Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

December 21, 2008

more panel news

The BBC Whats On listings say the second panel of the season featured Paul, Clement, Julian and Helen Lederer - I previously reported info from an emailer who said the fourth person was Josie Long.

We shall have to wait and hear...

December 20, 2008

More news

More news!

I have dates for the last three recordings for the current season.

* Monday 12th January, at the Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House, London
* Monday 26th January at Lincoln University
* Tuesday 10th February at the Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House, London

So those of you saying "I can't get tickets" - get on the phone!

Four of the six recordings this season are from the Radio Theatre. I'm told that there's been some ruling that people shouldn't be charged for admission to shows like JAM and that is restricting the venues that can be used. So unless the ruling changes again, there are likely to be more shows recorded out of the Radio Theatre - a venue that in the last Just A Classic Minute, both Nicholas and Paul suggested wasn't a good venue for comedy.

Jack Dee has been booked for one of the remaining recordings, possibly the one on the 12th.

And although Paul and Gyles are the "best" players in the show's history in terms of the proportion of games won... neither won at this week's recording. Liza won one game, Sue the other - and neither have won a game before.

More panel news

The panel a couple at nights ago at London was Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Sue Perkins and Liza Tarbuck.

December 18, 2008

London panel

A reader says the panel for the first London recording was Paul Merton, Sir Clement Freud, Julian Clary and Josie Long.

The other recording was today so hopefully we'll have some news from that soon.

December 14, 2008

the next season

Although it's only two weeks away from the new season, I've so far had news on only one recording - which featured Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Charles Collingwood and Shappi Khorsandi.

I imagine there have been one or two more recordings since. If you went to one, let me know.

But the official website does have a clue as to who will be appearing in the next series.

Since it was first put up in 2002, the regulars on JAM have been listed on the official site like this.

Present panellists include Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Clement Freud, Tony Hawks, Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry, Jenny Eclair, Julian Clary, Ross Noble, Lisa Tarbuck, Tim Rice and Wendy Richard.

In the past week, that's been changed to this...

Present panellists include Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Clement Freud, Tony Hawks, Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry, Jenny Eclair, Julian Clary, Ross Noble, Lisa Tarbuck, Shappi Khorsandi, Helen Lederer, Josie Long and Charles Collingwood.

Now given that it's now six years since Wendy was on, it was probably about time for her to be taken off the list of "present panellists". Tim Rice has also been removed and added are Shappi Khorsandi, Helen Lederer, Josie Long and Charles Collingwood.

Shappi and Charles we knew were on this series. Helen has only done one radio edition, as long ago as 1992, although she did four TV editions. With all due respect to a very nice and very talented person, she was possibly one of the least adept at the game that have been on.

When I first saw the name Josie Long, I assumed it was an error and they meant Josie Lawrence. But no, there is a talented young comedienne called Josie Long.

Welcome to the JAM family, Josie.

And I guess it all goes to show that they are really trying to get more women on the show. Kenneth will be rolling in his grave.

Good to see Stephen Fry is still listed - we can only hope...

Strange that people like Gyles Brandreth, Marcus Brigstocke and Kit Hesketh-Harvey aren't listed.

And even after six years, I note they still can't spell correctly the name of Liza Tarbuck!

December 08, 2008

Graham Norton

A good profile in the Times today.

Profile: Graham Norton
The camp presenter has struggled to find his niche at the BBC but taking over Wogan’s Eurovision slot should be just the ticket

Graham Norton wanted to be a zoo keeper but had to settle for the next best thing, a job as a chat show host. Now he is going one better by slipping into the shoes and brogue of Terry Wogan, a fellow Irishman, to preside as the BBC commentator on that outlandish bestiary known as the Eurovision song contest.

Wogan, 70, bowing out after 35 years, had complained that bloc voting meant the annual event was “no longer a music contest”. This should not unduly bother Norton, who happily compered How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?, although critics said it was less a singing competition than 13 weeks’ free advertising for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s West End show The Sound of Music.

Aptly, the 45-year-old presenter’s last collaboration with Lloyd Webber was called I’d Do Anything – it was a contest to find stars for the stage show Oliver!. Yes, if you want a cheeky, innuendo-laden joker willing to promote the national lottery, Comic Relief or the plight of the Ethiopian wolf, in addition to hosting his own weekly programme, Norton is your man.

Few suspected that Norton’s mischievous cherub was slowly morphing into Uncle Tel. One of the first to spot the convergence was AA Gill, the Sunday Times television critic, who, noting in 2003 that Wogan was the “monkey wrench” of British broadcasting who could fit his jaws around any nutty format, suggested that the presenter’s self-deprecating act was essentially camp: “Turn up the falsetto a little and you’ve got Graham Norton.”

No one is camper than Norton, to his professed chagrin: “I used to look at Larry Grayson and think: oh my God, is that the future? I don’t want to be that person.” Gay teenagers, interviewed on television, have said the diminutive comic with his silk suits and flamboyant manner is too outré. “It broke my heart,” Norton said. “Because I would have been them.”

Recently there was another clue that the entertainer, who has sailed almost as close to the wind as Russell Brand, secretly hankered after Wogan’s warm mantle. He would like to end his career on a radio show, he told an interviewer, in preference to sitting in bed, “dribbling soup down myself” and watching television.

Not that he has any plans to take it easy, beyond walking his dogs, Bailey and Madge, at his homes in Wapping, east London, and Co Cork. Recently he flounced before the media in a red sequined dress, blonde wig and make-up as a foretaste of his appearance next month as the drag artist Zaza in the West End musical La Cage aux Folles. It would be, he predicted, “a late Christmas present for theatre critics”.

Yet for all his smutty double entendres, Norton mostly pulls off the trick of being likable and not outraging guests. On his previous Channel 4 shows he persuaded Cybill Shepherd to talk about where Elvis Presley kissed her, Dustin Hoffman to tell a dirty joke about Brigitte Bardot’s “muff” and Mo Mowlam to marry two dogs.

“His main strength is that he doesn’t offend people, however rude he gets,” said Helen Hawkins, the Sunday Times Culture editor, who has followed Norton’s career since he was a stand-up comedian in Edinburgh in 1992. “That’s a gift he has managed to parlay into becoming the acceptable face of cheek. It seems he’s now getting elder statesman status.”

Norton’s friend Simon Fanshawe, the writer and broadcaster, believes that he falls into England’s grand tradition of camp entertainers: “But he’s not just ‘a poof off the telly’, as he would say. He has a sharp mind and an eagle eye for thinking through an idea.

“The thing that strikes me about his humour is the certainty of purpose about what he does. He doesn’t hold back. He will always go to the heart of something by exposing its weakness or vulnerability. I put that down to his mother, who was extraordinarily direct.”

In person, Norton comes across as “normal” and not relentlessly funny; at ease with his clamouring fans but not craving attention. However, one female interviewer found him “more insecure about his looks than any woman I’ve come across” – significantly, he chose a mirror as a luxury when he appeared on Desert Island Discs.

Although coy about receiving the Eurovision accolade – “someone has to do it” – Norton has been edging closer to the event since 2007, when he hosted the first annual Eurovision dance contest, followed by an announcement last October that he would present Your Country Needs You, the UK’s competition to find a song for next year’s Eurovision song contest, to be held in Moscow.

He was born Graham Walker (another Graham Walker on Equity’s books prompted the name change) on April 4, 1963, in Clondalkin, just outside Dublin. His late father, Billy, was “a gentle man” whose job as a Guinness sales rep kept the Protestant family on the move. His mother, Rhoda, worked for the local Mothers’ Union.

In his 2004 autobiography, So Me, Norton confessed to wetting the bed until he was nine or 10, although he was not conscious of feeling unhappy. He was also a cross-dresser who liked to wear his elder sister’s clothes. “I would sit around the house like a tiny transvestite,” he said.

At 12 he was sent to a boarding school in the Protestant enclave of Bandon, in west Cork, where he excelled in plays and debates, although contemporaries saw him as distant. He felt effeminate: “I got mistaken for a girl a lot because I had long hair.”

He was 16 when, on an exchange trip to Toulouse, he had his first gay affair, with Jules, his “blond and clean” young host. Norton was traumatised as the implications sank in: “I don’t think anyone wants to be gay. I thought I’d be a social pariah. Back then, if you saw a gay man in a film he was a baddie.”

Desperate to leave school, he took a job in a pottery. He was supposed to make ceramic brooches but proved “so hopeless” that he ended up peeling apples for £1 an hour.

Despite a poor set of A-levels, he won a place at University College, Cork, to study English and French. During a summer vacation in France he was seduced by a female tutor, but his delight at being “back on the heterosexual team” was tempered by her voiced suspicion that he was gay. When she slept with someone else, he fled to London, where he became a waiter and realised “there was a whole variety of lives to be led”.

Back in Cork, filled with self-loathing, he cultivated his loneliness by collecting dead flies. Without telling anyone, he abandoned his degree and went to America, eventually staying for a year at a hippie commune in San Francisco. “I realised I couldn’t take any more of that misery,” he said. “I hated it.”

The 17 hippies in the Stardance commune were friendly but pathetic: “They’d come home with Barbie dolls and all they wanted was junk food like other kids.” He worked as a waiter, began a long affair with booze and slept with Obo, the male commune leader.

He was 20 when he answered an advertisement for a rent boy. “Because I was from Ireland and I was so naive, it seemed that the only way to have sex, to broach the subject, was to turn it into a career,” he once recalled. “I didn’t know how to chat people up or go into bars.” In the event, Norton balked when a pimp required a live audition. He was saved, he believed, by divine intervention: “The night before, a pressure cooker exploded on me, causing a large blistering on my chest, which I took as a sign from God.”

Instead, he found his first real girlfriend, Elizabeth Smith, a Berkeley blonde supporting herself by waitressing. Asked whether she suspected he was gay, he replied: “Well, we were having lots of sex. Also, she didn’t want me to be. I didn’t want to be. And we were kids.”

Norton settled on a gay identity on his return to London, where he worked as a waiter in Covent Garden before taking a place at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. Although he forged lifelong friendships with his contemporaries, who included Jason Isaacs and Rufus Sewell, he realised his talents lay in comedy and not drama.

His stand-up shows at the Edinburgh festival, dressed as Mother Teresa, earned him a Perrier nomination, and when he stood in for Jack Doherty on his chat show, he was voted best newcomer at the British Comedy Awards. He joined Channel 4 to present So Graham Norton and V Graham Norton, which at one point ran for five nights a week.

When the BBC poached Norton in 2005 for a reported £3.5m contract, he seemed a fish out of water. “At Channel 4 he had complete licence, whereas there was a sense of his wings being clipped at the BBC,” Fanshawe said. Norton hosted the lacklustre Strictly Dance Fever, which was strictly for amateurs, before finding his feet with his current series, The Graham Norton Show.

In one of his most popular video clips on the internet, Norton entertains his guest Roseanne Barr, the actress, by telephoning an Austrian tourist board to inquire about holidays in a town named F******. “Friends have told me that F****** is fabulous,” he enthuses. “Is there a F****** hotel?”

Nul points from Austria, then.

December 03, 2008


One thing that has always been missing from the website is a list of subjects.

Well I've now added one. It's taken a while but you can look through all the subjects ever done, see who spoke on them, and then go to the transcript to see what was said! The subjects page is here.

I've also - as you might expect - counted up the number of times each subject has been done. So it can now be revealed that the most popular ever subject is ..........


which has been done eight times. If you're especially interested in what came second, third and 257th, you can read the list on the stats page.

I've also tidied up the coding errors on many of the transcripts that turned apostrophes and speech marks into gibberish. So the transcripts look tidier.

I hope you can get at least a little pleasure from these improvements. A comment left a few days ago pointed out that some of the comments on the who's who section are sadly out of date and my plan is to update the rest of the site over the next couple of months.

December 02, 2008

Peter Jones

Yes Kenneth Williams and Paul Merton have been the two stars of JAM. But if I had to pick one other panellist to join them in a show of my dreams, I think it would be Peter Jones.

I think Peter's addition to the cast took the show in a new direction which has kept it on the air. Before that the huge egos of Kenneth, Clement Freud and Derek Nimmo threatened to make the show ultra-competitive which would have been ultimately the wrong direction. The fun of the show is in the banter and use of words, not who can buzz first on repetition of "and".

When Derek had a season off, Peter Jones came in and was different. He didn't much care if he won. He teased the others and indeed the show itself, when it began to be taken too seriously. And he kept that up. He said a little before his death that he never felt that he actually got any good at the game, even after playing it for 30 years. This is a bit modest, but you know what he means. He was always prone to hesitating and repeating words and never as quick as others on the buzzer. If the panel was Paul, Clement, Peter and Stephen Fry, and you had to pick one to bet your home on, you wouldn't pick Peter.

Yet I'd say there was never a poor show with Peter on it. He was always so witty, he always interesting to listen to, he had some of the best lines. You just couldn't help feeling warm towards him and during his time a show without him on it was a bit like a roast dinner without the gravy.

Yet as brilliantly funny as he was, I can't help but think he may be the least remembered of the three who are now playing with Linda Smith in the heavens. Derek Nimmo and Kenneth Williams are I think better remembered. Peter never had the big successes on TV, stage or screen that they had and I rather think his rather bland voice and features make him less memorable. You can be surprised to realise that's Peter in a bit part in an old movie or TV show where Derek and Kenneth remain instantly recognisable.

Why do I offer these ramblings today? Well, a Guardian article today praises... Peter Jones. The piece is written by Martin Kelner who mightn't be a bad JAM panellist himself. Read about him here and also on his own website here.

Here's part of the article from the Guardian. You can read the whole thing here. How nice for someone to write in praise of Peter.

If radio is about a listener relating to a voice and building up some kind of relationship with it, I feel that way about Peter Jones. Jones is best known as the voice of the book in the radio adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but what I really wanted, and what BBC7 gave me, was the voice of Jones, who died in 2000, on Just a Minute.

Despite the many fine comedians who appear on the show, and Kenneth Williams's bravura performances in the 1970s and 80s, Jones remains my all-time favourite panellist. He always gave the impression of an old actor in a tweed jacket who had just wandered into the studio - which was more or less what he was.

His glorious insouciance worked brilliantly as counterpoint to the eager beaver chairman, Nicholas Parsons. Just as I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue worked because its host, Humphrey Lyttelton, was so funny and knowing, what lifts Just a Minute into the pantheon is that it is a comedy panel game chaired by someone with no discernible sense of humour. Brilliant. BBC7 has also brought us repeats of another work of genius featuring Jones - the spoof memoirs of an actor called J Kingston Platt, first broadcast in 1988.

Doctor Who?

For those who don't know, Doctor Who is a kidult sci-fi series that ran on the BBC from 1963 to 1985. It was brought back by the BBC in 2004 to great acclaim, and is a big hit these days. Over the years 10 actors have played the title role (the Doctor regenerates which is his version of plastic surgery) and "who" the new Doctor might be is a great subject for speculation at the moment.

As always there's a long list of possibilities and people are expecting a radical change this time. So far all the Doctors have been white blokes though there has been variety in age and accent. The current favourite seems to be Paterson Joseph who is black, though David Morrissey's chances are also being talked up.

My reason for raising this here is that a group is trying to promote the idea of a woman as the doctor. Specifically the list of possibilities includes Jenny Eclair and Sandi Toksvig!

A woman doctor would be a departure. I do like the idea of Sandi as Doctor Who. It would be fun to see Sandi as an action hero as she is not only female, but - let's be blunt about it and I can say this as I am too - short and a bit fat. Jenny I'm less sure about as an action hero.

I'll tell you who I would like to see in the role - Ross Noble. Now that would be great.