Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

September 29, 2009

Dean's JAM rankings for 2009

My third year of ranking the players that performed over the year. You can see my previous rankings here and here.

This year 29 players were included in JAM, enough for 7 teams. This is not quite a record, but it's getting close to it. Does this strike you as too many? It does me and I expect that with no Clement, that figure could be even higher next year.

Overall, a very funny year. I could have had several others in the top five and really many of the shows were hugely enjoyable.

They won't be back next year

Jack Dee - Last year I had him about average, but this year it just didin't seem like he was especially competitive or especially funny. He may be better suited to other games.
Janey Godley - In the same category last year, she still had some spark and seems jolly, but heading towards lame at the game.
Josie Long - I liked her up personality but she just seemed a bit out of place and out of her league.
Pauline McLynn - She didn't appear in 2008, in 2009 I had her in the same list. She seems a fun person, but it's almost like she's a TV takent show judge commenting on the others, rather than being up there strutting her stuff.
Mike McShane - In the "had some good moments" category last year, Mike was very quiet in his one appearance. Seems like this just isn't his thing.
Paul Sinha - One of the slowest debuts, he was part of an Edinburgh show that was well below par.

They had some good moments

Richard Herring - Didn't really get going in his one show but he has a good humorous style and seemed to enjoy himself.
Josie Lawrence - Last year I predicted she wouldn't be back. I was wrong and I thought she was better this time, and showed some of her skills. She still has a way to go though.
Helen Lederer - I thought she was one of the weakest performers I had heard previously. I thought she was a lot better than I expected this time without being anything outstanding.
Tim Rice - I rated him average in 2007. I thought he didn't have many really good lines, but he could still develop a Clement-type persona.
Liza Tarbuck - I said she wouldn't be back, and she was, and even won one of her games. She was better than previously, but still seems a bit of a passenger.
Suki Webster - I thought she did very well on debut - I almost had her in the next group.

About average

Pam Ayres - I had her in the "Let's see more" group in 2007. I enjoy Pam a lot and she is always funny, but needs to get a bit more involved.
Charles Collingwood - A lot of people seem to like Charles and his somewhat camp outrage. I do too but he's seldom really funny.
Sheila Hancock - I would normally rate Sheila a bit higher but I thought she wasn't at her best this year. Still one of the great names though.
Tony Hawks - Last year in the "let's hear more" group. I found myself a little disappointed by Tony this year who didn't seem to be entirely engaged. Still rates as one of the old reliables.
Shappi Khorsandi - Last year I thought she wouldn't be back. This year she was back with four shows, and was charming enough without creating many laughs.
Chris Neill - In the same group last year. Chris is good fun and I may have under-rated him here.

Let's hear more of them

Julian Clary - Last year I rated him fourth. He wasn't at his absolute best this year but a show with him in it is guarantted to be thoroughly enjoyable.
Jenny Eclair - Same group last year. I almost had her in the top five, I just love her distinctive brand of humour.
Stephen Fry - Any show with Stephen is something of an occasion. The shows with him this year were very good, especially the second. Still he wasn't at his absolute brilliant best, merely excellent.
Kit Hesketh-Harvey - Last year in the average group. Kit's distinctive style and sharp wit always makes me smile and provides something unique.
David Mitchell - It's been a while since someone made as strong a debut as David. Very very funny, highly competitive, he's just made for this game.
Justin Moorhouse - Another very funny debutant, he has a style which seems very well suited to this show.

Stars of the year

5th best - Graham Norton - Last year's bronze medallist, Graham's just very very funny and a show with him in it is always strong.

4th best - Gyles Brandreth - Last year in the "let's hear more" group. We did and he just seems more and more comfortable in the show, more versatile, and just firing in partnership with Paul.

Bronze medal - Sue Perkins - Last year's silver medallist, Sue hadn't won a show before this year when she won five out of six. She's always been fluent, she always has something to say when she has the subject, she's on her way to becoming a star of this show

Silver medal
- Paul Merton - Last year's champion. As funny as ever, if anything Paul gets better and better. He holds the thing together like a pro, and relishes competition. A true great.

Champion of the year - Clement Freud - well they often have sentimental awards at the Oscars, so chalk this down as a sentimental award. he was in good form in the first half of the year and he was sure missed in the second half. The reaction to his death showed just how much he was loved by his colleagues, and already the show seems different withoout him. We'll miss that gravitas and I think he deserves to be JAM's Star of the Year.

September 28, 2009

Tony reaches 100

I should have already pointed out by now that Tony Hawks has now reached 100 JAM appearances, 90 on radio, 10 on TV.

Tony is certainly a mainstay of the programme now with at least one recording each season, without ever cracking it as a regular. He's a solid and reliable performer without being outstanding.

Still I suspect he is now associated with JAM more than most of his other work and he has many fans. Still, at the current rate it will be 2029 before he reaches 200!

September 15, 2009

another good 'un

This week's show was thoroughly enjoyable. Usually having Graham Norton on a show means it's a good one and so it proved again. Graham is a great player of the game, one of the very best ever, and I enjoyed his performance. Paul was again perhaps a little quieter than usual, but still the wittiest and the best. Gyles Brandreth just gets better and better, and I thought Suki Webster had an excellent debut. She was funny and cheeky and will surely get at least a few more appearances on the show.

My favourite segment was the "fun guy" round - I love it when the panellists talk about the other members of the panel and I thought that one of the best rounds in some time.

They didn't make anything of Paul and Suki being about to be married. Oh well.

Paul, Gyles, Sue and Graham - the making of a team of regulars? Julian Clary and Chris Neill are both very good but Graham is the more versatile performer. I think these four could be the modern equivalents of Kenneth, Clement, Peter and Derek - if they are allowed to be with regular appearances.

September 14, 2009

coming up

I'm really looking forward to hearing Graham Norton back on JAM today... Also having Suki Webster, Paul's wife, injects something different into the show. Should be fun!

September 13, 2009

true greatness

Off-topic but I feel like I must write this.

Words like "great" are thrown about freely these days. "Great performance", "great actor" etc. It's rare to write about a true great.

Here's a great, and yet you may not recognise the name. Larry Gelbart. I mention him because he died a couple of days ago.

He was the genius behind the brilliant TV series Mash, and my favourite ever comedy film Tootsie. He was also a brilliant writer for the stage, conquering all three media.

On Mash, he was at the helm for the first four years when it was at his comic peak. The obits make a lot of him creating the dramatic thread of the programme (war is bad - perhaps not such a breakthrough?) but most of the funniest lines of those years came from Gelbart's pen.

He went on to other triumphs, especially with Tootsie, which is one of those films where every scene has a very funny line. It's a film that doesn't date at all.

I also have a soft spot for him because I used to hang out at the alt.tv.mash newsgroup (remember newsgroups?) where he also used to hang out. People often sent him questions, and as is often the case with hardcore fans, they were mostly asking about the trivial details. Why did that picture hang on the left of the CO's wall and later on the right? Why was Blake's sister called Susie in this ep and Jane in that one. Gelbart always replied, usually and understandably with no recollection at all about the point being raised. But his replies were always polite and witty and genuinely grateful for the continuing interest in him and his work.

Some of the obits mention his reaction to his death being declared last year, which gives the flavour of his wit.

In December, 2008, the still-professionally active Gelbart found himself the subject of an Internet hoax on the online bulletin board alt.obituaries, which reported that he was "gravely ill . . . from a massive stroke." He was fine, of course -- and in fine comedic fettle. Referring to his alleged pending demise, he e-mailed alt.obituaries: "Does that mean I can stop exercising?" But ever the re-writer, Gelbart came up with another witty response in a brief chat with an inquiring Los Angeles Times reporter: "I was dead, but I'm better now."

People always enthuse about the actors in shows like this. They often talk as if the best lines must have been created by the actors. Here's a nod to the writers who create the characters, the situations, the words, the comic genius.

RIP Larry Gelbart. Thanks for all the laughs. There were many.

September 10, 2009

Deanne v Diane

The material on the website is carefully prepared and it's rare now for anyone to point out a mistake and be right! But every now and then something comes up that has me changing the information there, and I always find that very enjoyable if time-consuming to change multiple pages.

One of the more obscure JAM performers was Deanne Hart who did one show back in January 1970. I never had any luck finding any information about her.

My attention today has been drawn to this obituary for Diane Hart. Reading it carefully it seems to all fit in with the information in the eppy and I am therefore admitting error and "officially" changing the spelling to Diane.

The spelling goes back to the initial work on a JAM show list done by Steven Arnold about 11 or 12 years ago. It's understandable if you listen to the programme, where the name is consistently pronounced DEE-anne. Still she can pronounce her name any way she likes of course - the spelling is what matters.

The other thing that pleases me about the whole thing is what an interesting person she turned out to be. An actress, campaigner for women's rights, and an inventor of corsets. I rather wish she had appeared more often now.

Her Wikipedia entry is also a great read.

September 08, 2009

back to its best

I don't suggest going through all my blog posts over the years, unless you are in need of a cure for insomnia. But if you did, you would read many posts where I was a bit down about the show - and then the next post is about how brilliant it is.

Well here we are again! Straight after I write a mildly pessimistic post after the Edinburgh shows and then this week we get an absolute gem of a show. One of the best. Ever.

I had a big grin on my face all show and was laughing loudly a lot of the time - a strange thing to do when you're by yourself.

Jenny Eclair was great, Stephen Fry was great, Charles Collingwood was very good - I think his best show yet, Nicholas was in tremendous form.

But the best was Paul. He was outstanding today, after what I thought were quiet games at Edinburgh. He's human of course and is allowed the odd off-day, but ... he is just hillarious when he is at his best. I always thought Kenneth Williams lifted when the people around him were at their best, maybe the same is true with Paul. He was just brilliant today.

The other thing I liked about the show... Stephen Fry saying, presumably truthfully, that he used to come and watch the show as a child. And Jenny Eclair's excitement at being in front of possibly the two best "players" of the game, Paul and Stephen. And the references to the way Clement played the game, and the impressions of Kenneth (both Nicholas and Charles did one).

I always love it when the rich history of the show is being referenced.

September 05, 2009

Edinburgh shows

The Edinburgh shows have both played now and I wonder if you agree with me that they upheld what is becoming a tradition of being the worst shows of the year. For a long time they have been used in part to try out new players and the new players are almost always pretty average.

This year Mike McShane and Paul Sinha were both ordinary, neither doing anything to suggest they will be given another go. Richard Herring was funnier but not very fluent - he could be tried again. Janey Godley was jolly as she usually is, but not especially funny.

Sue Perkins took Clement's seat this year and was as always quite good, but especially in the second show Paul Merton seemed very quiet. I suppose he can't be on top form every show.

I suppose having so many comedians at Edinburgh gets the producers thinking they may as well try out people without the costs of travel and accomodation. But it seeme short-sighted to me. The Edinburgh shows could be the highlights of the year and for a while in the mid 90s they featured the then four regulars, Paul, Derek Nimmo, Sir Clement Freud and Peter Jones. Since then they've tried out people but the record isn't all that good. Here it is - just the people who were either making a debut, or in their second or third radio appearance.

1999 - Richard Morton - second radio appaearnce, hasn't been back since.

1999 - Richard Vranch - first radio appearance, hasn't been back since.

2000 - Ross Noble - debut, has been a success.

2001 - Charles Collingwood - debut, has been a success.

2002 - Sean Lock, only appearance.

2003 - Dara O'Brian - debut, four appearances since.

2004 - Lee Mack - only appearance.

2004 - Marcus Brigstocke, debut, has been a success.

2004 - Rob Brydon, debut, two appaearances since.

2005 - Bill Bailey - third appearance, hasn't been back since.

2005 - Owen O'Neill - debut, two appearances since.

2005 - John Sergeant - first radio appearance, hasn't been back since.

2005 - Rhod Gilbert - debut, one appearance since.

2006 - Janey Godley - debut, four appearances since.

2006 - Pauline McLynn - third appaearance, two since.

2007 - Jo Caulfield - only appearance.

2008 - Lynn Ferguson - only appearance.

2008 - Mike McShane - debut, one appearance since.

So not a great hit rate.

We have just four shows still to come and I feel we are definitely missing Clement's gravitas. I'll hope for a strong end to the series - and of course we do have two Graham Norton shows and another Stephen Fry show to come.

Just A Minute - Best of 2009

The latest CD is not on sale yet but you can preorder at amazon.co.uk. The cover is below and I think it looks most attractive. I don't know as yet which of each recording is on the collection, but you can hear one each of the following shows:-

* Paul Merton, Sir Clement Freud, Sheila Hancock and David Mitchell

* Paul, Clement, Jack Dee and Josie Lawrence

* Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Sue Perkins and Liza Tarbuck

* Sue, Tony Hawks, Sir Tim Rice and Pam Ayres

It's the first time since JAM 2 that a non-Classic collection hasn't included Graham Norton. Also somewhat unsually Stephen Fry's shows aren't included!

No release date as yet though - I'll keep an eye on this.