Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

December 31, 2006

two sleeps!

Yes I'm looking forward to it - Paul, Clement, Chris Neill and Greg Proops!

Sounds great!


December 29, 2006

Lovely piece on the gorgeous Sheila Hancock

from The Independent

The 5-Minute Interview: Sheila Hancock

Sheila Hancock, 73, who plays Frau Schneider in 'Cabaret' at the Lyric, is starring in 'After Thomas', starting tonight on ITV.

If I weren't talking to you right now, I'd be...

Putting hot and cold compresses on my back. It's not very glamorous I'm afraid. I pulled a muscle.

I wish people would take more notice of...

Spatial awareness. Especially when turning round wearing rucksacks. I wish they would be aware that I'm standing there and not send me flying. And doing front crawl in a crowded swimming pool - they should not even attempt the backstroke.

The most surprising thing that ever happened to me was...

Prancing around in Cabaret instead of watching the telly with a cup of Ovaltine. And the fact that I'm still alive today. I imagined I was going to die at 70 because that's the age my parents did. I've managed three years - I'm on borrowed time.

A common misperception of me is...

I've no idea. I suspect it's different according to my relationship with them, i.e. my daughters do not know the workplace me.

I'm not a politician, but ...

I'd think about scrapping the whole male-orientated, adversarial system and starting again with something that works.

I'm good at...

Being a grandmother.

But I'm very bad at ...

Being a domestic earth mother - I can't cook, clean or arrange flowers. And bullshitting - I'm too outspoken. I get into an awful lot of trouble for not being polite. I cannot pass by seeing a child shouted at, and people dropping litter. I'm terrible for intervening. There's nothing worse than busybodies like me. I should learn to mind my own business. I'm not good at saying, "I hope you don't mind me saying, but ..."

My ideal night out is...

A night in. I only have one night free - Sunday - and prefer to stay in. I'm providing nights out for others every other night.

At moments of weakness, I...

Cry a lot. Or go to bed. Chocolate is a disaster for me. I can't just eat one chocolate, I do have to eat the whole box and then vomit. Occasionally I drink as well, but not very often nowadays.

You know me as an actress but, in a truer life, I'd have...

Been in the legal profession - a barrister, which is like being an actor, I suppose. In the old days I'd like to have been a politician, when I think the world was more idealistic. When I was young I did a lot of campaigning.

The best age to be is...

I'm a realist. I intend it to be the one I am.

In a nutshell, my philosophy is...

It changes day by day - a day at a time.


December 27, 2006

Paul in Venus

A couple of people in the comments picked up on my mentioning Paul on Venus. I thought you might like some excerpts from the show...

the full transcript is here


NICHOLAS PARSONS: And Paul we’d like you to begin the next round, flying saucers, 60 seconds, starting now.

PAUL MERTON: Well a flying saucer landed in my back garden about 19 years ago, and I got on it and went to the planet Venus. And it’s true because I’ve got photographs here of me standing on that particular planet. And anybody who says that this is false can come outside and I’ll give them a damn good fight! Because I was trapped on that particular orb in space for years! I tried, benee, speaking to the Venusians and said "look it’s not my fault I’m here, I was kidnapped by one of your people." They said "it’s got nothing to do with us, it could have been anybody they picked up. We had Winston Churchill about 30 years ago. And before that Sir Stanley Matthews, the wizard of the wing, spent a fortnight on this very surface." I thought well, I’m very proud to be in such august company. And they said "so you should be and all! What do you want for your dinner?" I said "well what have you got?" They said "well, we can offer you fish cakes if that’s not too fantastic for you." I thought it’s quite an extraordinary concept, the idea of eating that particular meal out here this far away from the Earth where I originally came from. They said "look do you want it or not?" I said "well fine". So at that point they produced a doner kebab which to my, to all intents and purposes was completely cold. I said "why is this not served up hot?" They said "we got it from a shop in Highgate and it’s a long way away to bring it all the way from that particular part of North London to where we’re standing now." I said "okay, I’ll go along with that, what have you got to drink?" They said "well we’ve got Whatney’s Red Barrel." I said "oh that is just too fantastic because nobody outside of the..."



NP: At last...

PM: It’s all true!

NP: I know! Fantastically true! And just to prove that fantasy works, and you’re the greatest exponent of it that I know, well done Paul. Because that, actually, I took the whistle away from Liz and let you go on for one minute 20 seconds!

and later on......

NP: Yes, 42 seconds, an English country garden starting now Paul.

PM: There’s nothing I like better than walking through an English country garden...


NP: Derek you challenged.

DEREK NIMMO: Vandalism!


NP: He did not establish Derek...

DN: If he’s walking through an English country garden, he’d be walking over the plants!

NP: Most English country gardens have paths, so you can still walk through on the paths. He didn’t establish he was walking through the flower beds.

DN: Oh I see, a lawn is a garden?

NP: It’s part of the garden and in most gardens you can walk on the lawns as well. So he wasn’t being a vandal, but it was a lovely challenge. Give him a bonus, go on! He loves getting his points. But Paul also gets a point for being interrupted, keeps the subject, 38 seconds, an English country garden starting now.

PM: I meander through the rose bushes with heavy boots on and kick them out of the ground! Because I can’t stand these plants! What are they doing there? What’s wrong with old fashioned concrete! It’s easy to look after, you just mix it up, pour it out of a bucket on the floor, that’s all you need...


NP: Derek Nimmo challenged.

DN: He’s not talking about the gardens any more, he’s talking about hardcore as in motorways.

and later on.....

NP: So Paul you have cones back with you, 23 seconds starting now.

PM: I remember when I was growing up in Merseyside, there was nothing I liked better than to go down to the streets, pick up the cones and suck the ice cream...


NP: Peter Jones has challenged.

PETER JONES: He didn’t grow up in Merseyside! It’s well documented where he grew up!

NP: Yes! In your fantasy world you may have grown up there but we know you didn’t.

PM: So where did I grow up?

DN: He spent 19 years on Venus!


PM: Well it made a change from Merseyside!


Wendy Richard bows out of East Enders

Occasional JAM star Wendy Richard's last scene was broadcast on Christmas Day. I enjoyed this description from The Times newspaper.

It would be nice to hear her again on JAM - let's hope as she will now have more spare time.

We knew that the Wicked Witch of Walford was going to die in the usual goodwill-drenched Christmas Day episode of EastEnders, we just didn’t know how. But it had to be good. Pauline Fowler is one of only two surviving characters from the very first EastEnders episode in 1985. This is a significant sayonara.

Having successfully alienated everyone around her, Pauline was planning to go to America to join her daughter, ’Chelle. A taxi engine hummed outside, but it sounded more like a death rattle than the chariot to a new life. Pauline brooded in the burnt-out shell of her house while the voices of her (mainly deceased) family echoed like ghosts around her: “Mum, I’m pregnant,” (Michelle); “I’ve got a virus,” (Mark’s HIV); “Arthur, you’re an innocent man. You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.”

The most resonant of these voices was that of her youngest son, Martin: “You’re going to be lonely, very lonely.” He was right. What a miserable old piece of dried toast Pauline had become. Her bitter decline culminated in pretending to have a brain tumour to scupper the revived relationship between Martin and ex-wife (turned lesbian, now turned straight again) Sonia. Pauline’s lie was uncovered, Martin and the rest of Albert Square turned against her. Someone scrawled “Liar” on her gate. Only Betty the dog remained devoted.

EastEnders has been bad for so long — risible characters you don’t really care about, even more risible storylines that make no sense — that it was a delight to finally alight on an episode, albeit a landmark one which they had to get right, that was so satisfying.

Simon Ashdown’s script drew indulgently on the show’s history. Wendy Richard as Pauline had the air of the departing diva, queen of all she had loved, lost and laid waste to, her face set in a silent snarl. Richard’s farewell as Pauline served only to emphasise how few long-serving characters EastEnders has, unlike Coronation Street, whose old-timers give their show its distinctive texture. (Indeed, Coronation Street’s Christmas Day episode hinged on an event which took place 16 years previously, when Gail nearly aborted her son, “Devil Child” David Platt.)

The really choking scene came in the launderette between Pauline and Dot. Here the two grand dames had worked, bitched and consoled for years. Richard and the wonderful June Brown played their final encounter as intensely as the characters deserved. “You’re the only real friend I’ve got,” Dot told Pauline, tearfully and desperately. She remembered Pauline as a little girl. “I can’t replace them years. No one can.”

It was probably one of the most moving scenes in a soap this year, and Pauline almost buckled. In a wonderful touch, she thrust the keys to the launderette into Dot’s hand, clasped her friend’s fingers tightly and said goodbye.

At home, the taxi was still rattling. Sonia, whom Pauline despises, tried to make her reconcile with Martin. She was “sick” not to want to share her son with the woman he loved. This elicited a vintage old-bag Pauline response, each word spat and curdled with hate: “I’ll tell you what’s sick. You. Daughter of a scrubber, lesbian, under-age mother who gave away her own baby. . .” That earned Pauline a well-deserved slap and she banged her head on the Fowler fruitbowl, the enduring symbol of her family, which smashed, significantly, into smithereens.

Sonia asked the question that has been bugging fans for so long: why couldn’t she be the Pauline Fowler of old? The gentle, tough matriarch. And in the last reel she did soften, resolving to stay in Albert Square.

Outside, as it only can on Christmas Day in a soap, thick snow fell. Pauline headed to the Vic to give granddaughter Rebecca her Christmas present. She rubbed her head. (Uh oh, you thought: that’s a headache that’s clearly more than a headache.) Just after touching “Arthur’s bench”, she collapsed beneath the Square’s Christmas tree.

The Fowler family abode has always been home to deadly weapons (Den murdered with Pauline’s doggy-shaped doorstop, Arthur thwacked with a frying pan for adultery) and now the fruitbowl — her family, the weight of their history — had helped to kill Pauline.

Now that’s what I call soap opera.


* Pauline Fowler was already in Albert Square on February 19, 1985, the first day of the BBC soap opera, as the chirpy launderette worker, above

* She and her jobless husband Arthur soon found themselves with an unexpected third child, and Pauline gradually became the archetypal East-End matriarch

* She stoically endured what, outside Walford, would be considered a spectacular run of bad luck, but in Albert Square is simply called life

* Arthur’s imprisonment and her son Mark, below, contracting HIV and dying; Arthur’s affair and her other son Martin’s spell behind bars all took their toll and her positive demeanour gave way to a world-weary outlook

* Her conversations with Dot Cotton became the stuff of legend, and her feuds with Peggy Mitchell and Dirty Den showed more vitriol than an acid refinery

* Hopes that Pauline would be rejuvenated by her marriage to Joe Macer, below, proved misplaced as she slipped into depression and refused to accept the reconciliation of Martin and his former wife

* She hit rock bottom when a cigarette set fire to her house. Perhaps wanting to be put out of her misery, she was consumed by the flames rather than call for help.


December 26, 2006

Twelve Great Shows (I can't count...)

A friend asked me to recommend a dozen editions of JAM he could put on a DVD for someone who had never heard the show. Here's what I came up with...........

211/10/17 - I wanted to include some classic Derek and this one comes to mind - also Alfred Marks as a guest must be on the list somewhere. Kenneth and Clement make up the list.

218/10/24 - I used to offer this as my fave ever show - Aimi's attempt to count always makes me laugh and the other rounds are all very funny too - Kenneth, Clement and Peter with her.

231/11/12 - One guest newcomers seem to love is Magnus Pyke. This show features classic examples of Kenneth, Peter and Derek too.

248/12/3 - Tommy Trinder is a unique and very politically incorrect guest but seems to bring out the best in Kenneth, Clement and Peter.

273/13/4 - we must include Peter Cook somewhere surely - this one probably the best of the three, with Kenneth, Clement and Barry Took.

275/14/2 - this show I've included largely as an example of Peter Jones and the silliness of the guest of Lorraine Chase. Kenneth and Clement great too.

281/14/8 - any list must include some Aimi Macdonald. This show features the four players as subjects which is interesting and different and Kenneth, Clement and Peter are all at their best.

293/15/6 - This includes some great Sheila Hancock including a moment where she is laughing so hard she can't speak - great interaction with Kenneth here. Derek and Peter wonderful too.

316/17/7 - any list must include this show with Elaine Stritch - possibly the single funniest show ever. And she also brings Kenneth's best out - Clement and Barry Cryer in support.

347/20/10 - any list must include a show with the gang of four - this includes the classic Kenneth v Peter confrontation on stopping hiccups and plenty of other very funny stuff.

398/25/10 - This features possibly the best round ever on the inoccuous subject of "my pet" from Peter, Derek and early Paul - his breakthrough eppy really. Dickie Murdoch is the guest and he also deserves to be on the list somewhere. The other rounds include great moments too - Peter on small boys playing with their nuts for example.

424/29/1 - features Tony Slattery's debut, and Wendy Richard in her most imperious form - very funny, was included in the first JAM compilation. The running joke about Wendy in the car park is a classic JAM moment. Paul and Clement in attendance

436/30/3 - Eddie Izzard appears with Paul, Clement and Derek and is amazingly funny.

450/31/7 - Paul Merton at his finest with greatness from Peter and Derek too - Paul describes his 18 year trip to Venus... Steve Frost there as well.

507/38/1 - Any list has to include some Stephen Fry - and this show is my personal favourite - also includes some great latter-days Peter Jones. Clement and Paul there too.

530/40/4 - Graham Norton must be included somewhere - this show features lots of good moments including a Clinton pussy joke... Tony Hawks, Linda and Clement with him.

605/47/7 - features Ross Noble in fine form, and behaving like a schoolboy with Graham. Tony Hawks and Clement make up the numbers.

622/49/3 - a recent show with a great running joke from Paul about Nicholas being outwitted by a herbaceous border - also includes Linda Smith who must be included somewhere. Clement and Graham also there.

I now - more than 12 - but I could easily nominate another 20 or so.


Seven sleeps

As I post this, a week from now we will have fresh JAM! Woooohooooooo!

Is it just me or has I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue been sounding really tired this year?


December 24, 2006

Remaining shows

JAM is being recorded on January 7 in Brighton.

So assuming three more recordings in the season, who shall we hear from. Here are my guesses...

Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins

Paul, Tony Hawks, Liza Tarbuck, Barry Cryer

Tony, Graham, Jenny Eclair, Rob Brydon

or some combination thereof...


December 17, 2006


With a new producer, there's always the possibility of some fresh voices on the show. Much as I think Claire Jones did an outstanding job, I also like hearing some different people from time to time, alongside the familiar voices.

Some suggestions in the unlikely event that the new producer is reading here.

Alan Davies - the actor and star of QI, with his improvisational surrealistic sense of humour would be great on JAM.

Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal - wouldn't it be great to hear an Indian voice on JAM. These two have created so much good comedy and are wonderful improvisers too. I think they would be outstanding on JAM.

Julia Morris - this Australian comedian is one of the funniest bubbliets women I've ever seen and would be a perfect foil of Nicholas. If anyone could go on to be a regular woman panellist on the show, able to go taunt-for-taunt with the likes of Paul, it is Julia. And she is already doing some work for Radio Four...

Ronnie Corbett or Bruce Forsyth - I like hearing some older players alongside the young 'uns - either of these would fit in well and give us something really memorable I'm sure.

Josie Lawrence - most of Paul's colleagues on the Comedy Store Players have had a go at JAM. For some reason Josie hasn't and yet I could just hear her taking to the show in a big way.

And finally some people who have only appeared once or twice on the show who are WAY WAY overdue for another run

Ian Hislop - appeared in 1986, would be great to hear him having a go at the others.

Caroline Quentin - appeared in 1993. Not sure if the fact her marriage to Paul is a factor, but she is such a gifted improviser and actor. Couldn't she maybe do a show when Paul is away if it is uncomfortable for them to perform together?

Sandi Toksvig - her only appearance in 1991 went on the first JAM compilation. She does just about every other Radio Four show but not JAM, and yet she would be amazing at it.

Eddie Izzard - Please grab him - he was damned funny in his two 1994 shows.

Feel free to add your suggestionsn in the comments.


New season start date confirmed

as New Year's Day, January 1 2007. The panel will be Sir Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Chris Neill and Greg Proops.

Unfortunately the BBC's online listing has an embarrassing (if slightly amusing) spelling error in one of the players' names. Look here and scroll down to 1830....



December 16, 2006

New producer

A friend tells me Claire Jones was not the producer at the recent recordings.

I have been in occasional email contact with her, so tried that - and it came back with "user unknown" on it. So maybe it's true!

If this is true, it does bring to an end an era. Apart from a brief period of maternity leave, Claire has been in charge for six and a half years, the longest uninterrupted period of any producership, and second only in total to the show's founder David Hatch (he had more than one term in the job).

She had to pick up the show after Peter and Derek died and keep it going. She introduced many people who are have been just brilliant on the show - Ross Noble, Sue Perkins, Liza Tarbuck, Charles Collingwood, Chris Neill, and brought back Sheila Hancock and Gyles Brandreth.

Let's wish Claire all the best - and welcome the new producer!


New season

The first show in the new season will play on January 1 I believe...


December 10, 2006


According to our helpful comments - JAM recorded at the Mermaid Theatre on Saturday night - stars were Clement, Gyles Brandreth, Marcus Brigstocke and Pauline McLynn.

I would think that would be it for December - and they should record three more in January.

Keep the comments coming! Thanks to everyone who commented, anonymous or otherwise, for your help.


December 08, 2006

JAM shows

Well for those who don't assiduously read all the comments...

We've established that the show has recorded at Winchester - team being Sir Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Chris Neill and Greg Proops.

Greg's first appearance since 1993 - and first double recording since 1988. Lovely to have an American voice back on the show!

Then at Tunbridge Wells, it was Clement, Paul, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Maria McErlane.

And Rob Brydon says on his website he is about to do some JAMs - don't know when or where. Unfortunately his website won't load properly for me, so if anyone has more details let me know.

EDIT: The 1988 is a typo - should be 1998. And to make it clear I mean by double appearance recording two shows at on sitting.... he has done one-off shows since. I was corrected by Chris Neill in the comments, no less! Thanks Chris!


December 04, 2006

new season

They must have recorded about half of the new season by now - so far I've heard nothing.

Anyone with details of recordings and panels - please let me know!


December 02, 2006

Linda Smith book

has just been published - this interesting review is from the Chortle site

Book review: I Think The Nurses Are Stealing My Clothes - The Very Best Of Linda Smith

‘I can’t remember the point when I realised Linda was unusually talented.’ Jeremy Hardy remembers in this loving celebration of his friend Linda Smith. Unfortunately, for far too many people, that moment came only after she died in February at the age of just 48. As is so often the way, even if you always knew she was good, you didn’t realise quite how good until she was gone.

In compiling this thorough collection of her work, from her early days on the stand-up circuit to her triumphs on Radio 4, her long-time boyfriend Warren Lakin and friend Ian Parsonsn have created a worthy reminder of precisely how consistently funny, biting and incisive she could be.

And yet for all the wonderful lines that fill every page, it is one of the saddest comedy books around. So distinctive and individual was Linda’s style that you cannot read her material without hearing her voice loud, clear yet so uniquely browbeaten – knowing that, save for the odd BBC 7 rerun – you will never hear it again.

Her persona was old before her time, burdened with a world-weary misery; taking the hopeless grumble that pensioners might use to whine about Erith Council’s paving-stone policy and applying it to skewer public figures, the blow all the more brutal for the low-key way it was delivered and the precision with which it hit.

Her approach got her under the radar at Radio 4 radar, which would have been suspicious of more trenchant radicals, her subtly and wit allowing her to make sharp political points in the guise of an unabitious everywoman housewife. Her roots, it is easy to forget lay in the in the hugely politicised formative years of alternative comedy, heightened by the fact that she lived in Sheffield at the height of the miners’ strike. Linda cut her teeth at many a rowdy, unglamorous benefit where liberal leftie arts students experimented with the comedy art faced working men’s clubs full of gritty miners fearing for their future – yet somehow it worked, thanks to the shared enemy of Thatcherism.

Extracts from that early stand-up, faithfully reproduced here, show the persona was formed early, even if the material wasn’t quite so piercing rampant feminism and – in what was something of a career theme – the dreariness of her native Erith. It culminated, of course, in her famous gag that ‘Erith isn’t twinned with anywhere – but it does have a suicide pact with Dagenham,’ but that wasn’t the only brilliant line Linda had on the theme. Take, for instance, ‘Erith, not exactly a city that never sleeps, more like a town that lies awake all night staring at the ceiling.’

From those early days, this book contains the script of the 1994 show she took to the Edinburgh Fringe with Hattie Hayridge as well as similar collaborations with Jeremy Hardy and musical stand-up Steve Gribbin; contributions to radio shows from Radio 5 Live’s The Treatment, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, literary panel game Booked – and, of course, The News Quiz; extracts from TV shows from Room 101 to Question Time; and stand-up from across the decades, including a complete show from 2004.

The full arc of her career is covered and – astonishingly – with almost no repetition. Stand-ups tend to recycle favourite lines, working them into new routines or twisting them to fit new gags. But Linda’s fertile mind produced an impressive amount of fresh material, fuelled by raw contempt for the arrogant, Greedy schemers who so often rise to the top of public life.

She was joking to the very end, as one of the many friends and colleagues who contributed eulogies, memories and tributes to the book reveals. Andy Hamilton recalls talking to Mark Steel over Linda’s hospital bed, and as the conversation a chat show Steel had been in alongside Joan Collins, Hamilton asked: ‘How old is Joan Collins?’ ‘Oooh, not sure,’ said Mark. ‘I reckon she must be about 75.’ Then, in a frail voice, Linda asked: ‘How much is that in human years.’

Linda’s fast and witty mind never, apparently, had an ‘off’ switch; and this bulky tome is testament to that. It is a fine portrait of a unique career, painted in her own words, and put in context by restrained but adoring praise from those who knew and loved her. You couldn’t ask for a better memorial.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

I Think The Nurses Are Stealing My Clothes: The Very Best Of Linda Smith, compiled and edited by Warren Lakin and Ian Parsons is published by Hodder & Stoughton.