Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

December 25, 2011

comedy awards

Two of the big prizes at the British Comedy Awards are worth mentioning here.

Graham Norton won best Comedy Entertainment Personality, while Paul Merton's Have I Got News For You won the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Watch them win prizes here

December 12, 2011

Gyles - I love being a woman

In this article Gyles Brandreth talks about why he loves his latest role.

And what about this pic!

Read what Gyles has to say here.

December 11, 2011

TV JAMs - a chat with the producer

As I mentioned a few days ago, Andy Brereton, the BBC producer in charge of the coming TV series of Just A Minute, chatted to me over the phone a few days ago. I have to begin by thanking him very much for being so generous with his time. I should say it was his idea to have the chat which of course I readily accepted.

It did make me think that maybe a series of interviews for the website and blog might be quite good fun. If you read this through to the end, and find it interesting, let me know and who knows - maybe this will be the first of a series of JAM related interviews.

I think it would be a bit boring to read a word for word transcript so I have written it up as an interview in the first person.

The first thing to say is that Andy is clearly a big fan of Just A Minute. He quoted to me things that happened on the show, word for word, both on radio editions and in the TV shows which he was in the process of editing. He told me had been following the show for 20 years or so, about the time Paul Merton started on the show.

In his letter to me Andy said that he saw his TV series as being a conscious effort to honour or pay tribute to the radio version. I may have misunderstood but I think he said the TV shows are to be regarded as a celebration of the show and they have done a bit of historical work, listening to old shows. The first ever subject used on JAM will be used in the TV shows, excuses for being late.

The Minute Waltz will be used at the start of the show which sounds like it will sound pretty much identical to the start of the radio shows with Nicholas saying "welcome to Just A Minute".

One of the two current radio producers Tilusha Ghelani has been involved in the production of the TV series and Andy also made it clear that Nicholas Parsons and Paul Merton have been closely consulted about things too. The Messiter family have also been consulted.

He said that as he went into putting JAM on TV people often said that it was an amazing radio show and he was clear he didn't want to mess that up.

Andy told me his current favourites of the panellists are Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Marcus Brigstocke, Graham Norton and Tony Hawks.

I asked how the decision to do the TV series came about and he said that he had been in charge of the "Twenty-four Hour Panel People" programme from earlier this year. For those who haven't seen this, this involved the comedian David Walliams playing just about every panel game live on TV over 24 hours. One of the games was Just A Minute where David appeared with Nicholas, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock and Lee Mack. He said that when he asked Nicholas to appear on it, he was very keen. He said he was watching it as it was being performed with programme commissioners from the BBC and they all agreed it was very funny and worked well on TV. He said he'd also been to radio recordings and it was great fun to see people doing it, and that he thought that was what could be added to the radio version.

I asked him if he thought the show could continue past these initial 10 shows and he said there was no commitment beyond that and the thing they had to do was to make the 10 shows they have made really work. He is also clear that he does not want it to harm the radio show. Andy said "the thing I love about Just A Minute is that it's kind of a treat every week", and you didn't want to have it constantly on the air.

I asked him what had been learned from the past attempts to put JAM on TV, and Andy said he had spent some time looking at previous pilots. He said he had been involved in daytime game shows in the past and they had sometimes recorded four or five a day, and it felt like they were churning them out as if from a factory - he had decided they would record just two at each recording. He said one of the JAM pilots had been filmed without an audience which he thought odd. He didn't like the series where the panellists were divided into teams, or the mystery object, or the clock-like set of the late 90s. There will not be a clock on screen - Andy believes part of the enjoyment of JAM is when the blowing of the whistle is a surprise and the clock visuals can be distracting.

Andy said "in the past they messed with it and had an object round which you don't need. What you need is all the right people who can play it, as much as you can, or at least three of them, and you just need really good subjects, and you need Nicholas."

He talked at some length about how the programme was filmed in a directorial sense and I have to say some of this went over my head. He doesn't like lots of short cuts between performers, he'd rather we watched Sue Perkins keeping going so the camera will never be entirely off whatever performer is talking, though it may be moving in slowly on her.

I asked him if he had considered replacing Nicholas as chairman, and he made it clear he had not. He said Nicholas was exceptionally clever, had lots of energy and understood so well the timing of the show. He regarded him as key to the show's success. I also asked him about Paul Merton's involvement, given that he had refused to be involved in the past. Andy said that Paul at first was unsure about moving it to TV, but that he was enthusiastic once they described what they wanted to do, and played a part in getting others to appear on the show. He said that Paul had said he would do all the shows or none - a deal they were happy to accept!

On casting he clearly wanted to get all the people currently closely associated with the show. Of those they didn't get that he would have liked to have had on the show, he said he was particularly disappointed not to have been able to book Sheila Hancock, who was in a West End show, and Ross Noble, who was in Ireland. Others he mentioned as being unavailable on the days he wanted them were Jenny Eclair and Lee Mack. He also said that Helena Bonham Carter, the Bafta award winning, Oscar nominated actress, was interested in doing the show and was a fan, but in the end the dates didn't work out.

Of the new players, Andy said he thought Steven Mangan was brilliant and that Jason Manford and Russell Tovey were also very good.

He said he thought the shows with four regulars were probably the best but he also thought it good to bring in some new people too as that changed the dynamic. He said they had some difficulty booking for the last recording which was why that was the only recording that didn't have three regulars.

The audience response was very strong - they turned away people which apparently is very unusual for what is a pilot series. He says everyone thinks the shows that have been finished so far were brilliant and he is very happy with what they have done.

The programmes will play at 6pm each weeknight over two weeks and I think will run after the completion of the next radio series, in mid to late March.

Dean's JAM rankings for 2011

My fifth annual ranking for all the players this year - this year there were 23 players used over 22 shows, slightly down on last year in both respects.

Here's the stats on appearances this year.

Paul Merton 18
Gyles Brandreth, Tony Hawks 8
Julian Clary, Graham Norton 6
Sheila Hancock, Josie Lawrence, Sue Perkins, Rick Wakeman 4
Shappi Khorsandi 3
Pam Ayres, Marcus Brigstocke, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Fry, Fi Glover, Phill Jupitus, Miles Jupp, Ross Noble, Liza Tarbuck, Terry Wogan 2
Jason Byrne, Alun Cochrane, Russell Kane 1

So to my rankings.

They won't be back next year

Jason Byrne - Patronised robustly by Nicholas, Jason was no good at the game and the rules just didn't suit his style of comedy.
Fi Glover - She seemed nice enough but a bit in awe of her big-mouthed competition.
Miles Jupp - Miles was very good at the game and even won the second show once he had warmed up, but didn't seem to have anything of interest to say when he did get the subject.
Terry Wogan - One of that list of people who were comnpletely abysmally bad at the game - stand up Elaine Stritch and Thora Hird - but were still very funny. Still the joke probably won't work again.

They had some good moments

Pam Ayres - Pam's unique style didn't provide as many giggles as usual.
Alun Cochrane - Likeable and able to improvise in a reasonably amusing way without doing anything to suggest he'll be back soon.
Shappi Khorsandi - She seems nice and can be funny, but not often enough.
Rick Wakeman - Really good at the game but not strong in the humour department.

About average

Stephen Fry - By his own high standards Stephen wasn't as funny as he has been on some of his other appearances. But still very good.
Tony Hawks - One of those long-serving players who is a reliable contributor but I feel he isn't as consistently good as he was a few years ago.
Phill Jupitus - A very funny man, he needs to appear more often to hone his JAM skills.
Russell Kane - Funny in his first appearance which he won. A possible future star or a one-off fluke? We will see, I hope.
Liza Tarbuck - Two of the best shows she has had though still not one of the funnier performers.

Let's hear more of them

Gyles Brandreth - Arguably the second banana on the show now to Paul, Gyles has clearly sharpened his style and is now original and competitive and very funny. I should have had him in my top group.
Marcus Brigstocke - Only two shows but was as funny as ever, we need to hear him more often.
Jenny Eclair - Very amusing and a great contributor, one of the best ever.
Ross Noble - Only did two shows and was warm and witty, but perhaps not at his brilliant best.
Sue Perkins - Quickly becoming one of those reliable people who we all enjoy seeing on the panel list.

Stars of the year

5th best - Graham Norton - Close to his hillarious loquacious best.

4th best - Josie Lawrence - She gets better every time she is on and I think is a real star of the very near future.

Bronze medal - Julian Clary - Just fits in like a glove these days, always funny and great with the banter, and he knows how to play the game too.

Silver medal - Sheila Hancock - After 44 years on the show, Sheila may just about have been at her all-time best this year. Very funny and full of authority.

Champion of the year - Paul Merton - Still a champ and still the best player in just about every show.

For those interested, here are my previous rankings...

2010 - click here for full commentary

They won't be back next year: Kevin Eldon, Dave Gorman, Fred MacAula, Liza Tarbuck, John Sergeant.
They had some good moments: Stephen K. Amos, Alun Cochrane, Shappi Khorsandi, Ian McMillan, David Mitchell.
About average: Pam Ayres, John Bishop, Charles Collingwood, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Justin Moorhouse, Chris Neill.
Let's hear more of them: Sheila Hancock, Tony Hawks, Josie Lawrence, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins.
5th best - Julian Clary.
4th best - Jenny Eclair.
Bronze medal - Gyles Brandreth.
Silver medal - Ross Noble.
Champion of the year - Paul Merton.

2009 - click for full commentary here.

They won't be back next year - Jack Dee, Janey Godley, Josie Long, Pauline McLynn, Mike McShane, Paul Sinha.
They had some good moments - Richard Herring, Josie Lawrence, Helen Lederer, Tim Rice, Liza Tarbuck, Suki Webster.
About average - Pam Ayres, Charles Collingwood, Sheila Hancock, Tony Hawks, Shappi Khorsandi, Chris Neill.
Let's hear more of them - Julian Clary, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Fry, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, David Mitchell, Justin Moorhouse.
5th best - Graham Norton.
4th best - Gyles Brandreth.
Bronze medal - Sue Perkins.
Silver medal - Paul Merton.
Champion of the year - Clement Freud.

2008 - click here for full commentary.

They won't be back next year - Lynn Ferguson, Janey Godley, Shappi Khorsandi, Josie Lawrence, Liza Tarbuck.
They had some good moments - Chris Addison, Rhod Gilbert, Robin Ince, Ian McMillan,
Mike McShane, Owen O'Neill.
About average - Jack Dee, Dave Gorman, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Phill Jupitus, Fred MacAulay, Chris Neill.
Let's hear more of them - Gyles Brandreth, Marcus Brigstocke, Jenny Eclair, Clement Freud, Tony Hawks.
5th best - Ross Noble.
4th best - Julian Clary.
Bronze medal - Graham Norton.
Silver medal - Sue Perkins.
Champion of the year - Paul Merton.

2007 - click here for full commentary.

They won't be back next year - Jo Caulfield, Alun Cochrane, Maria McErlane, Pauline McLynn, Greg Proops.
They had some good moments - Jenny Eclair, Dave Gorman, Phill Jupitus, Maureen Lipman, Neil Mullarkey.
They're about average - Clement Freud, Tony Hawks, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Fred MacAulay, Dara O'Briain, Tim Rice.
Let's see more of them - Chris Addison, Pam Ayres, Janey Godley, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins.
5th best - Chris Neill.
4th best - Julian Clary.
Bronze medal - Gyles Brandreth
Silver medal - Marcus Brigstocke.
Champion of the year - Paul Merton.

perfect minutes

as noted below I was asked to pick some "perfect" minutes.

Here are some of my favourites - I'd love to read about yours!

No list could not start without a selection from the greatest of them all, Kenneth Williams...

On "emperors"

Many names spring to mind! I would mention Hadrian and Marcus Araelius, perhaps Allogabilus is an interesting example. He arrived in Rome, you know, on a dray, and had a lot of makeup on. The Senators are reputed to have made representations and indignant noises about this. But he held full sway and filled every post far and wide, Gall, Britain, Manorca, Majorca, all with posts with his favourite in charge. And I don't blame him because I mean if you've got a bit of authority, you might as well splash it about and say well, have a good time, I'm only here for a short while. Might as well enjoy it while we can. And I think when I look back on my own life, ah yes, Acton's dictum, all power corrupts, that is true...

On "the Omar Khiam"

Most of what England knows of Omar Khiam is of course the Rubiat, which comes by courtesy to us through the good work of Fitzgerald. How often these words reverberated through my mind! Myself when young did eagerly frequent and with askance foot steps, cards gathered on the grass, in my joyous errand reach the spot where I may once turn down and empty last. Oh moon of my delight that knows no way. Oh even to hear those again sends me into an ecstatic realm, and I think Omar Khiam, ah you old Persian nit, you were good when it came to writing the verse. Because in life he was completely misguided. And laid up for himself the most dreadful debts and was continually being asked...

on "parson's nose"

I have never actually eaten this part of the bird. But I understand it belongs to an unmentionable area. And though delectable, I am assured by those who have savoured of it, I remain in total ignorance. I realise of course that Parsons' nose could well be a reference to the patrician appendage on our chairman's face. And that feature which has earned him so much admiration from the ladies, and not to mention several actors I've seen hanging about and followed him all the way from Glasgow when he was as you know an apprentice shipwright. And never has lost his affection for Caledonia and all the traditions of that country which do not include...

on "the chair"

Well at all the council meetings I attend, you must defer to the chair. And at an AGM I am not likely to forget, there was a challenge by Dulcie Grey who rose and said "Mister Chairman, there is no paper in the ladies lavatory!" Then a cry went up "this is holding up the motion!" And on the other hand that the chair that I most adore is to be found in the home of Samuel Johnson in Market Square, Lichfield. I almost sat in it and an usher appeared, not allowed, I was told. So I had to stand back and simply admire, because the stability of that piece of furniture actually suggested the grandeur of...

on "Robert Houdin"

Yes well of course he means (spelled as he pronounces it) Robeer Houdarn. And ninety-old. I know little about that period anyway, shall we say. 1805 he was born and became an internationally famous prestigateur. Probably the only man of his ilk to be ordered by the Government of his country which was France, naturally as you'll have gathered by my pronounciation, to go and outdo the Maribouts which as you know were allegedly working soem sort of miracle. And saying "hey presto!" and up came a load of spectres or whatever you like to call on them, depending on your proclivities. I don't much approve of him. And when Orson Welles was forced to give an afternoon performance he remarked at the curtain "I would like..."


NP: What did he remark at the curtain?

KW: Well Orson said at the curtain call, as it was an afternoon performance and he hated giving them, he said at the curtain call "I would just like to mention Robert Houdin who in the 14th century invented the vanishing bird cage trick and the theatre matinee, may he rot and perish!"

On "genius"

Of course it's something that I am tremendously sympatico with, and always respond with enormous enthusiasm to whenever I encounter it, either in life itself or in history, literature, the plastic arts, painting. I mean these are things in which genius continuously manifests itself. And ennobles us, lifts us all in the process! Even as we gaze upon the incredible Michelangelo David statue we think "ooh how marvellous!" I mean he makes an ordinary person seem incredibly God like! And in those limbs we see the....

on "George Peabody"

He was the most probably famous in Baltimore philanthropist ever born and was of considerable benefit to this city when he arrived here in the 19th century. And of course by municipal housing did a considerable amount to improve the lot of residents of that kind of property. He interested himself in Keynes' expedition to the Antarctic and forked out to the tune of one and a half million which isn't bad when you come to think of it. And know that money would be worth far more then than it is now! He also loved this city which we're all living in now. And he chose never to return to North America or the city in that...

on "hauntings"

Haunting times, haunting tunes, haunting pictures, haunting ectoplasms. Oh yes what manifestations are there here? And I once saw a person manifesting themselves on the bacon counter. And I took aside the manager and said "have you seen that?" And he said "yes it only occurs at Ash Wednesdays usually, because you see, it's rumoured that the previous incumbent used to have a yen for streaky." And I said "what do you mean..." and then I repeated the word. I can't do it now, you know what I mean. And he said "well it took his fancy" and then did this terrible sort of slow wink. And it was a sort of walleye look, you know? I thought "well that's odd. I'm not coming back here because I don't want to feel that people around here with these strange proclivities..."

and a few others...

here's Sheila Hancock on "what I fancy"

It would take me much longer than 60 seconds to describe what I fancy actaully and anyway it wouldn’t be allowed. But instead of that I will say I would like to be by a river in my bathing costume with a bottle of champagne and a few sandwiches. Then I would like to plunge into the same water, swim around for a bit, find Kenneth Williams who I also fancy, sitting in his little bathing costume on the edge of the bank dabbling his tiny feet amongst the tadpoles, fishing with a little net. And then I would go off down the road and there would be Peter who I fancy and Derek whom I also fancy waiting to take me out to dinner because the aforesaid bread and jam hadn’t exactly filled me up. So we would then go to my favourite...

Paul Merton on "loans"

Whenever I'm short of money, I go into the sea and borrow some off a loan shark. These peculiar creatures carry great big wads of cash around with them. They are in fact known as the er money lenders of the sea. And when I'm down in this particular briney piece of water I see them swimming past with fivers sticking out of their spoutholes. But they don't have those of course, because I'm thinking of whales. It's something else entirely and everybody's going to carry on and let me talking now, so I'll just talk gibberish for the next minute and a half. Pears are my favourite fruit er because without a doubt there is something about a pear that I absolutely love. And if I haven't got enough money to buy a pear I will go down to the bank and I say "excuse me, can you give me a loan because I simply must have more of this particular fruit?" And they say "of course and here's a thousand pounds". And so I go down to the greengrocer and I say "look, I've got a thousand pounds" and he'll say "yeah it's a thousand pounds actually." And I say "how many pears have you got?" And he said "for that amount of money, you did say a thousand?" And I said "I did yeah". He said "I can give you, I can give you about 8000 pears for that because they are about um eight pounds each." I said "well that's not right, is it? Because I mean if they were eight pears a pound, they would be 8000." He said "all right," he said, "but I didn't do algebra at school and um, I'm very pleased that you've come here now to my shop because with this money I can have a holiday..."

Paul Merton on "flying saucers"

Well a flying saucer landed in my back garden about 19 years ago, and I got on it and went to the planet Venus. And it's true because I've got photographs here of me standing on that particular planet. And anybody who says that this is false can come outside and I'll give them a damn good fight! Because I was trapped on that particular orb in space for years! I tried, benee, speaking to the Venusians and said "look it's not my fault I'm here, I was kidnapped by one of your people." They said "it's got nothing to do with us, it could have been anybody they picked up. We had Winston Churchill about 30 years ago. And before that Sir Stanley Matthews, the wizard of the wing, spent a fortnight on this very surface." I thought well, I'm very proud to be in such august company. And they said "so you should be and all! What do you want for your dinner?" I said "well what have you got?" They said "well, we can offer you fish cakes if that's not too fantastic for you." I thought it's quite an extraordinary concept, the idea of eating that particular meal out here this far away from the Earth where I originally came from. They said "look do you want it or not?" I said "well fine". So at that point they produced a doner kebab which to my, to all intents and purposes was completely cold. I said "why is this not served up hot?" They said "we got it from a shop in Highgate and it's a long way away to bring it all the way from that particular part of North London to where we're standing now." I said "okay, I'll go along with that, what have you got to drink?" They said "well we've got Whatney's Red Barrel." I said "oh that is just too fantastic because nobody outside of the..."

Graham Norton on "the writing on the wall"

The writing on the wall is a very long way of saying graffiti. and I remember as a boy looking up and seeing scrawled on a flat surface along the side of a house "Kilroy was here". Oh sweet mystery of life, what did that mean? And how depressing it is to turn on the television and realise the orange thing is still with us! No past tense at all! His great arms like animated garden hoses flap about his head as he runs up and down steps forcing grown women to cry! It must be stopped! I feel that... The subject is the writing on the wall? And so it is said joined up can be difficult if there's a lot of stonework or masonry...

and finally the great man, Sir Clement Freud on "the best putdown I ever heard"

The best putdown I ever heard was exceedingly short, as are all good putdowns. And in a game in which you have to waffle for 60 seconds, and best being not a word that one can conditionalise in any way, I will have to give you the build-up to this putdown, in order that the short sentence with which I will end my speech may not be outside the rules of Just A Minute. It was a summer evening in Aberdeen. It was raining slightly and the mist was coming down from the hills. And at the banqueting hall in the Royal Station Hotel, the head waiter nudged the main speaker and said "functions are about to begin, it is up to you to open your mouth". And Mister Gladstone, who was there on this occasion, was introduced at such very great length by so boring a man that when he was finally told "and now we come to the Prime Minister to give his address", the aforementioned gentleman said "Ten Downing Street".


The current season of Clue finishes on Dec 19th and I am told The Unbelievable Truth will follow, meaning JAM won't be back now until February.

The TV shows are running after that series finishes in mid to late March.

The six shows in that season were recorded in September and November - I guess at least they have plenty of time for editing!

I can also pass on that Radio Four Extra is currently preparing a three hour long Just A Minute special. Nicholas Parsons is to introduce six specially chosen JAMs with the extra time filled in with some specially chosen rounds of uninterrupted minutes. The BBC asked me to choose some favourites which I was happy to do, and I'll post them in a moment.

December 05, 2011

TV series

Just finished a long conversation with Andy Brereton who is producing the Just A Minute TV series – we talked for 48 minutes!

I will try and write up something in the next day or so.

But I think there are two key messages – one is he feels the recordings went very very well and the show is a success. And secondly they have really tried very very hard to make shows that reflected the radio version – no mystery objects or regional teams this time.

As I say, more to come.