Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

May 29, 2011


JAM star Graham Norton won the Bafta for "best entertainment performance" for The Graham Norton Show. You can see him receiving the award here. Other finallists were Stephen Fry and Rob Brydon.

JAM guest Jo Brand won the Bafta for "best female performance in a comedy role" for Getting On. You can see her here.

JAM guest David Mitchell was a finallist for "best make performance in a comedy role".

The Graham Norton Show and Have I Got News For You were finallists for "best entertainment programme".

I see Graham is also to present a new TV panel game - as if there were not enough!

May 28, 2011

by any other name

An interesting if trivial fact about the team this week - they all use stage names.

PAUL MERTON is actually Paul Martin.

GRAHAM NORTON is actually Graham Walker.

JENNY ECLAIR is actually Jenny Hargreaves.

JOSIE LAWRENCE is actually Wendy Lawrence.

And NICHOLAS PARSONS is actually Christopher Parsons.

I wonder if there has ever been another team like this!

Not JAM but...

perhaps the best ever scene from my favourite sitcom Taxi, and featuring classic comic timing from Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Conaway who has sadly passed away... a happy way to remember him

RIP Janet Brown

Very very sad to hear of the passing of Janet Brown. Janet appeared on six JAMs beween 1976 and 1978 and used her gift of mimickry to great effect.

Here's the BBC's obituary

Actress and comic Janet Brown, who was best known for impersonating former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has died aged 87.
Her agent said she died in her sleep at a nursing home in Hove, East Sussex, after a short illness.
In a career beginning in the 1930s, she gained national TV fame in the 1970s and 1980s for her impersonations on The Mike Yarwood Show.
She also played Lady Thatcher in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
Over the years, the star who was born in Rutherglen, near Glasgow, worked with a number of stars including Hughie Green, Tony Hancock and George Cole.
In 1987 she wrote her autobiography, Prime Mimicker, chronicling her childhood and career as impressionist.
More recently she appeared in dramas including Midsomer Murders, Casualty and Hotel Babylon.
Her final stage role was in a production of The Country Wife at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2007.
"She was a delightful client and we will all miss her very much," said agent Susan Angel.
"Her knowledge of sport was second to none. We will miss the endless discussions about football and her fellow Scot, the tennis star Andy Murray."
The actress, who was married to Carry On actor Peter Butterworth until his death in 1979, is survived by a son, the actor Tyler Butterworth, and a grandson.

and here's the Telegraph's version

She managed to perfect not only the Prime Minister’s manner of speaking — itself very distinctive — but also her mannerisms and style of dress.
Perhaps her finest performance was when she was in New York to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In the VIP lounge at Kennedy Airport she convinced the acid-tongued American comedienne Joan Rivers that she was indeed Mrs Thatcher. Rivers became obsequiousness itself, and apologised to “the Prime Minister” for berating the British Royal family. When told of the deception, she asked Janet Brown: “If you’re not Margaret Thatcher, for God’s sake who are you?”
Janet Brown admired the Prime Minister as a politician and as a woman, and the admiration was mutual. The two women struck up a friendship and occasionally met at No 10 Downing Street. When she was Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher also invited her “alter ego” to stay for the weekend at Chequers. Janet Brown was preparing to go to sleep in her bedroom when there was a knock on the door. It was Mrs Thatcher — concerned that her friend’s quarters were on the chilly side — bearing a hot-water bottle. On one of the occasions when Mrs Thatcher was reelected to government, she wrote to Janet Brown: “I half expected to find you at No 10 before me!”
Janet Brown was first asked to try her famous impersonation by Eamonn Andrews for Thames Television’s Today Show shortly after Margaret Thatcher had been elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. After Mrs Thatcher was elected to government four years later, demands for Janet Brown’s impersonation snowballed.
Janet McLuckie Brown was born on December 14 1923 at Rutherglen, near Glasgow, the daughter of a shipyard worker, and was educated at Rutherglen Academy. She left school early and worked briefly in a local branch of the Co-Op before leaving Glasgow, with the blessing of her father, to tour in a show with Hughie Green.
During the war she served with the ATS, joining a Stars in Battledress entertainment ensemble which gave shows for troops serving in Europe. Among those she worked with were Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Harry Secombe.
She then sought to make a career in London working in radio, and in 1946 received an offer to join a summer revue show at Scarborough. It was there that she met her future husband, the actor Peter Butterworth, best known for his roles in the Carry On films. They married in 1947, and worked together on a number of occasions, including on children’s television.
She continued to be in demand on radio — she later appeared on The Goon Show — and she also appeared on stage in Mr Gillie, with Alastair Sim. She later recalled: “He taught me to always 'feel’ myself into a character from the inside.”
On television, Janet Brown appeared in Rainbow Room, Where Shall We Go? and Friends and Neighbours before the Seventies’ taste for impressions led her to concentrate on the showbusiness niche that would make her famous.
On shows such as Who Do You Do (in which she appeared with Freddie Starr) and Mike Yarwood in Persons she gave impressions of the Coronation Street character Hilda Ogden, the entertainer “Two-Ton” Tessie O’Shea, Noele Gordon and Pam Ayres among others.
In 1981 she was given her own show, Janet and Co, making an impact with her impersonations of Mrs Thatcher and the celebrated dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse. She also played Margaret Thatcher in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981) and on Roy Hudd’s The News Huddlines on Radio 2.
She continued to work until late in life, and had recently appeared in shows such as Midsomer Murders (2004), Casualty (2005) and Hotel Babylon (2009) — her final stage role was as Old Lady Squeamish in The Country Wife at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2007.
Nothing gave Janet Brown more pleasure at the end of her life than watching sport on television, particularly snooker and tennis — she was always keen to follow the progress of her fellow Scot Andy Murray.
In 1987 she published an autobiography, Prime Mimicker.
Janet Brown died at a nursing home in Hove, East Sussex. Her husband Peter Butterworth died in 1979, aged 59, and she is survived by their son; a daughter predeceased her.

May 25, 2011

Radio 4 Extra Promo

The promo that was done using Just A Minute to promote the Radio Four Extra Station has surfaeced. It features Nicholas Parsons with Paul Merton, Sheila Hancock, Gyles Brandreth, Marcus Brigstocke and Clive Anderson. And Sarah Sharpe!

Here's the link that takes you to the promo.

Reader Ewen Moore has written this description of what happened...

I was at the recording of the TV promo at the Radio Theatre last Saturday. It was only advertised to the public on the Thursday beforehand and a friend of mine who works for BBC studio audience services said they’d only been contacted to work on it provisionally on that day too – and the producers weren’t definitely sure it was going to go ahead. Although the auditorium was full, there wasn’t the usual queue round the block and no-one was turned away – unusual for JAM but I guess that’s the result of the last minute advertising.
It was great fun but very odd. It began like a normal episode, except with TV cameras there too, and the Radio Theatre all on display, rather than hidden behind the usual panels. They had fancy tables too, rather than the cheap ones they have for radio recordings. Paul quipped that it was the first time a tv budget had entered radio-land.
Marcus was in the 4th chair (I have a feeling the panellists were those they could get at the last minute, too). A couple of rounds in, the round was ‘Radio 4 Extra’ and then everything stopped, Marcus stepped down into the audience, and Clive Andersson came on to replace him. And a new round began, but with the same subject – ‘Radio 4 Extra’. Whenever Clive buzzed Nicholas accidently called him Marcus, because it said ‘Marcus’ above Clive’s light. This became something of a running joke.
The idea was evidently to get the panellists to talk as much as possible about what Radio 4 Extra is and what can be found on it. I think Clive was there because he does other shows that will be repeated on the channel. However, it appeared that no-one had really briefed the panellists (or indeed Nicholas Parsons) so everything kept going round in circles, being stopped, re-starting etc. They said that the show was entirely improvised so I guess they’d not been briefed about subjects etc. At one point Nicholas said something like ‘ the audience will be very confused’ at which Sheila said ‘no more than we are!’ Sheila also kept saying, in the rounds, how much she’d loved Radio 7 and why did they need to change it, which is obviously not what the producers wanted to hear!
Marcus was brought back, and then Clive was brought back and Marcus hid behind Clive and Sheila, and popped up to interject funny comments. It was all a total shambles but very funny. Nicholas, however, kept worrying about continuity and keeping the scores on track, and conferring in a worried way with Sarah Sharpe. I got the feeling he was finding it difficult to have the format of the show played around with so much.
Interestingly the producer was John Lloyd, which took me by surprise, making a JAM return (of sorts) after more than 30 years. The round kept reverting to Radio 4 Extra and at one point, when they needed more material and they’d run out of subject cards, someone from the audience suggested The Radio Theatre as a subject. Eventually, when it became clear that John Lloyd wasn’t getting the material he needed, he asked the panellists just to challenge at anything, and when asked what their challenge was, call out ‘documentaries!’ or ‘comedies!’ or other things to be found on the station.
Apparently they are going to make a short TV promo, and interject film of various celebs like Colin Firth and Imelda Staunton ‘challenging’ and saying what can be found on the channel. Not quite sure how that’s going to work! In total they filmed/recorded over an hour of material, but I doubt they’ll use more than a minute or two of it.
All in all, an extremely unusual afternoon and one in which a lot of the comedy derived from the confusion on stage. Paul and Gyles largely held the show together and made for an extremely funny paring and, as ever, it was lovely to see how much Paul looked out for and looked after Nicholas, who is obviously not getting any younger!

May 18, 2011

The Guardian on Just A Minute

a nice editorial - it even links to me so I'd better link back!

Just a Minute: why it's never paused
The brilliantly simple format and a host of incredible players are the reasons for its longevity – long may it continue

Last night as the strains of the Minute Waltz faded away, Just a Minute chairman Nicholas Parsons introduced the 761st episode of Just a Minute. Now in its 60th series, Just a Minute has managed to defy the ravages of time; changing little since it began its radio life 44 years ago and recently picking up a silver in the comedy category at the Sony Awards. As Paul Merton once put it in the Arena documentary It's Time for Just a Minute, "it is a brilliantly simple radio show; you don't need to see the visuals".
But what is the secret of its success? "I think it's because the format is insanely basic," says radio comedy writer David Quantick. "It's so blank that it can be filled by people as diverse as Paul Merton and Graham Norton, who don't have to adapt their style of humour to the show at all."
On the surface Just A Minute is built on a ridiculously easy to grasp concept – speak for 60 seconds on a given subject without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Yet within this simple construct lurk many complexities. It is a pedant's dream, and doubtless there are plenty who get their thrills by tuning in with virtual buzzer poised.
It was Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo, Sir Clement Freud and Kenneth Williams who reigned supreme for the first two decades of the programme's life. Williams's appearances were either hysterical rollercoasters or exhausting and tetchy depending on his mood, but always extraordinary.
Now, as then, it is the interruptions that often make the show. In recent times that has lead to some charming sparring between current omnipresent player Merton and schoolmaster Parsons, in contrast to the prickly exchanges the former Sale of the Century host endured with Freud. But they can also ruin it. In the early years of the show players seem to have only been buzzed if their pauses were of the pregnant variety, but in our impatient age a nanosecond's hesitation is often pounced on.
Despite its simplicities the format can be frustrating for some guests. Bill Bailey, whose bee swarm of a mind usually excels at panel games, once complained "I hate it. They say you can't repeat or hesitate or deviate but that's how I actually talk, I don't know why they ever got me on."
In truth the magic of the show often comes from the deviation and how a simple topic such as "Suduko" or "Chickens" can be spun into a wild story – the latter involving Ozzy Osbourne going on tour with Colonel Sanders in the hands of Ross Noble. Never forgetting it is a comedy show; unspoken sportmanship affords contestants to transgress the rules if they are being suitably amusing.
There are plenty of panel shows on TV (interestingly there have been several attempts to bring JAM to television) but all of them seem to consist of the same pool of 12 people. Just a Minute has always cast its net a bit further and unlike TV isn't afraid to employ pensioners (Parsons is now 87).
The new series sees a predictable but much-anticipated return visit from grand comedy owl Stephen Fry but in the past some of the best players have been the least expected – Patrick Moore, Pam Ayres, Wendy Richard were all wonderful.
Not everyone works – Terry Wogan just boomed incomprehensibly on his debut in the last series and plenty of standups have withered in competition against Merton – but the programme is a brilliant platform for the nimble-minded and often brings out another side of a comedian. Both Liza Tarbuck and Sue Perkins are consistently brilliant, as are Marcus Brigstocke, Tony Hawks and Graham Norton.
But what do you think? Are you a fan? Or is it an outdated Oxbridge parlour game that's outstayed its welcome. And who are your favourite players – and what would be your dream (living and dead) lineup?

there's also a lively debate going on there if you feel like jumping in

May 17, 2011

The best ever interview with Paul Merton

From The Guardian - just fascinating what he says about Just A Minute

Paul Merton: 'Am I allowed to call myself working-class now?'The standup comedian and silent film aficionado talks about the relationship between class and comedy, his love of improvisation and why he still believes the old jokes are the best

In my experience there are two types of comedian who, no matter how funny they may be on stage, you wouldn't really want to meet in real life. There's the cliche of the curmudgeonly comic – grouchy, aloof, a bit passive aggressive – and there's the one who can't switch off, and craves laughter like you or I need oxygen. When I told people I was going to meet Paul Merton, everyone had him down as a classic case of the former – and to be honest, that was my fear too.
Merton's comic persona can be pretty devastating towards others' stupidity, which is terrifically funny to watch, but presumably not quite as fun to find oneself on the receiving end of. And my worry was that while I quite enjoyed his new documentary series, I couldn't think of a single question to ask about it. It's a history of the early days of Hollywood, and if old film is your thing then I'm sure it's brilliant – but it's not really mine, and a BBC press officer had been making matters worse by sending slightly ominous emails, specifying scenes which he claimed Merton was "particularly" keen for me to see. Oh God, was I going to be quizzed on them?
It takes less than a minute to forget all these fears. For a start, the press officer is politely but firmly waved away by Merton, who casts a puzzled glance at the departing figure and asks, "Who was he anyway?" Then he bursts out laughing – and keeps laughing on and off for the best part of two hours. In fact I've seldom met anyone who seems happier in their own skin – even if he is dressed like a runaway from the circus, in a big charcoal suit over a psychedelic swirl of multicoloured silk shirt. "Ah, well I've got a sort of clothes blindness," he admits cheerfully.
So the cliche of the curmudgeon is wide of the mark – and so, happily, is that of the needy performer who has to turn every conversation into a standup routine, and everyone around him into an audience. Merton has the most exuberant enthusiasm for humour, but in his company you feel as if he's willing you to be funny too, and he's one of the few comics I've met who seems genuinely happiest when sharing the jokes. He has a formative early memory of hearing audience laughter, as a five-year-old at a clown show, and being "absolutely knocked out by it". But when I ask why the sound affected him so profoundly, he doesn't say anything about the epiphany of humour's power, which so many comedians cite. "Oh," he says intensely, "it was just – it was just – it was just joyful!"
Almost half a century later, Merton still seems just as intoxicated by the joy of it. Now 53, he's been making us laugh ever since the mid-80s, first as a standup at the Comedy Store, then on Whose Line Is It Anyway, before joining Radio 4's Just a Minute in 1988, and BBC1's Have I Got News For You in 1990. Success, of course, has a habit of looking inevitable with hindsight, and it's impossible to imagine Just a Minute or Have I Got News For You without Merton. But the producer who first hired him for Just a Minute admitted to Merton, when they were reunited recently, that at the time he'd feared he was booking "some oik".
It's hard to remember now, but Merton first emerged as a member of the alternative comedy generation – edgy, impudent, and as Ben Elton would say, "a bit poli'ical". But his career has in fact never been particularly political, and his humour has always sailed closer to surrealism than iconoclasm, so class consciousness was the last thing I was expecting to come up. When Merton recalls his early life, however, class is the defining theme of his experience.
Merton had been playing Just a Minute by himself since he was eight years old. "Kids love it because it's very easy to understand, and very difficult to play – which is a brilliant combination." But he grew up in a working-class home, in a council house in Fulham, failed his 11-plus, and left school at 18 – "university never even crossed my mind" – to go and work in an employment office. He spent the early 80s living in south London bedsits, flat broke and lonely, working on his craft as a comedian.
"I didn't have a telly – the radio was my only entertainment thing – so I'd make a little library of Just a Minute tapes to play when I was going to sleep at night. I heard one of the episodes recently on BBC7," he laughs, "and I knew every word of it." By the late 80s Merton was making a name for himself in improvisation on Whose Line Is It Anyway? – so when Just a Minute regular Kenneth Williams died in 1988, Merton wrote to the show's producer, asking to appear on the show.
"He phoned me up in my bedsit, and said," – and Merton puts on a posh voice – "'Now you know what sort of show it is, don't you?' Yes, I said, I do. 'Well, don't swear. And what will you be wearing?' I think he thought he was booking Sid Vicious or something."
Merton is laughing as he recalls the conversation, and seems anxious at first to make light of it. "Well, class is awkward, isn't it? Am I allowed to call myself working-class now? Because obviously I'm now very rich. But the phrase 'working-class' is the phrase I grew up with – and so much of the working-class thing is about thinking you're not allowed to do stuff." The more he talks, the clearer it becomes that class was no joke for him as a young man – and still isn't, even now.
"When I started off as a comic, aged 23 or 24, I remember looking at another comedian who used to read the Guardian, and thinking to myself: 'God, I wish I read the Guardian.' And then I thought: 'Hang on a minute, just go and buy it. Yes I can!' But actually I had to get over that barrier. It's just like I used to say: 'Oh, I wish I liked jazz, jazz seems to be something you could really get into.' It's bizarre, isn't it?"
But then he starts to look a little uneasy. He can't bear, he says, to look as if he might have a chip on his shoulder – "cos that's what gets thrown at you – as if to complain about your position is somehow not allowed. And there's nothing about my life I can resent now. But how the working class are sometimes portrayed is – well, galling." I ask for an example, and he hesitates - but then, after a long sigh:
"Well you know, someone like Boris Johnson, he's done Have I Got News for You several times, but Boris doesn't know anything about – well, Boris is just not from the world where you think: 'I've got 36p in my pocket and the giro doesn't arrive for another two days, what am I going to do?' But that used to be my world."
Then he tells a story about standing in a park next to Fulham's football ground with his dad when he was only eight or nine. He looked across the Thames, and asked his father what was on the other side of the river. And his father told him there was nothing there; that he couldn't go over there.
"Then when I got to the age of about 19, I wondered if something was there. And this is going to sound ludicrous, but it's as it was. I thought I'll go and have a look. So I got off the bus, and instead of going over the bridge I went along the other side of the bank. And there was a rowing club, and people rowing; people from Cambridge, and Barclays, and stuff. And I felt so inhibited by them, I couldn't go any further on. I had to go back. These rowers and stuff – this is it, this is the thing – not feeling you fit in. I didn't feel as if I fitted in. Feeling that you shouldn't be there. That somebody's going to tell you off. That you're in the wrong place. And I realised I'd been told something at the age of 10, that you can't go there – that it's not for you. And I just believed it. So when people say: 'Oh what's wrong with the working class? All they've got to do is this and that.' Well no, it's not as easy as that."
He breaks off, looking slightly apologetic. "I'm just trying to talk about this without sounding as if I've got a grudge, cos there is no grudge. I hope this isn't sounding like a terrible sob story, I don't mean it to be at all."
It was comedy that changed everything for him. "When I started performing, I never felt: 'Oh that person's far superior to me because of their class.' Cos comedy doesn't come into that, nobody ever says the middle classes are instinctively funny or anything like that. You're all in the dressing room together, and nobody says: 'You'd better go first cos you've got a private education.'"
When Merton launches into one of his surreal comic riffs on Just a Minute or Have I Got News For You, it's tempting to think him gifted with a kind of genius that transcends not just class but anything prosaic enough to be quantifiable. I've always wondered whether he's thinking furiously about what to say next, or has entered something closer to a state of trance, in which he's as surprised as anyone to hear what comes out of his mouth next.
"Well it's not a trance or a daze; that's not quite right. How can you describe it? There's a phrase athletes use – 'in the zone' – and you can't make it happen, you can't force it. But sometimes you just let yourself go, and I don't know where it's coming from." Does it feel more as if he's channelling something than creating it? "Yes, that's what I'm hesitating to say, I suppose," he agrees, looking slightly bashful.
But just as athletes don't find themselves in the zone by magic, Merton insists that whatever comic gift he may have can be attributed to decades of study of comedy as a discipline.
"I remember being fascinated by the very nature of comedy from the age of 10; why is this funny, and that isn't? What's the difference between rhythm and timing? In comedy it doesn't look like there's an art going on; it should look as if it's easy, cos there shouldn't be a sense of strain. But it is as difficult as playing the violin; there's a skill to be learned, there's a timing, there's a projection, there's how you sit, eye contact, how much room you give people."
To this day he still performs improv every Sunday at the Comedy Store, and insists – though I'm not quite sure I believe him – that anyone could learn how to do it if they practised enough. There are rules, and he cheerfully admits to being very old-school about treating it as a discipline.
"I looked at longevity in show business when I was about 13, and the people who seemed to have longevity were the ones who'd spent quite a bit of time learning about what they were doing before they made it. You know, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Marx brothers – they knew what they were doing, they weren't flash-in-the-pan overnight successes. They grew, and they built, and they sustained."
Does he feel that he's now seeing young comedians achieve overnight fame without, in his terms, doing enough hard work? "Um – I don't know," he says vaguely, sounding suspiciously diplomatic. "I really don't take any interest at all in contemporary comedy." In fact, it turns out that he's never even seen most successful contemporary acts – not Gavin and Stacey, nor Peep Show, nor The Inbetweeners. "Nope," he apologises, "afraid not." What about Miranda Hart?
"Miranda Hart?" he says, brightening at once. "Oh yes! Excellent, excellent. She's really good." Because she's old-school?
"Yes, I think that's it. One of the things that basically never changes is that people like laughing at people falling over. Look at You've Been Framed! Every week it's children being carried out of playgrounds with serious head injuries while we all laugh and clap. But she does it with real skill, she has the most amazing physicality, and it's unusual for a woman to have that much confidence in it."
It was this sort of old-fashioned concern for attention to discipline and detail that made Merton fall in love with early Hollywood. His three-part documentary series is an authoritative and entertaining narrative, not only presented by him, but written and directed as well – and he says he'd quite happily never perform again if he could spend the rest of his career directing. "For ages," he grins, "I'd fallen into that trap of saying, 'Oh yes, I'm going to direct a film' – but not actually doing it. Then I suddenly realised one thing that distinguishes directors from other people is that they actually direct! And now I love it, I just love it. It's something to really get your teeth into."
His co-writer on the series is his third wife and fellow comic improviser, Suki Webster. Merton was married to the actor Caroline Quentin in the 90s, but it was his second marriage that many more may remember, because he wed actor Sarah Parkinson just three months before she died in his arms of breast cancer in 2003. Throughout her illness Merton cut a heartbreaking figure, heavily bearded, and bringing organic juices to her bedside following her decision to decline chemotherapy.
I suspect it was her death that contributed to a public impression of Merton as a glum, even tragic soul. But it was comedy again that rescued him, for within weeks he was seen in the audience of the Comedy Store, where he says he found profound comfort in the sound of people laughing. He seems so happy today that when he talks of his frustration at not having more time to make and direct films, I suggest he could always stop doing Have I Got News for You, or stop doing Just a – but before the words are even out of my mouth he interrupts.
"Ooh no, I could never stop doing Just a Minute," he exclaims, looking appalled. "Oh God, no. I still can't believe I'm in it."

May 16, 2011

woohoo!!!!!! Celebration time

Have only just picked up on the fact that JAM has won a Silver Sony award for best comedy.

Wonderful news!

Here's the citation and what the judges said.

Host: Nicholas Parsons
Producer: Tilusha Ghelani
Producer: Claire Jones
Production co-ordinator and scorer: Sarah Sharpe
Executive Producer: Jane Berthoud, Steve Canny
Editor: John Whitehall
Regular Panellist: Paul Merton
Regular Panellist: Gyles Brandreth
Panellist: Shappi Khorsandi
Panellist: John Bishop
Sound Engineers: Iain Hunter, Tim Sturgeon, Roger Danes
Audience Steward: Gill Carter

What the Judges Said
An evergreen show at the top of its form, still sounding as fresh as ever. A smart single programme entry that started with an exciting home run from Paul Merton.

the JAM connection to the Madeleine McCann case

the McCanns made a friend of Sir Clement Freud!

(for those outside Britain, this is possibly the biggest crime story in the UK of the past five years)

JAM guest's fight with cancer

From The Daily Mail

They told me I had throat cancer. I wasn't brave...just terrified I'd miss my boys grow up, says TV's Jimmy Mulville
By Nikki Murfitt

As his sons – Joe and George, both toddlers without a care in the world – played nearby, his natural instinct was to scoop them up in a giant bear hug.
But to do so would have allowed the knot of emotions he was holding in check to break loose.
The anarchic humour of his most memorable shows, including Father Ted, Drop The Dead Donkey and Have I Got News For You, made him a millionaire – but that counted for little as he was forced to face his own mortality.
At the age of 48 he was suffering from oropharyngeal cancer – a tumour on his tonsils.
Normally associated with smokers, Jimmy’s diagnosis, given that he hadn’t touched a cigarette for more than 20 years and ran eight miles a day, was as inconceivable as it was shocking.
‘The weekend I found out was the longest of my life. I wasn’t brave, I just felt very, very frightened,’ he says today, sitting in the private members’ club at The Ivy restaurant in London.
‘Watching my children, I knew I might not see them grow up. There were moments when I’d feel sorry for myself and others when I’d be planning my funeral in my head.
'My dad died at the age of 48 and I had a horrible feeling of history repeating itself.’
Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that affects 5,400 new patients a year in Britain, and numbers are rising.
The pharynx, the medical name for the throat, is divided into three parts and the oropharynx is one, the others being the nasopharynx (related to the nose) and the laryngopharynx (the throat).
The oropharynx connects the mouth to the top of the throat, and includes the back third of the tongue, the soft area at the back of the roof of the mouth (the soft palate) and the tonsils.
Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol to excess (and even more so, doing these two things at the same time) are the main risk factors for mouth and oropharyngeal cancers.
Although in Britain it used to be mainly men who suffered, today increasing numbers of women are being diagnosed, which experts believe is the delayed effect of their heavier drinking and smoking.
Obesity, poor oral hygiene, ill-fitting dentures that cause long-term irritation, and even mouthwash containing alcohol have also been implicated as possible factors.
Mouth and oropharyngeal cancers have also been linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV).
There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Some are called the wart virus, because they cause warts on the genital area or skin.
Others are known to increase the risk of some types of cancers, including cancer of the cervix.
Researchers believe there is a link between HPV and certain forms of oropharyngeal cancer, and there is some evidence to show that the virus may be spread through certain types of sexual contact – in particular oral sex – but more research is needed to prove this.
In August it will be nine years since Jimmy, 56, who, as the co-founder of Hat Trick Productions, brought Paul Merton, Angus Deayton and Clive Anderson to British television, was diagnosed.
A slight scar on the right-hand side of his neck as it curves underneath his jawline is the only sign of the six-hour operation he underwent to remove the golf ball-sized tumour and cancerous lymph glands.
But the memories are as fresh as they are poignant.
‘Thank goodness I’ve always been a hypochondriac – it saved my life,’ says Jimmy.
‘I first noticed a small lump at the right side of my neck in August 2001. I immediately went to my GP who said that because I was a non-smoking teetotaller who exercised every day, it was probably nothing.
‘I still wasn’t happy, so I was referred to a doctor in Harley Street who gave me a cursory examination and also told me it was nothing to worry about. I got a third opinion and they said I was perfectly OK, too.
‘There comes a point, even for a hypochondriac like me, when you think, “Maybe they’re right.” I’d had no sore throats and apart from the lump I had no other symptoms.’
Astonishingly, it was a year before Jimmy finally received a diagnosis.
‘I’m a workaholic and lead a busy, stressful life so it was easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of Hat Trick [the company he co-founded with his then wife Denise O’Donoghue and comedian Rory McGrath] but when the lump was still there after a year I was determined to see a specialist.
'I was referred to Professor Meirion Thomas, a surgical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.’
Jimmy was immediately sent for an ultrasound scan and given a biopsy.
Five days later he was told he had cancer. The writer and producer, who has been married three times, admits telling his wife Karen, 43, was incredibly difficult.
‘Karen’s first husband died from lung cancer at the age of 42, leaving her with daughter Paige who was 11 at the time. She was going through the whole thing again.
'It was a feeling of utter disbelief.’
It was not the first time that tragedy had struck the Mulville family, either.
Jimmy had just finished his French and classics degree at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he’d been president of the famous Footlights club, when he discovered his father, also Jimmy, was gravely ill with a rare strain of viral polio.
‘I was ringing home regularly but my father was never there,’ he says.
‘When my finals were over, my mum, June, burst into tears and said that he was in hospital. He’d been ill for three weeks but insisted on not telling me during my exams.
‘I drove back that night and instinctively put my hand out to shake his hand, but he couldn’t move because he was paralysed. There was a look of shame on his face.
'I know, having been ill myself, that for some reason you think it’s your fault. It was breaking his heart.’
Jimmy Snr overcame the paralysis but never escaped the shadow of polio. A year after his diagnosis, he hanged himself.
Jimmy was 21, and claims it was this that triggered his slow but steady descent into alcohol addiction.
I drank a lot in my 20s,’ he says, ‘but I never really smoked. It was a gradual thing and in 1988, two years after we started Hat Trick, I realised I had to sort my life out.
'I went into rehab and have been teetotal ever since. I asked my doctors, could what I did to myself in my past have caused my cancer? They said it was impossible to know.’
Royal Marsden surgeon Peter Rhys Evans was confident that Jimmy had a very good chance of a cure but after his initial operation warned him that he was going to get worse before he’d get better as he endured six weeks of daily radiotherapy.
Mr Rhys Evans says: ‘Side effects of the radiotherapy include loss of taste and
difficulty in swallowing because the mouth becomes very dry.
'In Jimmy’s case his throat became very ulcerated and he couldn’t eat much for a
few weeks.’
Jimmy says: ‘For a couple of months I could eat only blended food because my throat was so tender and the cumulative effects of the radiotherapy meant that by the end of it I felt like an old man.’
At first he had check-ups every month, and after each one he’d phone his mother to tell her he’d got the all-clear.
‘My wife was incredible throughout, she’d tell me to snap out of it when she thought I needed it and was just very practical and supportive while at the same time looking after our young family,’ he says.
The couple have since had son Jack, now seven, a brother to Joe, 12, George, ten, and Paige, 21.
Although officially cured, Jimmy still has annual check-ups.
He says: ‘I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the amazing team at the Marsden, as do my family.’
As president of the Oracle Cancer Trust, the oral cancer charity, Jimmy is spearheading a £10million fundraising drive for a new centre of excellence for head and neck cancers.
The unit will house a radiotherapy research planning laboratory, three new research laboratories and the John Diamond Voice laboratory – named in memory of Nigella
Lawson’s first husband who died of cancer of the tongue.
Nigella is backing the campaign and is its vice-chairman.
‘There are about 30 different types of head and neck cancer. We want to improve cure rates but also the quality of life, especially for those who may be disfigured or
unable to speak after surgery,’ says Mr Rhys Evans.
Jimmy admits: ‘Not only have I been doing a job I love since the age of 21 but I’ve been able to get through a terrifying period in my life thanks to some expert help.
‘I’ve been very lucky. I’m still a hypochondriac, though.’

May 14, 2011

and coming up

The show is back on Monday with Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Gyles Brandreth and Julian Clary.

Six shows this season, the other panels are

* Paul, Graham Norton, Jenny Eclair and Josie Lawrence

* Paul, Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry and Fi Glover

Looking forward to it!

promo panel

Last Saturday a Radio Four promo for Just A Minute was filmed before a live audience. The panel for this non-programme was Paul Merton, Sheila Hancock, Gyles Brandreth, Marcus Brigstocke and Clive Anderson with Nicholas Parsons. If there’s anyone reading this who attended, I’d be interested to hear how it worked with five panellists.

Still it’s an interesting panel. Perhaps some others refused to front for something that was just a promo, but it’s interesting that Marcus was there – could he be appearing more often in the future. And of course Clive Anderson, a Radio Four regular and a man with a skill with words, a sharp wit, and someone who is so good at banter, you might feel he should already have done many JAMs. I’d love to see him in the next season.

May 04, 2011

more news

The panel for the last recording was Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry and Fi Glover. A show with Stephen Fry is always special so I would think we can look forward to two great shows.

The six shows are playing very soon - the show resumes on May 16, so pencil in May 23, May 30, June 6, June 13 and June 20 as well.

And that brings up 50 shows in the post-Clement era - two years. The show seems to be sounding as good as it's ever been to me.