after a 20-minute sexual encounter with a stranger in Edinburgh's Royal Mile, "I didn't think of myself as a tart - but I wouldn't argue with anyone who did"?

Two-thirds of the way through his autobiography, A Young Man's Passage, Clary amuses himself by listing all the male conquests he can recall, and their occupations. It runs to 24 lines of type. He kept a notepad by his computer when he was writing the book so that when another obscure lover - or "gentleman caller" - came to mind, he could jot him down.

His sexual exploits through the Eighties sound exhausting. "No, not exhausting," he says. "Relentless, I think. A lot of gay men have a lot of sex. That's what we do. But I've stopped all that - the revolving door into my bedroom. Promiscuity. That was of its day, really.

"The good thing about getting older is that, as you become less attractive, so you have less desire - I do, anyway - to go out and conquer everyone you see. [Cruising gay pubs] is a strangely addictive thing. In the Eighties, and beyond, the whole point was to take someone home with you. You didn't ever go home empty-handed - that would mean the evening had been pointless.

"It is a very predatory thing. You didn't question it at the time - it was just what you did, what you were meant to do. Then you'd compare notes the next day. I don't regret any of it, but I don't want to do it any more."

Clary's family is pivotal to him, and it is impossible to read his hilariously honest memoirs (anal warts and all) without feeling anxious about Mr and Mrs Clary of Swindon, a retired policeman and probation officer respectively. Not to mention his Auntie Tess, aged 94, who came to one of his shows, having first taken the precaution of removing her hearing aid. As he read the final proof, thinking of the reactions of these good people, Clary admits he felt tempted to remove the most explicit sexual stuff, but he left it in because "I didn't want to write a showbizzy, bland story".

His mother, Brenda, coolly remarked that she hadn't realised her son was quite so promiscuous, but admired his truthfulness. His father, Peter, read it and didn't say a word. Auntie Tess, ignoring his condescending advice to "just look at the pictures", started on page one and was riveted all afternoon.

There was never a moment when Clary told his Roman Catholic parents he was homosexual, nor did they bring the subject up. Perhaps it was just too obvious. Perhaps their levels of tolerance and belief in personal privacy were unusually high. They sound like amazing people. Concerned mainly about his health and happiness, the nearest they came to criticism was: "Don't be quite so obvious. It's not a problem, but you don't have to go on about it."

But the point about Julian Clary is that he did have to go on about it. It was his deliberate way of dealing with taunts, even as a prepubescent schoolboy. At his secondary school, run by Benedictine monks who beat him, he and his gay friend, Nick Reader, exaggerated their effeminacy to an outrageous degree. "The bullying was hideous and relentless," he says, "and we turned it round by making ourselves celebrities. We found humour in the situation. We were very provocative, very disdainful and superior. It must have been annoying."

When he started to draw cabaret audiences for being the very thing he had been persecuted for, revenge was sweet. "It was a reversal of all I had experienced at school. I was vindicated. It was all about wanting to get revenge. Pathetic, really, but it still is the motivation."

For a time, he carried on going to church with his mother when he went home at weekends, "just to keep her company", but he found it traumatic to be stared at. "I thought they were staring at me because I was gay. But it was because I was on the telly." Though he's currently "in an interesting correspondence with a nun about forgiveness", his links with homophobic Catholicism have dissolved. "In a way, I miss it. But I've found a more personal, pagan kind of religion to satisfy the spiritual side of things." Later on, in a tiny, unfurnished attic room, I notice a large crucifix propped up in the ancient window and a single meditative chair with a shawl on it.

For someone who, as his sister Frances says, can be "lethally unkind" professionally, Clary is a sensitive man and, I imagine, a loyal friend. He says his parents gave him a great sense of right and wrong and, despite his merry-go-round of sexual activity, it seems entirely believable. In his thirties, he was shocked to fall in love suddenly. He describes Christopher as his soul mate but, for most of the time they were together, he was suffering from Aids and Clary was his carer. They lived "in the moment", never quite able to take the increasingly pessimistic assessments of Christopher's life expectancy seriously.

"The doctors did their best. They threw all these drugs at him. But they didn't really know what they were doing in those days - and I think he knew that. I am cross that he couldn't have had the medication that is available now." When Christopher died, Clary took his ashes to a beach in Portugal and experienced one of those moments, both risible and sad, that transcend bathos. "I found the very beach he took me to. I lit candles and, just as I was about to scatter the ashes at dusk, a man appeared behind me, masturbating. I packed my candles away and came back another day."

Christopher is still a part of his life. "Just because someone's dead doesn't mean it's over. My grandfather died more than 25 years ago, but I still think of him a lot and smell his smell."

There have been other "significant" relationships with men, he says, but he'll save them for the next instalment of his autobiography in about 10 years' time. "It's a wise thing to hold back." For the moment, he's living alone without any sense of loneliness, and fulfilling his idea of a seemly transition into middle age by writing a comedy thriller. True crime, the more gruesome the better, has been an abiding interest. "I get just as much of a thrill out of constructing a good sentence that gets a laugh at the end as I do from a joke."

Some in the entertainment business believe that Clary's career never really recovered after he made a lewd remark about Norman Lamont during a live television show in 1993. But he was never unemployed and, after lying low for a while - which he says was a necessary way of regaining his equilibrium - he flounced back into another round of television shows, tours and pantos. "Things needed to quieten down," he says. "At the time, my life was in crisis and I was taking lots of Valium."

His book contains some of the most perceptive reflections on fame, and how it can distort normal human sensibilities, that I have read anywhere. Now, talking about the satisfaction of having made a performing career out of being trivial ("I was lightweight - that was the whole point of me"), and of being proud of his professional longevity, he does seem faintly valedictory. "The whole business of getting famous was good fun, but it was a long time ago," he says. "I am full of gratitude for my life - and for this house."

But it would be absurd to imagine that Clary is about to give up on metropolitan life or the performing arts. The other day, he held a Women's Institute-themed 47th birthday party, with gingham-decked trestle tables, jars of produce, Victoria sponges and orange squash. It was "an interesting clash" between London types and local people.

He still has his flat in Camden, for when rural affairs, even in the company of Coward's ghost, begin to stifle him. "If I've been here a long time, I think: I must go to London and speak to someone or see a bus."
* 'A Young Man's Passage' by Julian Clary (Ebury) is available for £7.99 plus 99p p&p. To order, please call Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4112.

Books to be written on Linda Smith

From Chortle

Remembering Linda

Smith's partner to write memoirs

Linda Smith’s long-term partner Warren Lakin is to write a moving memoir of her life.

The book will chart their relationship from when they met as part of a touring company in Sheffield in 1983 to her death from cancer in February, aged 48

It is due out in September next year, the second of two volumes about the Radio 4 comedian to be published following her early death.

The first is an anthology of Linda’s comedy, from the picket lines of the miners’ strike, through her nationwide stand-up tours and on to her mainstream success on BBC radio and television.

The book will also include contributions from Linda’s colleagues and friends, including Jo Brand, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Hardy, Paul Merton, Mark Steel, and Sandi Toksvig, amongst others.

I Think the Nurses Are Stealing My Clothes<: The Very Best of Linda Smith will be published on 2nd November, compiled and edited by Warren Lakin and Ian Parsons.

Both books will be published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Publisher Nick Davies says: ‘I am very proud to be publishing these books. I adored Linda’s work and, like millions of others up and down the country, was shocked and saddened by the news of her death.

‘ I am working very closely with Warren to ensure that both books will be a fitting celebration of Linda’s unique talent.’

June 08, 2006

Review of Linda Smith tribute show from The Evening Standard

When comedian Linda Smith died of ovarian cancer in February, aged 48, the country lost one of its finest stand-ups.

The tributes transcended the usual clichés, with widespread homages being paid not just to Smith's memorable gags but also to her warmth and humanity.

Here was a performer who, through her appearances on institutions such as Just A Minute and The News Quiz, truly touched a nerve.

Last night's show was aimed clearly at her Radio 4 Barmy Army - the devotees who hung on her every elegantly crafted witticism. There were few stars in the stalls, but plenty on stage.

Compere Jo Brand set the tone by commenting that Smith 'was sorely missed' and recalled how her friend famously said she was from Erith, a town so hideous it was not twinned with anywhere, but 'did have a suicide pact with Dagenham'.

Most comedy shows simply wheel on one quip-merchant after another, but it was in keeping with this idiosyncratic personality that the format was shaken up.

Jazz bands and stand-ups jostled for space between live versions of some of the shows on which Smith made her panel-beating name.

Paul Merton was the inevitable star of Just A Minute. He has the brilliant knack of appearing utterly distracted while remaining as sharp as a tack. When he was crowned the winner he did the kind of rubber-limbed lap of honour you'll never get to see on the radio.

A live round of The News Quiz also managed to be more than just a radio show with visuals thanks to Phill Jupitus, who broke the taste barrier with the kind of one-liners about Paul McCartney that would never make it onto the BBC.

The epic night concluded with a guest appearance by Smith's favourite group, the Blockheads, with Jupitus taking the late Ian Dury's place.

It is obvious why Smith appreciated Dury. Both had a great love of language and knew how to turn words to their advantage.

June 01, 2006


The team for the first JAMs recorded for the new season were Clement, Paul, Julian Clary and Pauline McLynn - and Clement, Graham, Pam Ayres and Marcus Brigstocke.

Interesting that a few different women are being tried out!