Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 24, 2009

Nicholas interviewed at Edinburgh

For The News Of The World

SHOWBIZ veteran Nicholas, 85, began his career in Glasgow's theatres during the 1940s before becoming a TV favourite. This week, alongside his popular Happy Hour variety show, the recently anointed "icon of cool" brought his ever-popular radio programme Just A Minute to the Edinburgh Festival. "It just gets better and better," he reckons . . .

You realise we'll be asking you to answer these questions without hesitation, repetition or deviation . . .


You recorded two special editions of Just A Minute at the Festival this week. After 40 years at the helm, is it still entertaining?

Oh yes, probably more so. I often think it's funnier than when it started. It's much more free-wheeling and I've opened up the challenges to some extent. The rules are less rigid too, so comics like Paul Merton have much more scope to be spontaneous and entertaining.

What's the secret of its success?

It's a lot of very bright people with great comedy minds, having fun and trying to do the impossible task of speaking without repetition, hesitation or deviation. When things go wrong, as they often do, we capitalise on that. Of course they pull my leg about my decisions but they're always just and fair. Having fun is important. Life can be stressful and the great thing about Just A Minute is that you can relax, enjoy it and - to use a modern phrase - chill out.

For the eighth year in a row, The Nicholas Parsons Happy Hour is a Fringe highlight. Tell us about the make-up of the show.

It's a mixture of comedy and celebrity guests and often there'll be a musical guest too. I like to find someone who's up and coming to give them a break.

You're very conscientious about doing your research . . .

Well, I call it being professional actually. When I interview people, I always go and see their shows beforehand so we can talk about it properly. Sometimes it means seeing three shows a day, as well as doing my own, so I'm busy. I survive, at my age, by treating myself to a little siesta in the afternoon.

What keeps bringing you back?

There is a wonderful buzz in the air during the Festival. There's a magic to it that has built up over the years. It's a fantastic atmosphere and you get caught up in it. It's a very special time.

What's the funniest thing that's happened to you at the Festival?

I was appearing at a cabaret bar and by the time I'd arrived, there was already a long queue. Normally I liked to greet the customers coming in but just as I got to the front door, this tough-looking guy shouts, 'Here, no skipping the queue'. I explained, 'Actually my name is Nicholas Parsons and I'm working here'. Quick as a flash he shot back, 'I don't give a bugger who you are, you'll go to the back of the queue like everyone bloody else'. I always wondered who he thought he was coming to see.

You're almost a naturalised Scot. You lived here for five years didn't you?

I have a lot of Scots blood in me thanks to my ancestry but I feel like I'm an adopted Glaswegian because I spent my most formative years - between the 16 and 22 - living there. I love the place and the people. I was an apprentice at Drysdale's engineering works next door to John Brown's shipyard in Yoker. I had quite a posh English accent when I got there and the foreman told me, 'You're OK but we'll teach you how to get yer effing hands dirty and by the time you leave here, you'll be a man'. He was as good as his word. It was a really great preparation for life.

Billy Connolly had a similar start to his career. Is it the Clydeside air?

I definitely think there might be something. I once did a show for Radio 4 called Clyde Comics that was all about the phenomenon. We looked at all the great performers who came out of there - Billy of course, Jimmy Logan, Chic Murray and music hall star Tommy Morgan. So many of them started on Clydeside.

You began your showbiz career in the theatres of Glasgow. What was that like?

The actress Molly Urquhart had a theatre in Rutherglen and I'd finish work and rush for the train up there to play one of the parts in the little dramas she'd put on. I'd be up until midnight then back up at 6am for work. It was tough but I didn't mind because I was getting theatrical experience.

Were the crowds as notoriously unforgiving as they're made out to be?

Well, yes. They were a tough old lot but if you were good then they were the best audience in the world. Even after all these years, Glasgow has very special associations for me and I feel a debt of gratitude to the people of the city. In my Happy Hour show you'll often hear me trying out my Glaswegian accent because it still comes very naturally to me.

Yet your parents were dead-set against you treading the boards . . .

They did everything they could to stop me. In fact, I only became an engineer to please them. I proved to myself I could do it but, once the war was over, I decided to pack in the engineering and go for entertainment.

Fame came calling in the '50s when you teamed up with comic Arthur Haynes.

It didn't start auspiciously! In 1956, Arthur and I were working on a show called Strike A New Note. But it was a disaster and after a few, the producer said he wanted to scrap it and asked Arthur and I to stay on and do sketches together. That evolved into a series called Get Happy and eventually The Arthur Haynes Show With Nicholas Parsons. It became the most successful comedy show on ITV, up against Hancock's Half Hour on the BBC. We ended up going to America in 1961 and doing the Ed Sullivan Show too. We went our separate ways soon after.

You also worked on The Benny Hill Show but Sale Of The Century made you a household name. Was there ever a downside?

Yes. It was incredibly successful but I got so pigeonholed as a quiz show host that people stopped looking at me as an actor and entertainer. I was so identified with that show that, while it was wonderful to have the success, it did become an albatross round my neck. Bob Monkhouse suffered from the same thing. He was a fine actor but, after a certain point, wasn't allowed to show it.

Yet now you're considered "an icon of post-modern cool" - has the penny finally dropped about Nicholas Parsons?

Ha ha! I hope that it's a sign that I'm no longer considered a bland game show host and recognised as a good all- rounder who can act, do comedy and more besides.

Your father was a doctor in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and Margaret Thatcher's parents were among his patients. Do you ever feel he missed out on the opportunity to tell them to emigrate?

No. Why should I? My father was a professional and she was just a little girl he happened to look after . . .

August 23, 2009

The top 20 of JAM history

One of my first blog posts was my all-time top 20. Three and a half years later I think enough time has gone by for it to be worthwhile to repeat the exercise. I think too it's a good time with the death of Clement Freud clearly being something of a turning point in the series. Just as were the deaths of Kenneth Williams in 1988, and of Derek Nimmo and Peter Jones within a year of each other. It's interesting to try and assess Clement against all the others at this point.

Such a list can only be subjective - this is basically just my opinion. But as you'll see I've tried to consider long-term impact - you get marked up if you appear more often, and I've also tried to factor in general fan opinion. This of course is hard to specify but I've read a lot of emails over the years so feel I have a bit of a feeling for this.

This time I haven't included at all people who only appeared a few times so people like Peter Cook and Richard Murdoch, while still personal favourites, have fallen off my list. Maybe I'll do a separate list of people who were spectacular but short-lived. I also decided to make it a radio only list. Last time I included Tony Slattery but this time I don't feel it right to compare starring in the TV editions with the tougher competition of the radio show.

Feel free to argue with me in the comments.

20th: Alfred Marks (1973-87) (2006 rating - 18th)

I feel that Alfred had he appeared more often might have ben rated much higer because he had all the skills - sharp, quick witted, full of stories. I like it that he never just waffles, he always has something funny to say. One of the few from his era who was real competition for Kenneth, Derek, Peter and Clement. Still, 14 shows over 15 years saw him marked down.

19th: Marcus Brigstocke (2004-8) (2006 rating - not rated)

It's odd to me that Marcus hasn't appeared this year. Does he not want to do the show any more? If so it's a real shame because he has all the skills to be a Paul-type champ at the game. Funny, competitive, sharp, original. His last two shows though were a little disappointing.

18th: Wendy Richard (1988-2003) (2006 rating - 17th)

Wendy's untimely passing this year has had me reflect a little more on her contribution. I do like a lot about Wendy. I mentioned last time the air of drama she brought to the show which is still almost unique - Kenneth Williams is the only other one really. She is also the first woman - perhaps still the only one - to really go "in your face" in the banter and arguments. Against her I guess is that she is not a genuine comedian and has a limited range in making up stuff - her doggy stories are just a bit too prominent in her talking. Still I do feel that she should have appeared more often than she did. If she had done say one or two recordings a year, she would have been contributing something a bit different and would have seemed less repetitive.

17th: Kit Hesketh-Harvey (1994-) (2006 rating - 20th)

I've marked Kit up a bit on last time because I like his distinctive style, his facility with words, his ability to conjure up interesting images and tease the others. I think he should be doing the show more often.

16th: Sheila Hancock (1967-2009) (2006 rating - 13th)

I do love Sheila and think she has a played a major role in the show's history. She stood up to the blokes in the first 20 years, often winning, never letting their comments get on top of her. I did feel her shows this year weren't as great as she has been in the past, and like Wendy she is not a genuine comedian. But you can't help but love her.

15th: Gyles Brandreth (1982-) (2006 rating - not rated)

I wrote about Gyles recently at some length so won't repeat all that. But I do feel he is the big improver of the time since the last list. He's got greater range, and is one of few who dares to compere with Paul Merton in the banter. I really do feel that he will go on to become a lot more closely associated with the show, either through even more frequent appearances as a panellist, or as the next chairman.

14th: Tony Hawks (1992-) (2006 rating - 14th)

I see I ranked him exactly the same last time and I see I said "Tony is Mister Reliable. He always has something to say and he plays a full part in any show. But he doesn't ever seem to have the killer line that keeps you laughing again and again." I still feel that way. He's good, reliable, but not a real star. I've marked him up because he has dome so many shows - his 100th is coming up in a few weeks.

13th: Jenny Eclair (1994-) (2006 rating - 8th)

I've marked Jenny down a bit on last time because I don't feel she as been as involved as she was, in recent years. But she's still distinctive, original, very funny, and I always look forward to hearing her on the show.

12th: Julian Clary (1997-2009) (2006 rating - 19th)

Like with Gyles I feel Julian has really improved in the last few years. His full-on camp makes him stand out even from the other camp performers. He's always funny and can often come out with Peter Jones-like one-liners that make him really special. Could still get better I think.

11th: Derek Nimmo (1967-99) (2006 rating - 16th)

I think I was a bit harsh on Derek last time. I think I should have ranked him higher because he was such a mainstay of the show over so many years. Still I found him to be a bit of a hog, grabbing points even though he had little to say sometimes. Still very funny, and loveable.

10th: Linda Smith (1999-2005) (2006 rating - 12th)

Linda died just after my last rating, and I was a bit surprised quite how popular she was with the fans. I still get many people telling me how they missed her. I marked her down a little because she was quiet, but those shafts of wit were distinctive and are still missed. She deserves to be in the top 10.

9th: Sue Perkins (2000-) (2006 rating - unrated)

Her appearance at Edinburgh this week confirms her as one of the show's most valued stars. She now has the ability to carry a show in Paul's absence with her wonderful comedy and competitive nature. Wonderful banter too. I think she just gets better and better every time she comes on.

8th: Aimi Macdonald (1968-83) (2006 rating - 7th)

I still have her as my favourite woman personality just because she was pretty much the star of the show very time she appeared. Her giggle, her flirting, her strangely uncompetitive competitiveness - just entirely distinctive, original and engaging. Not a comedian - more a force of nature.

7th: Ross Noble (2000-8) (2006 rating - 4th)

I have moved him down a little because his appearances these days are so sporadic. I still think he has the ability to be as good as, or even better than, Paul and it's a shame he doesn't appear more often. His style os so perfectly tuned to JAM.

6th: Clement Freud (1967-2009) (2006 rating - 11th)

I've moved Clement up because I think he was more important to the show than I had him last time. That gravitas, the passion, the sly wit. I think he would be surprised how much the fans enjoyed him and miss him.

5th: Graham Norton (1996-) (2006 rating - 5th)

I still love Graham, and wish he was on more often. He's just such a great improviser and I like the way he dreams up stuff to talk about with such authority when the content is so trivial. I wish his schedule allowed him to appear more often.

4th: Peter Jones (1971-2000) (2006 rating - 3rd)

Everyone loves Peter just for being Peter. Happy to play the support act with those witty lines for so many years. A show with Peter in it is always a good show.

3rd: Stephen Fry (1992-) (2006 rating - 6th)

Moved him up on fan impact. A show with him just seems to be a special event. He has all the skills and is always top value. I think he deserves to be this high, just behind the two all time masters.

2nd: Paul Merton (1989-) (2006 rating - 2nd)

I gave a lot of thought to whether I should move Paul up to number 1. I do feel, as I wrote a couple of weeks back, that he is still getting better. Sue Perkins said recently that the show would fall over without him, and I think that is true (unless they could persuade someone like Stephen or Graham or Ross to appear a lot more frequently). Still, as wonderful as Paul is, the next bloke just offers a little more.

1st: Kenneth Williams (1968-88) (2006 rating - 1st)

He didn't come all the way from Great Portland Street not to be ranked number one. Even when treated like a load of rubbish, he was able to slip into Unwinese, or argue against having women on the show. A unique unrepeatable talent, someone who I think still has others trying to copy aspects of what he did. But they can't complete the package because he was just too talented. Just right for this and I think JAM may well turn out to be the best remembered of all of Kenneth's work just because it used all of his huge range of skills.

Alan Davies on Stephen Fry

I love QI, and I love the Alan Davies/Stephen Fry relationship which is the main comic thread of the show. But I'd never thought of it as sexual as this Times article suggests.

Does anyone else think they secretly fancy each other?

“I’m not as much of an idiot as I appear on QI,” Davies says. “But everybody speaks to me as if I am, and it’s really annoying. And Stephen isn’t really that clever, either. People often say to me, ‘Ooh, does he really know all that stuff?’ Of course not! No, it’s all on the cards.”

The chemistry between Fry and Davies has been described as sexually charged, but I suppose you could see a father-son aspect in it, too, if you wanted. They get along well, he says, but tend not to see much of each other socially. “We don’t have much in common,” he says. “Apart from cricket. But we meet up every year for QI, and it’s really good fun.”

Only once, in six years of the show, have the pair had a proper argument. “He was saying the woodlouse is basically the same as a prawn,” Davies explains. “And I said, ‘You’d never eat a woodlouse.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I would,’ and I said, ‘No, you wouldn’t,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I would.’” Eventually, Davies said, “Well, you might, but I’d rather eat my own poo.” Fry responded that there were six million different types of bacteria in faeces, so that was frankly a rather foolish attitude to take. “And I thought, ‘Well, you can f*** off, then.’” Afterwards, Fry came to his dressing room. “He said, ‘Are you upset?’ And I said, ‘I am a bit.’ And he said, ‘Sorry,’ and I said, ‘It’s fine.’”

August 20, 2009

Richard Herring on his JAM debut

He wrote this delightful post about his appearance and his love of the show since he was a teenager. I hope he won't mind me reproducing it as it really is very good.

His blog is here.

Today I fulfilled one of my professional ambitions. In fact I think I can now die happy. I was on Radio 4's "Just A Minute".

I have listened to this show my whole life and have particular memories of listening to it as a student in the late 80s in the kitchen of my digs as I made fairly disgusting vegetarian meals. It is, for me, one of the most consistently amusing and entertaining radio programmes of all time and I was a particular fan of Kenneth Williams and his sulky petulance and outrage, which seemed like a sophisticated joke to me at the time, but which was, by all accounts pretty much how he was really feeling.

I may have dreamt of the possibility of one day taking part in the show back then, but if I was being realistic I couldn't have thought it would happen. Indeed it's taken 20 years before I have been asked on, and even then serendipity played a part as I met the producer at a book launch and just boldly stated my desire to be on the show.

And that tactic worked as this afternoon I was waiting backstage at the Pleasance Grand along with Sue Perkins, Paul Merton, Janey Godley and Nicholas Parsons. It was a pretty nerve-wracking place to be and I felt the weight of the history of this programme upon my shoulders. Everyone was kind and supportive, but we all knew that this is a very hard game to play and that the first time on is the hardest of all.

I hadn't practised or prepared anything, but was hopeful that my natural loquaciousness would make me a natural. Such hubris was bound to see me heading for a fall.

Nicholas Parsons had already had one in fact, as he tripped over a speaker during the warm up for the first show. Luckily, despite being 85, he weathered the bump and the shock and was fine. He is a remarkable spry and mentally agile man. I have met him a few times in the past, but it was an honour to work with him. He is the man I used to watch on "Sale of the Century" in the Seventies, by which time his showbiz career was already a quarter of a century old. He had appeared in films and been the straight man to Arthur Haynes. And here he is, still working and still as sharp as a tack, hosting a gameshow that is so complicated that a man half his age (by which I suppose I mean myself) would find it hard to keep up with.

Paul Merton is a master of the game, with over two decades of experience and I knew how amazing Sue Perkins is, as I have heard her on the show a few times. But under all the light-heartedness and fun they both take the game seriously and Sue was ruthless with my many, many mistakes. I was so conscious of not repeating myself that I did not even think about hesitation and I discovered very quickly just how often I um and ah when I'm talking. Although I got some good challenges in and made a couple of good contributions outside of the rigorous structure of the game, I was almost embarrassingly poor at the parlour game itself and didn't manage to speak for more than ten seconds at any point. Luckily, that is all part of the fun of the game and it is the newbie's role to be the useless fall guy. But I did wish I had at least practised it a bit beforehand. Nicholas archly kept reminding people that it was the first time I had played the game, which was his polite code for "Oooh, you're shit. Aaah!" He also subtly mocked my decision to grow a Hitler moustache rather than use a stick on one. But I loved it all.

In fact at times I was enjoying the badinage and the other contributors pieces so much that I forgot I was taking part. It was as if I was sitting in my student kitchen listening along and I had to remind myself that I was meant to be joining in.

Even though I was mainly rubbish and had to sit next to Perkins as she effortlessly spoke in long and lugubrious sentences without fucking up at all I still massively enjoyed it. What an absolutely delightful way to spend an afternoon. I quite envied Nicholas Parsons for the fact that he has had this pleasure for so many decades. I hope I will get another shot at it, but even if I don't, it doesn't matter. I have done it. I've been on Just a Minute. The 20 year old me would be amazed to be told that it would really happen and the 12 year old me would probably have been totally incredulous. But I have taken part in something that is an institution and worked with a man who was working with top comedians 20 years before I was born. I love that criss-crossing of history and the way the baton is passed between the generations and the way you can link your way back through time.

Afterwards we went across town to have a pizza together, which was a nice extra touch and Nicholas and Paul told more stories about the history of the show. Paul Merton was one of the first stand up comedians I ever saw on television when I was maybe 14 and I had been amazed by his improvisational skills when dealing with a heckler. I have bumped into him a few times down the years at various parties, but only dared talk to him when I was pissed and he has always indulged me, joining in with the "joke" of my fandom and need to be drunk to converse with him. He sent me a very nice note when Fist of Fun began to tell me he had enjoyed the show, which meant an awful lot to me. So again it was lovely to work with him for the first time. Afterwards we talked about Charlie Chaplin amongst other things and it was enlightening to get his expert opinions on the subject and gratifying that he picked out many of the same things from the Great Dictator that I had found interesting.

So not only did I have this amazing company and this incredible experience and an ambition fulfilled, I got a free pizza as well. Days like these make it all worthwhile. The show will be broadcast on the 31st August. I hope you will marvel at my ineptitude.

August 19, 2009

year stats

For the 22 shows the players have been... (newcomers bolded)

Paul Merton 20

Gyles Brandreth, Clement Freud, Sue Perkins 6

Charles Collingwood, Tony Hawks, Shappi Khorsandi, Graham Norton 4

Pam Ayres, Julian Clary, Jack Dee, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Fry, Sheila Hancock, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Josie Lawrence, David Mitchell, Justin Moorhouse, Chris Neill, Tim Rice, Liza Tarbuck 2

Janey Godley, Richard Herring, Helen Lederer, Josie Long, Pauline McLynn, Mike McShane, Paul Sinha, Suki Webster 1.

Women have done well this year, the average is more than one woman per show, a statistic that has been achieved only in the first season - two women a show - and in one 2002 season.

New panel and panellists

Another poster in the comments advises the other Edinburgh panel was Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Mike McShane and Paul Sinha.

Paul Sinha describes himself on his website as "a man of many talents, Paul Sinha is a qualified GP, a critically acclaimed stand-up comedian, able to play most of Abba's back catalogue on the piano and the recorder". I hadn't heard of him before either but it seems his humour is mainly about being single and dateless, a state of affairs with which I can empathise.

His website can be found here.

Richard Herring the other newbie, has his website here and a Wikipedia entry here. From what I can tell his humour tends to the outrageous and political - his current Edinburgh show is controversial and themed around Hitler's moustache.

I really like the sound of both of these - I hope they will feel free to be outrageous and different on the show!

Welcome Richard! Welcome Paul!

Time we had someone else called Paul on the show! After all we have several Kenneths and even another Nicholas...

Nice article on JAM

From The Big Issue

Forty years of Just A Minute

Stars of Radio 4's hit quiz explain why it's pure rock 'n' roll...

It’s the simplest of parlour games and by rights should probably have been consigned to the history books as a relic of more genteel times. Yet 42 years after it first aired, Just A Minute, or JAM as fans call it, remains one of the funniest shows on radio.

Although this venerable institution has been going longer than some contestants have been alive, the bright young things of British comedy, as well as the elder statesmen, still clamour to get the gig, despite the very modest radio salary attached. It’s a who’s who of showbiz, from champ of the modern game Paul Merton to Graham Norton, Patrick Moore and Stephen Fry, and on to Ross Noble, Sue Perkins, Bill Bailey and Eddie Izzard.

Somehow this polite contest – inspired by a punishment that inventor Ian Messiter was handed by his history master, who when he caught the young Messiter daydreaming in a class instructed him to repeat everything he had said in the previous minute without hesitation or repetition – has transcended its humble premise to become one of Radio 4’s most popular features.

Even if you’ve never heard the show, the likelihood is that you know the basics – that the aim is to speak for 60 seconds without repetition, hesitation or deviation. It’s a measure of its success that even at the Fringe, where the yearly recording of the programme is up against new shows from all the leading lights of comedy, the tickets are always snapped up within two hours.

However, Nicolas Parsons, who has been the chairman of the show since its inception just three months after Radio 4 launched, says that the programme almost didn’t make it beyond the trial run. “We did the pilot and it wasn’t very good,” he admits.

“In fact, the BBC didn’t want it – they said there was no potential in it.

“Nobody would’ve predicted that it would have grown to what has become an iconic show where top names in showbusiness are very happy to come and guest on it.”

Thankfully the young producer at the show’s helm – a new talent from Cambridge called David Hatch, who would later become Sir David Hatch, managing director of BBC Radio – thought otherwise. Even then, Hatch was recognisably going places and since Radio 4 wanted him to go places with them, they gave in and Just A Minute found its slot.

As far as Parsons was concerned, there was only one drawback – he was landed with the umpire’s role. The reason he’d pitched the show to the powers that be was he wanted to get involved in the ad lib comedy on the panel, and here he was, the man in charge. “Unfortunately,” he says, “one of the things they did like about the pilot was my chairmanship.

“So I was landed with it. In showbiz, if you’re offered a good job, you don’t suddenly become arrogant and say, ‘I’m not going to do it’. It’s too fragile a profession.”

After this wobbly start, the show eventually bedded in with regular panelists Clement Freud, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones and Kenneth Williams providing the laughs, within the structure of Parsons’ unimpeachably fair adjudication.

In his words, it “slowly evolved and improved and become more efficient”. As chairman, he subtlety altered the rules to allow the humour to flourish – one example being that if an incorrect challenge is funny enough then both the challenger and the speaker get a point.

Thus followed a happy and successful couple of decades, until Williams’ death in 1988 threw the programme into crisis again. Again, it was only internal BBC politics that saved JAM. Parsons says that Radio 4 thought the programme couldn’t survive without Williams, but the World Service – for whom JAM was their biggest export – was not going to give up so easily and said that if Radio 4 wouldn’t make it, they would.

At which point a serious case of defensiveness set in and Radio 4 decided that no one else was going to pinch their hit. The new boy who came in after Williams was longtime fan Paul Merton, whose surrealist flights of fancy revitalised the format for a new generation.

“As others started dying off, all these new young comedians came in,” says Parsons. “Another reason I think it has achieved longevity is that now we don’t stick to the same four. There is a nucleus of regulars but the mix is always different, so you get a different atmosphere.”

Julian Clary, a longtime regular, agrees: “They’re quite clever in rotating the talent, so you get people who’ve been doing it for a long time and new people as well, but at same time you have the consistency of the wonderful Nicolas Parsons at the helm. It’s a very good exercise for the brain because it is quite a difficult game to play, avoiding the hesitation, repetition and deviation, and then on top of that you’re expected to be funny. It’s such a British tradition, it’s been around for so long.”

Another current regular, Sue Perkins – who has been doing the programme for just over a decade – was equally delighted to join the ranks of JAM panelists, although on her first try she was so nervous she couldn’t get a word out and was immediately buzzed for hesitation.

“It is a celebration of words and wordplay but there’s more to it than being a human thesaurus,” she explains. “You could do that, but what I like about it is that it has an element of the highfalutin but also the most ridiculous, childish silliness.

“It can be professorial one minute and then kindergarten the next. That is what makes it enduring.”

Perkins also says it’s important not to forget Parsons’ role. “He’s the historical link,” she adds. “He’s had four people taking the piss out of him for over 40 years on that show and he rises above it.

“The game in its modern form probably couldn’t survive without Paul [Merton], but the game in its total history couldn’t have survived without Nicolas. It would certainly be a poorer relation in his absence.”

JAM rookie Justin Moorhouse, who has only come in for recording once but is hoping to appear again in the Edinburgh shows, says it is “up there in the top five scary things you can possibly do in this business”.

Moorhouse says that when you’re trying to get work at Radio 4, Just A Minute is held up as “the carrot at the end of the stick”. He also echoes what everyone says about the group of people who make the show – although they are competitive, everyone is “just lovely” to the newbie.

Parsons says this continued level of enthusiasm for the programme is “very flattering”, especially as they can’t wave the big bucks about. Perkins, however, says there’s another reason people love to be on the show. “We did one in Bristol and I walked into this hall that looked like an aircraft hanger,” she recalls. “It was filled to the brim and they went mental. When Paul came on, Jimi Hendrix may as well have just walked in. That’s when I realised, Just a Minute is like a rock gig for square people.”

Sue Perkins's comments about the show are nice and very perceptive. But with 26 shows out of 200 in nine years, she is not a regular and has not been appearing for over a decade. Julian Clary has appeared in 29 of 262 shows in 13 years - hardly "regular" either. Nitpicking I know!

Edinburgh panel

One of the two panels featured Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Janey Godley and Richard herring. Richard's a newcomer that I am already looking forward to hearing.

Haven't heard yet about the the other panel, but Paul and Sue are certainties and Hardeep Singh Kohli has been announced in the past so that leaves just one seat.

August 17, 2009

Last week's show

A show with Stephen Fry in it is rare enough to be anticipated. I thought he did very well and of course Paul and Jenny - one of my personal favourites - were great as always. I feel Charles Collingwood suffered a little in comparison with the brillaince of the other three, but then, who wouldn't?

The second Paul/Gyles/Kit/Shappi show is due this week. I raved about this last time so let's hope round two is as good.

August 11, 2009

Edinburgh panels

The Radio Times says Paul Merton and Sue Perkins are the two regulars for the Edinburgh shows. Interesting - is Sue going to be the closest thing we have to a new regular in succession to Clement?

Greetings Mr Merton

Without going into details - I have discovered today that Paul Merton is at least an occasional reader of this blog and the website.

I am very surprised, I have to say, I rather thought of Paul as not really being a big fan of the Internet.

Anyway, good on you Mr Merton. I hope it's clear how much I enjoy you on JAM and your other work for that matter. Keep on making me and the fans laugh!

August 09, 2009


From Pauline McLynn's blog on her appearance on JAM a couple of weeks ago

OH a minute is a LONG time to try to NOT hesitate, deviate or repeat oneself (doncha love the ‘one’ from a peasant there, but HEY that’s the way things roll…) ANYHOW, i returned to JUST A MINUTE this evening and it was a TOTAL pleasure but i am SO crap at the game…my dream is to to do well but it must be admitted that I don’t spot the mistakes well and then get into discussions with the others about silly things and talk over host Nicholas Parsons (a crime!) – aside from all that, funny things were said and in the can and ready for transmission from 27th of this month.
For those of you in the rest of the world who don’t know JUST A MINUTE I urge you to check it out in general, as a concept, and then in particular on the bbc website – damn fine entertaining (terrifying to ‘do’ but audiences love it and that’s good enough for me – I am, after all, in the Entertainment Business!!)

And from Janey Godley's blog on her upcoming appearance

Other than that I am having a great time, I have done two shows already and am getting prepared for my Just a Minute performance which always scared the bejebus out of me.

Edinburgh Fringe

I went to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2002 and hugely enjoyed it although the weather was a bit cold. I keep promising myself to go back and spend all my money there - and who knows, next year I might just do that.

Anyway if you were considering it - these are JAM performers who I've confirmed are performing there this year: Paul Merton, Nicholas Parsons, Julian Clary, Barry Cryer, Fred MacAulay, Marcus Brigstocke, Arthur Smith, Richard Vranch, Shappi Khorsandi, Janey Godley, Lee Simpson, Dave Gorman, Alun Cochrane, Rhod Gilbert, Justin Moorhouse, Jo Caulfield, Robin Ince, Alistair McGowan, Mike McShane and Suki Webster.

And of course two JAMs will be recorded there. I was thinking that given the above list, maybe Julian and Marcus will join Paul as regulars, with Hardeep Singh Kohli and Janey Godley (both listed as appearing in a BBC press release) sharing the fourth slot. If that was the case, we'd be guaranteed very funny shows.

If they do decide to get some more newcomers, here's a list of others who are doing shows at Edinburgh that I'd love to have join the JAM family.

* Andy Hamilton - very funny on just about every other panel game, and would be wonderful on JAM.
* Clive James - the Australian writer and wit would be wonderful exchanging banter on JAM.
* Henry Blofeld - the beloved cricket commentator is taking his comedy act to Edinburgh this year. No-one on earth would be more capable of speaking for 60 minutes without hesitation, repetition or deviation. He would be great fun.
* Frank Skinner - Some lists had him on last year's panel though he wasn't in the end. Still would be great.
* Jimmy Carr - A big name these days and always a star on panel games.
* Stephen K Amos - Can just hear that West Indian accent - wonderful.
* Ed Byrne - Another big name whose Irish blarney would work well on JAM.
* Brendon Burns - this Australian is a wonderful improvisational comedian and as aggression is his specialty, I can see him having excellent arguments over points.
* Al Murray - I hear he's very funny but I haven't seen him yet.

And as I'm a New Zealander I wouldn't mind hearing a Kiwi accent on JAM. I can see at least two NZers doing shows - Raybon Kan, who I knew slightly at university is a very funny man. Rhys Darby is a costar on Flight Of The Conchords and has a unique but very funny stand-up style. So drop in and see these two if you're in Edinburgh.

And feel free to post in comments about anyone else you see or anyone I've missed.

Paul's wedding

I've been waiting to see if the papers covered Paul's wedding but - happily from Paul's point of view, and sadly from mine - he and Suki seem to have successfully evaded media attention.

Anyway some details have got out via twitter and some pics. urprisingly to me anyway, it seems they had a very formal traditional type of wedding. Guests on the list included JAM colleagues Nicholas Parsons, Tony Hawks, Julian Clary, Richard Vranch, Neil Mullarkey, Josie Lawrence, Lee Simpson, Bill Bailey, Ian Hislop, Eddie Izzard and Mike McShane.

All the very best to Paul and Suki.

August 04, 2009

thoughts on today's show

Lots of things to say after the show today. I really enjoyed it. Much more than the previous show. A lot of that of course is Paul Merton (he wasn't there last week). I probably don't praise Paul as much as I should, but the fact is he's a huge talent. I love the fact he loves doing JAM as much as he does because it's hard to imagine the show continuing without him. And I think in a way he's getting better at the show. He knows he is the best, and that we know he is the best, and it seems to me like he's happy to share a little of the limelight these days, which makes for a more interesting show. Even two or three years ago, you felt like he needed to dominate every show he was on and that coming first was like a test of his ability. You'd hear him on every subject, and usually he's be speaking for half the time. Maybe someone had a yarn to him but he seems a more generous player these days. He still holds it all together and intervenes every time it gets boring. But if it's not boring, he doesn't mind listening to someone else for a bit.

Also - and I may be wrong - I feel as if his talk is changing a bit too. Less surreal imagery, less picking up on what the last person was saying and taunting them, more variety in his comedy. I like that too.

I got the feeling today that he really enjoys working with Gyles Brandreth. Apart from a few appearances on Have I Got News For You, I'm not aware that they have worked together much, apart from on JAM. But they seem like a well-matched pair to me. Obviously they have hugely different styles, but they seem to gell. A few years ago I wasn't a big fan of Gyles, mainly because his patter tended to go down the path of a few routines regularly repeated whatever the subject - the blind horse, Hamlet/omelette, the chair Schmitt sat in when he was shot, and one or two more. I found that a bit repetitive, and also he seemed just a little full of himself.

Those routines seem largely to have been put aside. He is still full of himself, but it seems more like he is poking fun at himself. He's still competitive but seems to rein himself in more, and know when to concede. I have the feeling he is possibly better prepared than he used to be, that he's maybe written some notes about the various subjects so has less need to travel familiar paths. He is as good at the "arguing over points" banter as anyone, and genuinely funny when talking on the subject. I like him a lot and, as I say, he seems to work with Paul.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey was on today too and did really well. I like him a lot too - he has such a distinctive style, based on wordplay and vivid word pictures. I can't help thinking he should be on the show more often because he is unique and really adept at the game. Maybe he will appear more often in Clement's absence.

To Shappi Khorsandi. A few weeks ago I was discussing on the Yahoo group the gender differences on JAM. I didn't get much support with general opinion being it didn't matter or that it wasn't an interesting subject. Still I was thinking about that again today. Shappi is a great comedian and was trying hard. But I thought her performance today was lame. Of the seven subjects, she talked only on two of them - the two subjects where she began the round. Two or three times in a row she was picked up on repeating "very" and there was an elaborate set-up by Nicholas, almost pleading with her not to say "very" again and then when she starts, it's like the fifth or sixth word out of her mouth. What's with that?

There is a place on JAM for someone who is a bit quiet, and doesn't really care at all about points. Linda Smith and Peter Jones, are two of the greats of the show - both seemed almost to save up their great lines and so it didn't matter if they went five minutes without speaking - when they did get back in, they had something really funny to give us. But Shappi didn't. Instead it seemed as if she really had nothing to say at all.

As a woman comedian, maybe like Sandi Toksvig and Victoria Wood and Jo Brand, she might not enjoy the arguments over points as much as the boys. But surely she should be at least thinking up the odd line for when she does get in again? That was her fifth show in 12 months - is she getting more runs on the show because she is a woman? Chris Addison, David Mitchell, Ian McMillan, Justin Moorhouse, Phill Jupitus - men who all have been much much better on the show than Shappi and, I think, would have been funnier today.

Briefly on Nicholas - I think he too is reining himself in a bit too. Don't get me wrong, I love him and think he will be almost impossible to replace. But he can sometimes act as if he has to be the centre of attention. Today he seemed a lot quieter - he knew he had great people on the panel and didn't mind them getting on with things. A true pro - he moved things on really well today.

Whew! Lots there! Next week two of my all-time favourites in Stephen Fry and Jenny Eclair are back. Can't wait!

August 02, 2009

New show and classic CD

The first show of the season with Tony Hawks, Sir Tim Rice, Sue Perkins and Pam Ayres was enjoyable. Pam is always good fun when she gets involved, Sue was in good form - she just seems so right for the show these days, and Tim and Tony had their moments. They did miss Paul though.

The show this week features Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Shappi Khorsandi.

I also received the new Just A Classic Minute 6 CD this week. I enjoyed it hugely. The conversation between Paul and Nicholas was very informative and interesting and each of the chosen shows truly was a classic.