Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

July 31, 2007

today's show

I thought that was a terrific programme. It's good when Paul gets some fire back and I liked the way Gyles turned Paul's comments about caring too much about winning back on to Paul himself.

I've not been a huge fan of Gyles in the past and I do get bored when he gets back on to material he's used many times before just to keep going (Schmitt sat in, the equine quadruped, Lord Finchley) - but he is bloody good at the banter over points, isn't he. Genuinely witty. It's good to have him there.

Julian Clary is either really really good - or quiet. Today I thought he was really really good, lots of funny lines. I think if I was doing again my list of top 20 players of all time, I might have to move him up the list. He is perfect for the game.

And Jenny Eclair is my favourite woman panellist of all time. I thought she was in good form and definitely adds something. I'd like to hear her more often.

It felt like all the panellists knew and liked each other and knew how to tease the others. I like that. A well-matched team, I thought.

That was a great listen.

July 29, 2007

Dave Gorman on his JAM debut

Again I hope Dave won't mind me copying from his blog - sounds like he found it fun but tough going!


Enjoyable Torture

If the point of Just A Minute was to make a 30 minute programme and then work out at the end which of the four panellists had contributed just a minute then I might well turn out to be the victor.

Sadly that isn't the point and I might well turn out to be the lowest scoring contributor ever. It really is devilishly difficult to even get on the microphone so quick are the others at spotting a repetition. I spent the whole of the evening pressing my buzzer and discovering that someone else had managed to press a split second sooner. The live audience were aware that I was pressing and not getting in on time and they enjoyed my playful frustration but of course the listening audience won't be aware of any of that.

It was definitely a jolly evening and I was getting laughs from the audience for acknowledging my own ineptitude but those are the kind of laughs that inevitably hit the cutting room floor... quite right too as they do sort of sit outside the show. Which leaves me concerned about quite how scant my contribution to the shows will be. Especially the first of the two.

I was very glad there was a second show because I'd already improved a little bit and knowing that the audience were onside I felt more able to be bold about making challenges. I think I managed to talk for a good 45 seconds on one of the subjects before grinding to a halt. Sadly it wasn't long enough for me to reach Gertrude's whistle and so I didn't get a point out of it.

The comic challenges people make - usually for deviation, where you know they will be given the subject back but also that it will raise a laugh - have to be judged right. I think until the audience trusts you it can feel as though you're spoiling someone else's flow rather than adding to the comedy. I think I got those right - and certainly the audience seemed to go with them - but they also seemed to be dismissed with speed while others seemed to be dwelt on. But that might just be my imagination.

All in all it was an enjoyable form of torture and it's interesting to see how closely my own experience tallies with Michael Palin's from 1975. Of course he only published his diaries recently - which is a very slow and non interactive form of blogging. Here I have the advantage because by the time I got home someone from the audience had left a nice comment on my previous entry. I'm sure Michael Palin would have felt similarly lifted if someone had scribbled a nice message like that in his diary at the time. So long as it could have been done without breaking into his house and finding his diary. Isn't the internet great?

Paul's new TV job?

This from Chortle

Paul Merton is set to star in a new ITV1 improv show called Thank God You're Here.

The comic is working on a pilot of the show, based on an Australian original, alongside Steve Punt.

In the show, four guest comedians walk through a door into an unknown scenario, where they are greeted by the phrase, ‘Thank God you're here’ and have to ad lib their way through the scene.

Merton came to prominence on Channel 4 improv show Whose Line is It Anyway?, and is still a regular member of the Comedy Store Players, performing most Sundays at the London venues.

The pilot is being made by independent producer Talkback Thames, and follows a US remake for NBC, which was taken off air after just a few episodes.

It is not yet known whether Merton would host the show or be a regular improv performer.

July 24, 2007

Today's show

I've been mentally putting off posting about today's show. I'm not sure why.

There was a good cast and some funny moments. Chris Addison was again very cheeky, funny and competitive. Graham Norton was Graham - always good. Clement had his moments. Paul held things together.

But somehow the show never got quite going. It just didn't get that flow that made it a really memorable show. For me anyway.

Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Jenny Eclair and Julian Clary next week.

July 23, 2007

Tuesday night recording

The team for the next recording of JAM is

Sir Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Tony Hawks and Dave Gorman.

Lovely to have Clement and Tony back again. And Dave Gorman! For those who haven't heard about him, he is a very different style of stand-up comic. Have a look around his website http://www.davegorman.com/ and you'll see what I mean.

He has also blogged already about how nervous he is about coming on JAM ! And how much he loves the show! And Clement! And linked to a certain other blog! :-)

I hope he won't mind if I repeat his blog entry here. For those who want to see it in the original form, so to speak, click here.

Since we finished recording this last series of Genius I've been enjoying my writing much more. With nothing else to distract me I've found it easier to immerse myself in the book and suddenly I see the tale with more clarity. Hurrah for things like that.

In order to remain focussed on the book I've been turning down everything else I'm offered. I know I'd enjoy popping up on bubbalub and chatting to Dermot about this series of Big Brother - and I think there's a lot to be said about the current crop of housemates - but I've decided that, for now, the book is more important.

I thought I was going to maintain my no-other-work rule no matter what but then along came an offer that was simply too good to refuse: Just A Minute. JAM is one of the great radio shows. (There's only really I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue that can compare.) So how could I possibly say no when asked to take part? I couldn't. I said yes without hesitation. Or the other two.

And then, I suddenly found myself increasingly worried about what I'd agreed to. Because while I love the show it's also incredibly intimidating. The other contestants will be Paul Merton, Tony Hawks and Clement Freud all of whom are exceedingly skilled players of the game with buckets of experience on their side. Clement Freud had been doing the show since before I was born.

Whatever the show, regulars always have an edge with the audience because their relationship already exists - they've already earned their respect. Anyone new has to try and win that trust anew. I reckon that the longer the regulars have been on a show the harder it gets for any incomers... and there aren't many shows that have been running longer than JAM.

Not that I'm complaining about the situation. They've earned their place in the audience's heart after all. And besides, as a fan of the show I'd be disappointed if Clement Freud wasn't there.

Suddenly it feels like I'm stepping into a boxing ring for my first ever bout and I've been pitted against a an undefeated heavyweight. I will be pummelled. Gulp.

When Tilusha, the show's producer, called me to talk about the show and explain some of its subtleties I confessed that I was feeling intimidated by it. She told me that most people did and that yes, it was quite an intimidating show to step into for just those reasons. Which didn't make for the peppiest of pep talks.

She then told me that Michael Palin had written about the show in his diaries. He appeared on the show in 1975 and he was intimidated by the show then for much the same reasons. I googled it and found the extract here.

"The three regulars have been playing the game together for five years, Williams and Freud for eight, and it shows. They are smooth and polished, they know when to ad-lib, when to bend the rules a little, and when to be cross with each other."


"The game became easier but I never mastered the technique of microphone-hogging which they have all perfected."


Somehow the fact that Michael Palin - official comedy God and NicestManInTheWholeWideWorld felt slightly out of his depth doing the show isn't particularly reassuring.

Having spoken to Tilusha about the show I was surprised to find that our paths crossed again later the same day when we were both at the same book launch. The book being launched was How to Bring Up Your Parents by Emma Kennedy. Emma writes one of my favourite blogs and it's no surprise that such a consistently funny bloggess has turned out such a funny book.

Seeing Emma's pride and excitement as her tome makes its way into the big wide world was a good reminder of why it is that I want to concentrate my efforts on my own book. It has to be something I can be proud of. So other things must go by the wayside. Apart from exciting and intimidating invitations to enter hallowed radio institutions. They must be accepted. I'll be recording two episodes on Tuesday night at the Radio Theatre.

Welcome aboard, Mister Gorman! Good luck! We hope Clement takes pity on you!

July 17, 2007

Today's show

Today's show was top-rank. The thing that always makes the show is good banter and repartee between the panellists and today's was top quality.

Pam Ayres was very very good. I think she was as funny as she has ever been on the show. More more more!

I've said before that Maureen Lipman should have been asked back - and she proved it again. She is a great support player, she's feisty and competitive, and funny. I like her. Again, more more more!

I thought Dara was also as good as he has ever been. I loved him shouting "I hate this game!" He is never going to be especially good at the game but he is funny when he has the subject and in the banter.

And Paul, well, I felt he lifted himself when he heard the others getting laughs, and gave a great performance. He holds the show together really and jumps in when things are getting dull. He's a champ.

That was a very very strong debut.

Note that only Paul of the panel appeared last season - making it 19 performers in 11 shows, or seven recordings. That's a lot of variety - and certainly today Tilusha's team worked really well.

And a new whistle blower. Farewell, Charlotte, welcome Julie.

July 14, 2007

Website upgrade

I've bought more bandwidth so it should be offline less often - I hope!

Nice article about the great Nicholas

from the Ealing Times - and note his show is on tomorrow night! Get along to it!

From perfect sense to poetic nonsense
By Miriam Craig

Comic actor and presenter Nicholas Parsons is coming to Finchley with his one man show about nonsense poet Edward Lear. MIRIAM CRAIG finds out about the unexpected pairing.

It is for his voice of serenity, order and unwavering fairmindedness amid frenzied comic one-upmanship that many have admired Nicholas Parsons, quizmaster of Radio 4's Just A Minute.

Parsons has hosted the show since it began in 1967, presiding over the repetitions, hesitations and deviations of golden-age regulars Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones and Clement Freud (the only one of the original four still appearing on the show), and, more recently, participants such as Graham Norton and Paul Merton.

Parsons says of the role: "I have to concentrate harder for Just A Minute than in any other job I do. With hesitation and deviation it's subjective judgement and I have to justify my decisions, but for repetition it's sheer concentration. The regular players have often been known to try and trip me up. They'll challenge much later on, thinking I will have forgotten whether a word was repeated or not."

Just A Minute, or JAM as it's known by fans, is just one facet of Parsons' long and varied career.

Now just over 80', Parsons originally trained as an engineer as his parents were dead against' him taking up acting. He started doing impersonations and working in small repertory theatres in Glasgow while working as an engineer in Clydebank making pumps and turbines, where he would entertain his workmates by taking off his various foremen.

When he eventually made the change to being a full-time actor it was with a lot of determination and persistence. "I took any job that came along," he says. "I had the philosophy, work breeds work'. I finished up in the rep and it progressed from there."

Parsons sees the high point of his career as working with Arthur Haynes on his comedy sketch series in the Sixties. "Up to then I'd been very busy working very hard serving my time as an actor in Bromley being a different character in every show," he says. "I did a lot of cabaret, a lot of revues. Then I was resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre doing stand-up comedy. I was doing everything but I wasn't established.

"I fell in with Arthur Haynes by chance in a show called Striking a Note, which was a disaster. But then they got rid of everybody except us two, and that evolved into The Arthur Haynes Show."

Yet another high-profile show Parsons is known for is Sale of the Century, the general knowledge gameshow he hosted for 14 years - a length of time Parsons now regrets: "I should have left Sale of the Century long before I did. People thought I was just a presenter and remember that instead of my more interesting work. But the short films I was writing for cinema were subsidised by the commercial success of Sale of the Century, and I am proud of its success."

Yet for better or worse, much of Parsons' career has been spent feeding lines to his colleagues, and he says he sees himself as a bit of a straight-man, if you want to use that word'. He says: "I often throw out the lines to Paul Merton."

At first, then, it seems surprising that someone so firmly associated with the role of straight-man should devise a show centred around a poet such as Edward Lear, author of The Owl and the Pussycat, The Pobble Who Has No Toes, and The Jumblies, among other favourites.

Yet Lear's verse is written in a tone of English properness and comic understatement that chimes with Parsons's persona.

The idea for the show came from a job Parsons was asked to do for Radio 3. He says: "I had all these nonsense verses to read in time with the music. It gave me a great feel for his nonsense. My father used to read his poems to us, and I wanted to learn more. I read about him in the library and realised he had had the most fascinating life.

"He survived the most horrible childhood, and was a wonderful man who adored children. I began to feel that a lot of this nonsense of his, which started purely as a sideline, was very much a part of himself.

"He called it fantastical rhymes without reason'. It was his own escapist world, in order to cope with the pressures of his difficult life."

Lear was the twentieth child of his parents and left home aged 15. He suffered from epilepsy at a time when there was still a stigma attached to the condition, as well as bronchitis, asthma and, later in life, partial blindness. He was also, at one time, art master to Queen Victoria.

Parsons says: "He produced some of the most amazing nonsense verse ever written. He's the laureate of nonsense. But even though it's nonsense, it's not all light. The Dong with the Luminous Nose is actually quite dark.

"He was also a word creator. Runcible is one of his words. He applies it to spoon, hat, man, situation. No one knows what it means - it can mean whatever you want. You could call it a runcible show."

# How Pleasant To Know Mr Lear is on at the All Saints' Arts Centre, Oakleigh Road North, Whetstone, on Sunday, July 15, at 7.30pm. Tickets priced 10 (8 in advance) are available from the box office on 020 8445 8388.

JAM News

some bits of news that might interest you

* the panel at the recording in Hastings last week was Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Jenny Eclair and Julian Clary. A very good team. Great to have Jenny back - a two year absence is far too long. Gyles and Julian are always great to hear again.

* the next recording is at Broadcasting House in London on July 26th. As always - if you're going or have any details about it, please let me know.

* the first recording of the season - we'll hear one of the shows on Monday - was recorded in a giant tent amongst steady rain and.... mud! The team was Paul, Pam Ayres, Maureen Lipman and Dara O'Briain, with Marcus Brigstocke replacing Dara for the second recording.

* a recording at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is confirmed for August 14th - but it's already sold out!

* I hear that celebrations for the 40th anniversary - it's in December - may be muted as it's about the same tme as Radio Four's 40th! There are suggestions it may not even be as big as the 35th anniversary show...

* And two long-time JAM stars have asked me to mention their shows. So I will.

JAM star (and former producer) Chris Neill is doing stand-up at the Camden Fringe this year.... here's what he sent me...

Chris Neill - Bearded Wonder

For my shiny new show I find myself thrilled to be avoiding the money-sapping bitch-fest known as Edinburgh in August, and instead am a little giddy to be making a temporary home in the tie-dyed, syringe-strewn, old suede jacket-wearing capital of Britain that is Camden.

In this too-hot-to-handle, just-out-of the-oven, brand new sixty minutes (or a bit under if I can’t find a way of making my routine about opera work), I shall throw myself at a variety of topics (genealogy, surrealism in suburbia, my desire to make passionate love to every beautiful girl in England* to name but three), wrestle them to the ground, and have them begging for mercy. That, or I might tell some jokes about offal and jam.

* One of these is a lie.

Venue: Etcetera Theatre, Oxford Arms, Camden High Street

Time: 21.00 (22.00) 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 August

All tickets £7.50 Ticket booking 020 7482 4857 or www.camdenfringe.org

And Nicholas Parsons is taking his one-man show, "How Pleasant To Know Mr Lear" to the Ealing Comedy Festival on September 1.

Just a thought - neither of the first two recordings were graced by the presence of Sir Clement Freud. He has only missed one summer season recording in four years before this year. Let's hope he is well - he is in his mid 80s but it would be hard to imagine the show without him.

July 07, 2007

first in new series

will be on July 16th, the panel is Paul Merton, Pam Ayres, Maureen Lipman and Dara O'Briain

RIP George Melly

The brilliant jazz musician and brother of long-time JAM regular Andree Melly has died.

A fascinating obituary can be found here.