Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

March 27, 2010

The rules

The BBC's Feedback programme - listen here but be quick as it's about to disappear and the Daily Telegraph - this should work for good - have had some fun discussing JAM's rules. I should weigh in.

Essentially a man called Rupert Read from Norfolk is worried about trifling challenges, the repetition of words like "we" and "the", and minor hesitations, he thinks they break up the flow of the game.

His answer is to penalise wrong challenges by taking a point off the challenger.

Nicholas Parsons was interviewed on the subject and although he politely said he'd discuss it with the producers, panellists and the family of Ian Messiter, he made it clear he wasn't rapt with the idea.

Said Nicholas: "I think you're intellectualising it and not thinking about the fun we are trying to generate" "it's not an intellectual game as such". This is his way of saying - ironically given he himself spends so much time on them - that the points don't matter. The purpose of the game is not to decide who is best at speaking within the rules. The key aspect of the game, as then producer Chris Neill said more than a decade ago, is the banter between Nicholas and the players.

Some thoughts...

* with all due respect to Rupert Read - and if you happen to read this Rupert, I thought you debated the issue very intelligently and eloquently with Nicholas - his answer doesn't really address the issue at all. The problem isn't that too many wrong challenges are being made. At the moment, Nicholas is agreeing with many of these trivial challenges, so the penalty for being wrong would not apply. Anyway - the challenge IS correct so applying a penalty for being right - but too petty - seems harsh.

* But for all that some shows do get a bit petty. I think it's mainly with keen newer players. Paul Merton seemed to be the main example used on Feedback, but if he challenges these days it's more likely to be a joke challenge than a petty one.

* The competitive aspect is important I think. It should be part of the challenge to keep to the rules. But I'm not sure the points aspect is all that important to the players. I think they challenge not to gain points but to get involved, realising that the show is really all about banter and verbal argument. It's the arguments that spark most of the humour! That's one of the things that are distinctive about JAM.

* Another thing is the attacks on the chairman. It's possible to get a bee in your bonnet about Nicholas's inconsistency and look back over the years to when similar situations came up and different decisions were made. All I say is that the show would be very different if say a Supreme Court judge or a cricket umpire was in the chair. Nicholas is a performer and his own dithering, inconsistency, or perhaps to use a better word, unpredictability, is a major generator of banter and jokes. That's key to the programme's appeal.

* Discouraging challenges would surely let people speak longer. But with all due respect there aren't many people who can sustain an uninterrupted 60 seconds on a subject and be funny throughout. Paul yes. Kenneth Williams yes. More uninterrupted minutes would in all likelihood be very dull.

The issue having been raised though, I would be very surprised if there wasn't a more laissez faire approach next season and less challenging on repettiion of small words. But personally I hope they don't change things too much. I reckon last season was the best season of all 56 seasons. If it ain't broke...

March 23, 2010

The dream team

For most of the 70s and 80s and even part of the 90s, JAM usually finished the season with its top team - Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud and Peter Jones, then Derek, Clement, Peter and Wendy Richard, then later Paul Merton.

The habit fell away about 12 years ago, so I was very pleased to have this season finish with the team of Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Graham Norton and Sue Perkins - close to if not the best team JAM can put together. The Gyles Brandreth fans could argue that he belongs there too, perhaps instead of Sue. Still the team was a strong one and they seemed to hugely enjoy teasing each other. Nicholas referred to it as the dream team.

I think this season may well be the best ever and it's interesting that pretty much all of JAM's most frequent players of recent years - Julian Clary, Charles Collingwood, Chris Neill, Josie Lawrence, Liza Tarbuck, Jenny Eclair, Pam Ayres - were all featured. The only one missing in that sense was Kit Hesketh-Harvey. (Others might mention Tim Rice or Stephen Fry or Sheila Hancock, but they have done just one recording each in three years.) No-one new was tried.

And it worked. People seemed very relaxed and the fun and laughs flowed like water. Even Nicholas was at his funniest.

Take a bow, Claire Jones, Nicholas, Paul and team - well done.

The only downer was that the announcer said JAM won't be back until August! Usually it returns in July. I hope that doesn't mean a short season.

March 16, 2010

Comedian portrait exhibition

Not sure if anyone here is from Sheffield, but I would just about give my left arm to see this exhibition - as a lover of both portrait paintings and British comedy. And all introduced by Paul Merton! If anyone is buying me a present...

If you do look through this, please post in the comments about it...

March 14, 2010

Remembering Linda Smith

It's a few days past the fourth anniversary of Linda's far too early passing. But I have been listening recently to a few of her shows and remembering how very funny she was. She could hardly open her mouth without being funny. What a sad loss she was....

March 07, 2010

Paul Merton and the state of the show

I have contributed to an interesting thread on the Yahoo group about whether Paul Merton is mellowing with age. The original poster suggested he is mellowing and less willing to challenge Nicholas's decisions. It got me thinking about Paul and the show post-Clement. Here's what I wrote, only slightly amended.

Paul said in one of the shows last year - and made a similar remark either on the Classic CDs or in an interview somewhere - that he was conscious of winning the show too often and dominating too much, and was trying to let the others all have a fair go. There are shows in the early 2000s where Paul probably says more than the other three panellists combined, and we don't hear very much even from people as funny as Graham Norton, Linda Smith and Julian Clary. Whether this is at the behest of a producer or off his own bat, Paul seems to be less competitive, less willing to get into every round. I do think it's good that we are hearing more from some of the others, though I'd hate to feel Paul felt too constrained. Sometimes we go five minutes or more without hearing Paul in some shows this year and I'm not sure that that's a good thing.

Still I do feel that Paul remains the glue that holds things together. I've referred before to the remark David Hatch once made that he used to occasionally signal to Kenneth Williams to jump in if he felt the show was becoming a bit dull and people were getting bogged down. That's always the fear to me, that the show gets bogged down in "repetition of he" type challenges and no-one gets going. I think the show this week got derailed a bit with trivial challenges. It would be interesting to know how many times people talked on the subject for more than say 10 seconds. It's not impossible to be funny in a few seconds, but the show works better if people are allowed to get their "flow" going. It's no coincidence that Paul wasn't there this week. He always jumps in if what's being said is boring and says something that gets people laughing again. The only other person with a similar command, I think, is Graham Norton, and personally I would have Graham on the panel if Paul isn't there. I suspect though that Paul will miss few shows in the immediate future.

Has Paul mellowed? I don't know if that's the word I'd use. He's not one of the "alternative" younger comedians any more. He's in his mid 50s and he's been lead comic on a leading BBCTV comedy show and a leading BBC radio comedy show for 20 years each now, so he's clearly mainstream these days. I haven't seen Have I Got News For You for a couple of years but before that I didn't notice him getting any softer in his jabs and on JAM he's still quite capable of cutting remarks. I wonder though if he is trying to broaden his comedy a tad. Insult humour is good and works on JAM - it doesn't have to be all that he does. Improvisation is about trying things out and if anyone on the show is in a position to be original, it surely must be Paul.

Turning to whether "he accepts all of Nicholas' decisions without a fight now, just tows the line and accepts his judgement like a good little boy" I think the first thing to say is that whether the panellists are praising Nicholas or rubbishing Nicholas, it's all meant in humour. It all plays to JAM's longest running joke, commentary on how Nicholas chairs the show. Same with Kenneth Williams. The joke works either way because Nicholas is neither as bad nor as good as they say and because Nicholas is such a willing target, and because five minuites earlier they were probably taking the opposite stance. It's clear from the Classic CDs that Paul does have a great deal of respect for Nicholas.

Paul and the others do still take jabs at Nicholas. Perhaps they do not make the full production number of it that they used to.

But I do think that the death of Clement and Nicholas's advanced age combine to make criticism of Nicholas more problematic. At 86 and still with a reasonably busy show biz career, Nicholas almost certainly has the respect of all of the others on the show. His is an incredible record. The fact that the other panellists are between 30 and 50 years younger than Nicholas makes some insults off-limits I think. Remember when Kenneth used to say "they have to wheel him out here in a bath chair, and inject him with Queen's royal jelly!" Now that Nicholas is of an age when many people would be under nursing care, that sort of remark doesn't work so well. I think while Clement, roughly the same age, was there and if not leading the charge against Nicholas, certainly supporting it, these taunts were more acceptable. But now Clement isn't there, I'm sure that the panellists are wary of seeming too harsh about Nicholas.

As I say the panellists do still make jokes about Nicholas, but I think they are wary of sounding too mean.

The interesting thing is what this means for the future of the show and what effect Clement's death is having. It seems from the various things that have been said that while people had a lot of respect for Clement, he did at times make some people uncomfortable. I think this season in particular had a lot of fun and laughter. Is it possible people are more relaxed without Clement's brooding presence? On the other hand the possibility is always there that the show will lose its shape without Clement to care about the rules and the score - though Gyles Brandreth and Sue Perkins are perhaps taking over that role as the competitive players of the game.

I expect if Nicholas retired/died and say Gyles Brandreth took over as chairman, he would immediately become a target for insults and abuse, because it works in a game where so few rulings are clear-cut, and because, like Nicholas, he is a great target.

It'll be interesting to see how the show develops in the next few years but with an established core cast, Paul, Graham, Tony, Sue, Gyles, Kit, Jenny, Julian, Chris, Stephen, Josie, Charles, Liza, Tim, Pam, most of whom have now been around 10 years or more, I feel that the show is in a strong position - and also perhaps poised to develop into something slightly different from how the show sounded say 10 years ago.

March 04, 2010

Leadership debates by JAM rules

For the first time, Britain's leaders will hold a televised debate prior to the pending election.

This blogger has an idea for running those debates.

March 02, 2010

Stephen Fry for PM!

or maybe Simon Cowell....???????????????

Fry is top prime minister choice
(UKPA) – 10 hours ago

Stephen Fry was the most popular choice for prime minister in a survey which found fewer than one in 10 young people thinks politicians can be trusted.

The Children's Society poll of more than 1,000 11- to 25-year-olds found 30 per cent believed the QI host would be the best prime minister, compared to 21 per cent who chose one of the current party leaders.

Simon Cowell came in third with 16 per cent of the votes.

Tony Blair and Boris Johnson polled only two votes each and Richard Branson scraped just five (one per cent). Nine young people chose themselves (one per cent).

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children's Society, said: "The next government clearly has a lot of work to do to restore young people's confidence in politicians.

"We must all work to create a political system which is relevant and responsive to the interests of the generation who will ultimately be relied upon to carry it forward."

:: 1,006 people aged 11 to 25 took part in the online poll carried out by NFP Synergy in November last year.