Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

July 28, 2009

Chris Neill calls my site "peculiar"

Chris Neill wrote this article in The Daily Telegraph last week which refers to my website...

A few months ago the Controller of Radio 4 hosted a dinner to celebrate Just a Minute’s four decades on air. I could see that look in Mark Damazer’s eyes as he greeted me which says I’ve absolutely no idea who you are, and I’m too polite to ask. I don’t entirely blame him, as I am easily the most un-famous person ever to appear on the show. When I reflect on it, I realise how lucky I am.

There is something both silly and rather splendid about a group of grown-ups – in some cases extremely wealthy grown-ups – gathering from time to time to play a parlour-game invented by a schoolboy before the Second World War. Hundreds of people turn up to watch, and millions more tune in to listen. It co-exists on Radio 4 with Money Box Live and In Our Time – but we’re in the far more serious business of trying to speak on subjects such as My Favourite Socks, Tripe, or How I Would Describe Myself to an Alien without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Most of the shows are now taped at Broadcasting House, but recordings out of London always seem to be more fun. Audiences on the road are particularly enthusiastic, and there is the giddy whiff of the travelling rep company as chairman Nicholas Parsons, the panel, the producer, and the broadcast assistant-cum-whistle-blower gather beforehand for a glass of warm white wine and a curling sandwich. For me, this half-hour is rather unsettling. Friendliness is in the air, but not without a certain brittleness – and, when Clement Freud was around, an anxiety as to whether he might throw a tantrum about something.

Clement could be outrageous, filthy and extremely funny – but you would have to have been an ostrich not to notice his more cantankerous side. It would be churlish, though, not to acknowledge my debt to him. It was he, along with the new producer Claire Jones, who suggested I appear on the programme when I stopped producing it in 2000. Clement’s patronage of new players could, however, prove mercurial: he would quite often whisper to a Just a Minute novice that this was “the worst show we’ve ever done” – the implication being that it was all their fault.

I never received that damnation (not to my face, anyway) but Clement did have a habit of turning a kindly gesture on its head. My last shows as producer took place in Devon, and generous old Clement brought a magnum of vintage port with which to toast me on my way. Whether he forgot or chose not to, the port wasn’t decanted before the show and, by the time Clement got the hotel barman to wrench it open after dinner, it had been shaken into less than the best of states. The poor barman had to take the brunt of Clement’s ensuing fury, and what had been a rather sweet gift turned into something much less merry.

Having said all that I do miss Clement, as also I do Derek Nimmo and Peter Jones – two players who I produced but never got a chance to sit alongside. Peter was slyly funny, sneaking up with the most brilliantly witty lines, whereas Derek was adorable for many reasons, not least his ridiculous requests. Once, on a rather bad phone line from his house in the south of France, he complained bitterly to me that the BBC should do the decent thing and pay a higher rate of petrol allowance to Rolls-Royce drivers as cars like his “positively drink the stuff.”

Someone else I miss very much is Linda Smith. It’s over three years since her pointlessly early death and she remains the person it was most fun to work with. In 2001, on my first shows as a panellist, Linda sat next to me and on a notepad wrote the words “have fun”. Not “good luck”, just “have fun”. I just try to find a balance between making the audience laugh, and not annoying my fellow panellists by interrupting too often (sometimes, if I feel I’ve been a bit too gobby, I even put the buzzer down and wait for the queasy feeling to pass).

There’s a man in New Zealand who amasses the most peculiar range of statistics about the show and apparently points-wise I am the least successful player ever which, I suppose, is a kind of achievement. But if I ever feel down about my skill at the game, I remember Linda’s simple and wise instruction. On the very best editions of Just a Minute that’s exactly what you hear: everyone having fun. And that’s a lot more than can be said for In Our Time.

Chris, if you read this, you are very funny which is the most important thing! :-)

July 26, 2009

wedding bells

It doesn't seem to have been picked up much by the British papers, but Paul Merton got married on Friday. It's his third time - his first to Caroline Quentin ended in divorce, his second wife, Sarah Parkinson died. I send every good wish to Paul and Suki. They aren't having a long honeymoon though as they're performing together in Edinburgh with Paul's Impro Chums for most of August.

July 23, 2009

More recording news

The July 21st recording featured

Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Gyles Brandreth, Pauline McLynn and Suki Webster. I'm assuming Pauline and Suki did one show each. Suki is Paul's partner so that adds something different. She is a very talented actress and improviser.

Only the Edinburgh recordings to come now. My guess is that Tony Hawks will join Paul there as the two regulars, and the four others rotating in the other two seats will be Fred MacAulay, Janey Godley, Hardeep Singh Kohli and Juan Moore. I rather think Mike McShane might take Juan's seat - he was very good last year and with his accent offers something a bit different. But we shall see.

July 21, 2009

first of new series

Is next Monday with Tony Hawks, Tim Rice, Sue Perkins and Pam Ayres as the panel.

Today's JAM recording

My friend Steve Wickham just posted this review of today's recording.

Just back home from tonights recording at Broadcasting House, and felt I really had to leave a review!!

The panel was amazing - Paul Merton, Charles Collingwood, Jenny Eclair and Stephen Fry. Phew.

Paul was on top form, and seemed not to care too much about actually playing the game, just sat there playing to the audience mostly, and coming in with hilarious interjections.

Watching Jenny play was an experience in itself. So full of energy, life and excitement, her hand and facial movements were a joy as she got so involved with each of her turns to speak.

What can one say about Stephen Fry? I don't think he has been back on the show for quite a few years has he? His knowledge of language was astounding, and the way he can go on a subject without seemingly drawing breath is too funny for words. I hadn't realised that he used to come to recordings when young, as he made a comment about trying to emulate Kenneth Williams. In fact both Kenneth and Clement got name checks... Nicholas even ended up doing his impersonation of Kenneth having a strop!! (plus he has lost a ton of weight and looks very much he did in his younger Fry and Laurie days)

I noticed that Stephen mouthed along with Nicholas during the introduction too!! Sadly although Charles tried very hard, he was a bit over-shadowed by the other three.

I don't know how those episodes can be cut down to half an hour, as every second was comedy magic, and I will await their broadcast with anticip.... ation!

July 18, 2009

Graham Norton at the BBC

This article suggests he hasn't been a success.

July 12, 2009

new home....

I wrote a few weeks ago about Geocities and its intention to close down. That means the site will have to move.

This then is a plea for advice. I need a new webhost for my roughly 40MB of material.

I would like something that is

* easy to work my way through. I am NOT very knowledgable about website maintenance, HTML and so on.

* something where I can just upload the files simply - I have produced the roughly 800 pages over 10 years, I don't want to have to rewrite them all from scratch.

* free (or near to it).

* safe, secure and in it for the long term.

Suggestions and recommendations welcome - I have to get on with things!

July 11, 2009

More on upcoming shows

Further to the post just below...

My anonymous friend has posted again linking to a BBC press release as the source for their list. Thank you for that, Mr or Ms Anonymous!

I rather think Hardeep, Janey and Suki will be among the Edinburgh teams, the first two being Scottish and Suki being a regular with Paul's Impro Chums at the Festival. Assuming that, here's my guesses for the three remaining recordings...

* (two shows) Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Gyles Brandreth, Jenny Eclair

* (two shows) Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry, Charles Collingwood

* (one show) Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Fred MacAulay, Suki Webster

* (one show) Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Janey Godley, Hardeep Singh Kohli

Let's see how close I get!

upcoming shows

Someone has left an interesting if slightly cryptic comment on my blog. It seems to be a list of people appearing in the upcoming shows.

The list of 15 performers includes the eight who have already recorded shows for the new season. Tony Hawks, Tim Rice, Sue Perkins and Pam Ayres were one team, Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Shappi Khorsandi the other.

The remaining seven include returns from some of our favourites - Graham Norton, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Fry, Charles Collingwood and Janey Godley.

If you're like me, the name of Stephen Fry is especially welcome - in my opinion one of the best JAM players ever. Graham and Jenny are also always very good.

The names of two newcomers are also there. Suki Webster is an actor and improviser who appears frequently with the Comedy Store Players and Paul Merton's Impro Chums. She has also been Paul Merton's partner for many years.

Hardeep Singh Kohli is a Scottish comedian and broadcaster.

I think we should take the list with a grain of salt as I don't know where this anonymous person got the list. But if you're like me you're hungry for any news.

Recordings have been scheduled for July 20th and 21st, and presumably again at Edinburgh in August. The new broadcasts begin on July 27.