Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

March 31, 2012

A twitter exchange :)

Josie Lawrence‏@josielawrence1
Thanks for the lovely comments about Just A Minute. Love doing that show & sitting next to my chum Paul made it all the more special.

Dean Bedford‏@DeanJBedford
@josielawrence1 you're great on JAM - loved yr two recent radio editions of JAM

Josie Lawrence‏@josielawrence1
@DeanJBedford Thank you Dean. Love your JAM blogs. x

my thoughts on the first week

I meant to write something each day about each TV edition of Just A Minute this week but long hours at work and the time involved in updating the site every day got in the way. So here I am at the end of the week trying to sum up the week.

The programmes have, in my opinion, been a huge success. Each was different but each was very funny.

the first show with Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins and Phill Jupitus was possibly the best, all being in great form. Graham's visual antics added to things and Phill Jupitus also made the most of the cameras as an experienced TV panel game panellist. Sue was very funny.

The second show was almost as good. Russell Tovey never really got into it though he seemed to be enjoying it. Julian Clary is a player who has really improved over the past few years as he has got more experienced at it. This was one of his very best appearances and he more than most knew how to play to the cameras. Stephen Fry was good too if a little less dominant than usual.

the third show with Paul, Sue, Marcus Brigstocke and Ruth Jones was really good too. Marcus is a true champ at the game - the successor to Paul if Mr Merton decided to retire. Ruth Jones didn't appeal as a future star but was good enough.

the fourth show with Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Liza Tarbuck and Miles Jupp was probably Paul's best show of the week - I think he likes playing with Gyles who seems to bring out the best in him. Gyles I've written about a bit recently - I think he too just gets better and better, and it's really good to have such a good contrast with Paul. Miles Jupp too just fits in and will get better. Liza wasn't in her best form. Gyles did the "long-lost son" routine that he did in Edinburgh with Russell Kane, but Miles seemed to play up to it more than Russell did. I don't know Miles all that well but I very much like what I see.

And today, the gorgeous Josie Lawrence, with newcomer Jason Manford and the unique John Sergeant. John certainly adds something different and I thought he was rather good for that reason. Jason was pretty good for a new boy but Paul and Josie held the show together. I think Josie should be doing the show more often than she does.

Some overall thoughts - the set is very intimate and close to the audience which is good for Just A Minute. Remember the 1999 set where the players seemed to be a long way apart? That mistake was not repeated. The direction has been very good - I like the slow pan they often use and they seem to have caught the best reactions. Someone in the comments here was worried it might be too jerky - I don't feel that, but I guess we will have to see if he still feels that way. The audience feel more involved than in most panel games. That's good too - the audience is very much part of the Just A Minute experience.

Paul has been tremendous. I wondered if he might feel the need to dominate as he did in the early 2000s given that he is the regular, but he doesn't seem to. He has been good though at intervening at the right moment. I am still waiting though for a true genius Paul surreal monologue moment. Maybe next week.

Nicholas. I was worried that Nicholas might seem and look old. He could be forgiven for doing so at age 88. And I felt in 1999 in particular that he hammed it up a bit much, perhaps in an effort to hold some of those train wrecks of shows together. But here he is, looking and sounding great, not overdoing things, moving things on and just generally being great. Perhaps he has been helped by editing to a degree, but he has certainly proven yet again that he is going to be just about impossible to replace.

This week has been very very good and Andy Brereton, Jamie Ormerod, Richard van't Riet, Tilusha Ghelani and Malcolm Messiter should be standing up to take a bow. The show works. It's funny. The production, direction and set are first-rate. The addition of SEEING the players interact does add something.

I will make one amusing criticism - the credits for the fifth show list "John Sargeant". Hmmmmmm. And at the end of the first show, Nicholas got up and gestured to the audience to applaud. He does this at the end of the radio shows where it's fine, but in close-up it looks sorta creepy as he seems to leer at the camera.

The reaction from the fans has been overwhelmingly positive. Most seem to think it has been a lot better than feared. Of course not everyone feels this way. Take for example Mark Lawson writing in The Guardian.

Just a Minute needs a format deviation to succeed on TV
The Radio 4 show is currently airing on BBC2. But it needs more than some snazzy shirts and gurning guests to make it a good watch as well as a good listen

Because of an understandable fear of distraction, televisions are banned from being installed in the front of cars. If an exception were ever made, it would have to involve a TV show that can be experienced as radio, with no temptation to look. And a test case for an exception to the Highway Code may already be with us: the TV versions of Just a Minute. These editions of the wireless perennial are being broadcast on BBC2 to mark the 45th anniversary, and last night's second episode confirmed the uncertainties raised by Monday's first.
Television and radio – sibling media – have intermittently been tempted by incest: before breakfast television reached the UK in 1983, there was an interim experiment in which cameras were placed in the studios of Radio 4's Today programme. Regarded as a bizarre and failed hybrid, this concept proved to be ahead of its time, as the convergence of media created by online technology has created demand for radio with pictures: webcams are now standard studio equipment and Evan Davis's business show The Bottom Line and the final countdown on Radio 1's Chart Show with Reggie Yates can be seen as well as heard.
These televised editions of Just a Minute, though, are yet another evolution – or deformity – of the wireless-screen beast. These 10 episodes are supposedly for our eyes only, distinct from the runs being done on Radio 4 – but the format has not been tailored to the audience's extra available sense, in the manner of earlier transfers such as Little Britain and I've Never Seen Star Wars.
"After 45 years on radio, we've finally been allowed to deviate on to your TV screens," declared presenter Nicholas Parsons, but was slightly deviating from the facts himself as, in the 1990s, he was involved in three screen versions of the series, for both ITV and the BBC. The fact that he had either forgotten – or was gambling on viewers having done so – can be taken as evidence of the difficulty of making this series stick on screen.
Whereas The Bottom Line effectively just films the radio format, these viewable JAMs were staged in a TV studio, with make-up, wardrobe and set design staff listed in the credits, although the latter didn't stray from the Have I Got News For You model, with Parsons at a central desk between two pairs of celebrities.
This arrangement proved to be the biggest grammatical howler. Employed so often for panel games featuring teams – Have I Got News For You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks — the 2-1-2 formation sets up the expectation that the duos are on the same side, creating a jolt when, as in JAM, they are all against each other.
And that was not the only nod towards HIGNFY. Merton, although a regular on the radio Just a Minute, has spent 22 years sitting at the right side of our TV screens satirising headlines. Though the producers have acknowledged this by moving him to the left, this didn't put enough distance between the formats, constantly reminding us of why the other franchise has picture and film rounds.
The same point was made by Parsons's unwise continuation of his catchphrase "good listening". Just a Minute is perfect radio because it is entirely verbal, awarding auditory attention. But the only obvious acknowledgement to the fact that the show was visual as well, was in the clothes (Parsons and Merton in migraine-inducing shirts or jackets), and the selection of guests celebrated with a good line in facial expressions: not only Merton but Julian Clary and Phill Jupitus as well.
To be able to view the gurning was a gain, as was the pleasure in an 88-year-old presenter being retained rather than replaced by a young comedian: age discrimination victor Miriam O'Reilly, though no longer at the BBC, may have more influence than the DG. The accounting sheet, though, is largely losses: it's far more obvious when (as in programme two) are all blokes or one guest dominates, and the challenges are somehow more boring when you can immediately see who's making them.
Revealingly, the cameras frequently seemed unsure where to look before settling, by programme two, on a favourite two-shot, with Merton in the foreground reacting to a neighbour's monologue. It was a mistake to go, without much apparent hesitation, for repetition of the wireless format. The television Just a Minute was, as Parsons so often remarked, good listening.

Now Mark Lawson is a clever writer. This however isn't his best work.

There's a clue perhaps in the way the piece is headlined and introed by the Guardian's sub-editor. This person seems to think Lawson wants format changes. But if Lawson feels that way, he certainly doesn't get round to making any suggestions as to what changes he would like to see. My reading is that Lawson isn't arguing for format changes, but arguing that the format doesn't work on TV. But the confusion is understandable because Lawson never really gets round to making a serious critique.

Are we really expected to believe that people will be confused by the seating plan? Does Lawson suggest that the show would have worked better if the panellists were lined up together with Parsons on one side. Or is it suggested that he be sitting opposite them? Or floating above them perhaps? There are plenty of panel shows where people don't play in teams - QI, Whose Line Is It Anyway, What's My Line, Would You Rather, Big Ask. Anyone who thought Just A Minute looked like a team game would quickly have learnt it wasn't. After that, I doubt they would have given it another thought.

Lawson's only other point seems to be that Just A Minute's success is aural alone. In so far as radio involves just the one sense, we know what he means. But that doesn't mean the show can't work as a TV show. Is Lawson unaware that the TV screens are full of chat and talk shows? The basis of the success of these shows, shows like Oprah, The View, Parkinson and so on is not that the shows are visually spectacular, it's that people will watch interesting conversation on TV. Although Have I Got News For you does have a film segment, 90 percent of it would work perfectly well on radio - they even released audio CDs of it. Plenty of other TV panel shows have next to no visual elements - think of QI and Would I Lie To You, probably the two most succesful game shows currently. Here's something Lawson might like to think about - watching people talk and interact can be interesting in itself. It doesn't need something more than that - as I suspect he knows, given his failure to make a suggestion for a format change.

Just A Minute will work on TV if the show is funny and the players interact well. I think the first week proves that. We look forward to more from Nicholas, Paul, Sue, Tony Hawks, Shappi Khorsandi, Graham, Gyles, Julian, Liza, Stephen, Marcus, Jason, Hugh Bonneville and Stephen Mangan in the week ahead.


One of the stats I keep is the number of times, each subject has popped up - you can see the entire list here. On Monday the radio edition included the subject "tongue twisters". This was the 7th time that subject had popped up, putting it alone in second place to "magic". But then the TV edition also included this subject! So "magic" and "tongue twisters" are now first equal, with eight times each.

And Josie Lawrence tweeted another statistical oddity - that the TV edition she appeared on this week was the first time she had sat beside her "chum" Paul Merton. Surprising that!

and five

March 30, 2012

three and four

March 28, 2012

second TV edition

Julian Clary, Stephen Fry and Russell Tovey join Nicholas and Paul

March 27, 2012

JAM on TV - first of the new series

Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins and Phill Jupitus join Nicholas

Paul Merton and Graham Norton

I've often wondered why Paul has never appeared on Graham's chat shows, and Graham has never done Have I Got News For You or Room 101. Well, Paul has now been interviewed very amiably by Graham on his radio show. It's a friendly, funny chat.

The podcast will be up for just a few days but you can find it here. The chat starts at about 2-30. Very very good.

nice interview with Paul Merton

in the Scottish paper The Daily Record

Comic Paul Merton reveals his return to stand-up will be a terrifying experience
Mar 26 2012 Exclusive by Rick Fulton
PAUL Merton is renowned on Have I Got News for You as the cool-as-a-cucumber comic that never gets rattled and always comes back with a dry laser-guided joke.
But he’s terrified returning to stand-up for the first time in 13 years as part of a new scripted tour opening in Scotland.
For Paul, who considers Edinburgh his second home, it’s not the stand-up or the audience that’s worrying him, it’s the fact he’s got to stick to a script.
For over a decade Paul’s live performances have been improvisation with his Edinburgh Fringe-regulars Impro Chums.
He said: “But I’m enjoying being terrified. There are certain visual effects in the new show and we didn’t have the chance to run those until a couple of hours before our first show in Margate, and that was a pretty terrifying time.
“At that moment I was thinking ‘why am I not doing an impro show and instead I’m walking out and asking, ‘can we have a household object?’ Why am I putting myself through this?
“In a strange way ­improvisation is absolutely worry-free, as long as you can stand there and do it and it doesn’t terrify you to the very boots of your soul.
“People think it’s hard to get on stage and be funny but there’s nothing to be worried about as long as you’re sober and you are with good people.”
Joining Paul for the 50-date Out Of My Head tour are Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch, and his third wife Suki Webster.
Paul’s first wife was Caroline Quentin and he then married Sarah Parkinson, who tragically died of breast cancer in 2003.
For Paul, working with his wife Suki is bliss.
He said: “If I was travelling doing a 50-date tour on my own I’d be getting home at 3am with the other half asleep and then going off to somewhere else in the morning again.
“However, if you are together you enjoy doing shows together, then there’s the socialising. Enjoying a glass of red wine and unwinding and having shared experiences about the show.
“So far you are speaking to a man that’s full of enthusiasm.
“But 30 dates from now, it might be Merton goes mental.”
The 54-year-old, from London, is one of our greatest comedians.
His surreal wit has been a vibrant part of comedy life since 1982 and he is a mainstay of Have I Got New for You on the telly and Just a Minute on the radio.
Next Monday he and Nicholas Parsons will take much-loved panel game, where players must speak for one minute on any subject asked of them, on to TV to celebrate its 45th anniversary.
For two weeks it will screen every weekday night on BBC2, with guests including Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and Julian Clary.
Paul said: “I’m shocked that it’s knocked Eggheads off the TV schedules, which is unheard of.
“So instead of them being on at 6pm we are going to be.”
But he doesn’t see Just a Minute staying on the telly.
He said: “I think it’s just for the 45th anniversary. It’s great on the radio and hopefully the devotees of the radio show won’t dislike it that much.”
It seems Paul is hardly off the telly. He’s had a highly successful stint as a presenter with documentaries on early Hollywood and travel documentaries where he visited China, India and Europe.
He describes Edinburgh as a “home-from-home” and he’s spent the last eight years performing a show at the Fringe.
He said: “I relish the chance to go to Edinburgh and not have to worry about putting up posters because people know who I am.
“There is a joy of going to Edinburgh now, without the attendant anxiety that I had in the early days when you had no money, didn’t know where anything was and had to walk everywhere.
“I remember I had no money to stay at a B&B so I had to wait in Waverley for six hours for the late train to London sitting against a wall. You can only do that when you’re young.”
Having been a key member of the country’s most famous improvisational troupe, The Comedy Store Players, since its formation in 1985, Paul relishes performing on stage.
He said: “I get such a buzz from performing live. It’s just the best rush in the world, better than anything else you can think of.
“It’s so inspiring. You just ride the wave of laughter, and then you might come up with something equally funny.
“Ralph Richardson used to talk about pushing a huge ball up a hill to the point where it suddenly gains momentum and starts rolling down the other side.
“That’s what live comedy is like. The only snag is, you have to do it while trying to look totally chilled.”
Paul stays “in the zone” by performing every week with The Comedy Store Players.
Hev said: “That feeds into everything else I do. When Have I Got News for You comes around, I don’t think, ‘Oh no, I’m a bit rusty’.
“Doing The Comedy Store Players every Sunday, you’re match fit all the time. It’s a performance muscle.
“If it’s not getting flexed, it gets flabby. That’s why people who haven’t been on stage for a while struggle when they go back to the theatre because it’s a completely different discipline.”
Paul has a very good memory for jokes. But because of that he doesn’t watch contemporary comedians like Kevin Bridges in case he hears one of their jokes, stores it away and then six months down the line repeats it on Have I Got News for You.
He said: “In the last six months someone accused me of stealing one of their jokes.
“He was still on the cabaret circuit and I pointed out that the last gig I’d done with him was in 1998.
“And he said ‘yes’.
“I thought at the time the joke was kind of similar and maybe subconsciously I’d used it, but I’m not interested in doing other people’s jokes.”
Out Of My Head will cover a variety of themes, with the overriding one being imagination. Paul said: “I went to a Catholic school. When I was 10, I wrote an essay that the nun who was teaching me really didn’t like as it was imaginative.
“According to her, if you wrote something untrue, then it was a problem.
“For years I hated that nun, but now I realise that experience was very good for me.
“Imagination has built my entire career. This is a celebration of it.”

JAM in the press

A series of articles about JAM in the papers to mark the start of the TV series

In the Radio Times

Nicholas Parsons on the success of Just a Minute
Eddie Mair talks to the panel show host about 45 years of radio success, and the new TV version of the programme
I travel with Nicholas Parsons almost every day. Having discovered recently that much of the back catalogue of Just a Minute can be downloaded, most of my journeys are
enlivened by Nicholas and his chums in my earphones, trying not to repeat, hesitate or deviate. I’ve worked my way from the earliest recordings where it’s all rather sedate and everyone talks like royalty, to the Best of 2010 in which razor-sharp wits like Paul Merton and Sue Perkins battle over every stumble.
This strange obsession has allowed me to crunch entire decades into a few months and to appreciate more than I did the skill of Nicholas Parsons as chairman. His tweaking of the format has kept the show fresh and fast-moving. His guiding hand encourages nervous first-timers to find their feet. And his willingness to be the butt of jokes affords comic flights of fancy.
When we meet, Nicholas hasn’t yet seen the TV shows that have been recorded but “I gather they’re very pleased with it”. Previous attempts at making the radio hit a TV smash have failed – “They messed it up” – but this time they’re using the Just a Minute radio producer Tilusha Ghalani and two television people Nicholas describes as brilliant: Andy Brereton and Jamie Ormerod. They said, ‘We’re going to do what you did on the radio. We want your input, we want your advice.’” And so, perhaps this time, a TV star is born.
By following Nicholas’s advice, Just a Minute has stayed on air – sometimes in the face of opposition from programme regulars.
“Clement Freud was always a bit narky and in his autobiography criticised me because he wanted to keep it the way it had started – a very sort of gentle, intellectual show where people like him and others would show off their knowledge and erudition. And I maintain if we’d gone down that route we would have gone the same way as My Music and My Word. Excellent shows – but of their time. They had their sell-by date.”
In his book, Nicholas Parsons: With Just a Touch of Hesitation, Repetition and Deviation, he wrote of having huge admiration and respect for Sir Clement. Isn’t that the sort of thing people say when they’re trying not to say someone was hard to like?
“Well that’s a good phrase – he was hard to like. I did have huge admiration and respect for him. He was at school with me. I worked for him at his Royal Court Theatre Club on many occasions. We used to go to parties at his house, so I did have a genuine affection for the fellow. Latterly he got a bit crabbit.”
We agree that’s a good Scots word. “I think he resented the way I ran Just a Minute, because he wanted to run it in the old-fashioned way. A certain antagonism crept in but that didn’t damage the appreciation or respect. I genuinely liked him, but he wasn’t easy.”
In the old recordings Clement often came under fire from Wendy Richard, who hated his habit of creating lists to fill the minute. Did they rub each other up the wrong way? “Oh God, yes,” says Nicholas adding that Richard was a lovely woman but she’d morphed into Pauline Fowler.
“It was very sad about Wendy because I knew her from when she was a youngster. Some of her first work was in The Arthur Haynes Show (on TV in the 1950s, with Parsons as Arthur’s straight man) and I used to drive her back into London from Elstree. She was always a feisty lady – a real character.
“I was very fond of her but she used to look miserable in Just a Minute. And if you’re doing an audience show you’ve got to look as if you’re enjoying yourself. She’d say to me, ‘Nicholas, why aren’t I back doing that show? You know I love doing it and I think I’m quite good.’ And I’d say, ‘Wendy you’re marvellous and I’ve suggested you should come back.’ But I couldn’t say to her, ‘Darling – chill out a bit. Enjoy it.’ ”
He gets away with calling a lot of women “darling” – and flirting with them. “Yes I love the ladies. It’s a natural thing. A bit theatrical really. But I call a lot of people in private life ‘darling’ because they are darlings. I know women who are not darlings and I don’t call them darlings. I only say it to people who are darlings to me.”
If his use of "darling" is a little old-fashioned, why not? Nicholas is a little... old. Twice he broaches the subject of age without me bringing it up and I wonder, given the recent fuss about BBC ageism, what he thinks about oldies being tossed out in favour of younger people.
“I feel very strongly it should be based on talent. Sometimes people get older and they age more rapidly than other people. If you’ve got the talent for the job they should go on employing you. And you don’t bring in someone new because they’re younger. You bring in someone different because they’ve got a different talent or a different perspective.”
Players of Just a Minute often mock his age, and he doesn’t mind. “Nowadays if you’re making jokes, you don’t make jokes which are sexist, racist or about disability, but you can make as many jokes about age as you want.”
Listening to decades of Just a Minute recordings, you can HEAR Peter Jones and Clement Freud getting older, but Nicholas Parsons’s timbre and vitality don’t seem to have changed much since the 1970s. I tell him that I don’t want to know how old he is, or print his age. “Just put ‘he’s an advanced age’. I do feel a sensitivity about age because I think they feel that if you’ve reached a certain age...”
But not even Nicholas Parsons can go on forever. When he dies, what should they do with the show. “Oh God, I didn’t think about that. I mean I hope the show will continue. Of course they’ll find a replacement.” I ask whether he has anyone in mind and he replies, “No and I don’t like to think about it.”
I start laughing. “Don’t give them suggestions?”
Nicholas replies “No! No! No! Thank you Eddie for that!”

from The Telegraph

Here’s an interesting topic on which to speak for 60 seconds without hesitation, deviation or repetition: how old is Nicholas Parsons?
“Well, let’s see, he’s been presenting Just a Minute since it began in 1967, so that would make him at least 70, if not 80, and, er…”
Beep! Hesitation. Yes, correct challenge: over to you, Paul Merton.
The answer is that Parsons is a remarkable 88 – not that you’d guess it from listening to his avuncular tones or spending a charming hour in his company. On the radio, his commanding voice belongs to a man half his age. And while he appears a little more frail in person, he still looks young enough to be Sir Bruce Forsyth’s grandson. At the beginning of our interview, I was determined to challenge him to a quick game of Just a Minute; by the end, my nerve had failed as one fluent anecdote after another proved that he’d wipe the floor with me.
Remarkably, Parsons has never missed a show in its 45-year history – though he came close once when he got stuck in a lift en route to the studio. But if you’ve somehow escaped him over the last half century, you’ll be hard pushed to avoid him in the next month. To celebrate the show’s anniversary, the BBC has commissioned a 90-minute history on Radio 4 Extra, two special editions broadcast from India and a radio documentary about the Jam (Just a Minute) competition in Bangalore.
Jam clubs, each with their own elaborate versions of the rules, sprang up all over India when the show used to be broadcast on the World Service. “The trip was organised chaos,” laughs Parsons, who enjoyed being asked for his autograph wherever he went. “But I had a lovely fortnight. I love them; they’re absolutely adorable.”
Starting today, there will also be 10 televised episodes on BBC Two, featuring such stalwarts as Paul Merton, Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and Sue Perkins, as well as novices like Hugh Bonneville.
Will a format that focuses so closely on the spoken word work on television? After all, it wasn’t a success the last time they tried, in the Nineties. Parsons has no concerns. “Television people can be a bit condescending towards radio,” he says. “Once you change something that has been proved, you mess it about. It didn’t work. But the producer and director [this time] have been wonderful – they’ve stuck religiously to the radio format.”
That format has barely changed over the decades, remaining faithful to the vision of Ian Messiter, the show’s creator, whose daydreaming as a 13-year-old schoolboy at Sherborne was rudely interrupted by a master bellowing at him to repeat what he had been saying for the last minute “without hesitation or repetition”. When Messiter failed, he was caned in front of the class (although he wisely chose to substitute this element for “deviation” on the radio show).
And yet the series almost didn’t happen after a poorly received and overly complicated pilot in 1967. “It was too bitty,” admits Parsons. “They had rounds where you couldn’t use the definitive article. And another where you couldn’t use plurals. Derek Nimmo and Clement Freud were quite good; the other two [Wilma Ewart and Beryl Reid] were not. I was struggling a bit as well.”
Parsons was meant to have been a panellist originally, but stepped in to cover for the comic genius Jimmy Edwards, who was unavailable. His chairmanship, however, was one of the few things the BBC brass liked about the pilot. The rules were simplified to the version we know today, a series was commissioned and Parsons was stuck with the role for the next 45 years.
He’s been on the panel a few times for special broadcasts – “I did pretty well, actually” – but he’s happiest in the presenter’s chair. “It’s a very difficult game to play,” he says. “Every now and again, we have people who’ve never done it before and they struggle.”
What’s more, the pace has picked up with an infusion of younger stand-up comedians. “Clement Freud [a panellist from 1967 until his death in 2009] would have liked to have kept it as a gentle parlour game,” he says. “I knew that if it was going to achieve longevity, we’d have to sharpen it up.
“People ask me what is the essence of its success. And I say it’s just having fun – a lot of intelligent, grown-up people fooling around and having a fun evening. The more fun we generate, the more it’s communicated to the audience, and to the listener.”
Much of the show’s enjoyment, he argues, is derived from the fact that it’s improvised. While heavily edited shows such as Have I Got News For You have a host with carefully scripted gags, only five minutes of fat are trimmed from each half-hour recording of Just a Minute.
It certainly keeps Parsons on his toes; he claims his memory is so good that he’s never made a mistake over a challenge. “Before a show I find myself thinking, 'this has worked before, but will it work again?’” he says. “But then you go out there, the audience greets you, and, like an old pro, something clicks in.”
Parsons, the St Paul’s-educated son of a Lincolnshire GP who is thought to have delivered Baroness Thatcher, defied his parents by pursuing a career in the theatre. He spent five years, from the age of 16, doing an engineering apprenticeship in the Glaswgow shipyards but, despite his mother’s fears that he would end up as an “alcoholic pervert in the gutter”, then soberly trod the boards in repertory, landed a lead role in the West End in Boeing Boeing and became a household name in the Sixties through his comedy act with Arthur Haynes, and in the Seventies with his quiz show Sale of the Century.
Today, he seems to work just as hard as he did then, taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival for the 12th successive year and performing numerous after-dinner speaking duties. Wonderfully, he describes hosting Just a Minute as “the most stimulating job I’ve got”.
And while this octogenarian portfolio worker speaks, predictably, of being “lucky and thrilled to be associated with such an iconic show”, he obviously means it; he is visibly excited when sharing an anecdote about a 13-year-old boy telling him that they played Just a Minute at school, the boy assuming the role of Parsons.
Will he ever retire, to spend more time in his beloved garden, with his family (he and his wife Annie have been married for 17 years; he has two children from his first marriage and multiple grandchildren) – or on the golf course?
“I can’t see any point,” he says. “I’m in a profession which retires you. Once you can’t hack it, the audience spot it soon enough. As long as I can still do it, and the public wants to see me, I’ll go on doing it. It helps to keep me young.”
There was a minor storm last week when Parsons was reported to have said that the elderly were the last acceptable butt of jokes. “No, no,” he cries. “I don’t resent jokes about age. You only make a joke if you think they’ll laugh with you. In a way, it’s a compliment.”
What Nicholas Parsons really means is he doesn’t think of himself as old at all. And he’s right. Let’s hope he continues on the airwaves for many minutes more.

from The Telegraph

Just A Minute: the latest cult radio show set to be a TV hit – after just 45 years
Gillian Reynolds on long-running radio classic Just A Minute, as it arrives on teatime TV, still fronted by Nicholas Parsons and with a host of big-name stars rising to the challenge.
Have you tried speaking on one subject for 60 seconds, without repetition, hesitation or deviation? It’s harder than you think, rather like eating two cream crackers in one minute or rubbing your belly while patting your head. Cracker eating and belly rubbing have never, however, made it in to the big time, whereas Just A Minute is now in its 45th year as a radio favourite, and enters a parallel television existence every day next week at 6.00pm on BBC Two.
Some of the radio regulars will appear, Paul Merton for one. Nicholas Parsons will chair. Liam Keelan, Controller of BBC Daytime, commissioned the new TV series, and is “absolutely thrilled to be bringing this much-loved radio classic to screen in celebration of its 45th birthday”. Derek McLean, BBC TV’s Entertainment Creative Director, cites its “huge success” on Comic Relief last year.
Why do they seem so surprised? Just A Minute has done TV before. The BBC tried pilot shows in 1969 and again in 1981. Carlton TV, London’s former ITV contractor, broadcast 14 episodes in 1994, another 14 the next year, all chaired by Parsons. The BBC televised it in 1999, 20 episodes, chaired by Parsons again, panellists including Pam Ayres, Brian Sewell and Barry Cryer.
BBC TV has often shown a sniffy attitude to adapting radio shows, as if being asked to wear second-hand shoes. It turned down Radio 4’s Up the Garden Path, which became an ITV success, and Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which triumphed on Channel 4 and took America by storm. When they do try radio formats, there’s often a fatal urge to overcomplicate or coarsen them out of existence, as with Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
But this isn’t any old radio programme. It is a classic. It began when Ian Messiter, its inventor, was at school. Caught daydreaming, he was challenged to repeat everything his teacher had just said, without hesitation or repetition. Messiter failed, was caned for it. No wonder the idea stuck.
After joining BBC radio in 1942, he developed it into One Minute Please in the 1950s. Chaired by Roy Plomley, it ran for six years.Rediscovered in 1967, its new producer, David Hatch, wanted comedian Jimmy Edwards as chairman. Edwards declined. Enter Nicholas Parsons, jobbing actor, quick of wit, even of temper, brilliant straight man.
He has now been with the show so long that panel members make fun of his age. They should be so lucky. After Hatch (who later became BBC Radio’s Managing Director) Parsons has had a dozen producers, including Simon Brett, writer of the Charles Paris mysteries and After Henry, and John Lloyd, creator of Radio 4’s The News Quiz, producer of Spitting Image for ITV and Blackadder for BBC TV.
Tilusha Ghelani has been at the helm since 2007. She’s also associate producer of the TV series, and is pleased with it. It was recorded at London’s Television Centre, with an audience as in radio. That’s unusual for daytime TV.
I asked her if it’s different from the radio version? “No! Nicholas and Paul Merton wanted to be faithful to the radio version. And they were. Except for a few little things, like no whistle blower. That looks a bit odd on TV.”
Ghelani worked on the TV shows in tandem with the current radio series. The latter, which was broadcast on BBC World Service radio, now has proof of its international appeal. Two of its episodes were recorded in India at a JAM festival, where students play their own version of Just A Minute. These shows, aired on Radio 4 on March 19 and 26, have a Mumbai audience and Indian panellists alongside the regulars.
Ghelani and Parsons have also made a Radio 4 documentary about the JAM phenomenon, to be broadcast on April 2. “It was Nicholas who heard of the JAM festivals. He is so generous as chairman, so caring with newcomers.”
Newcomers to next week’s TV shows include Stephen Mangan, Ruth Jones and Jason Manford, alongside such regulars as Sue Perkins, Graham Norton and Gyles Brandreth. Other major stars who have been lined up to appear in this new incarnation include Downton’s Hugh Bonneville, panel show favourites Stephen Fry and Phill Jupitus, and comedians ranging from Shappi Khorsandi to Julian Clary.
Of course, Just A Minute has never struggled to pull in big names. The list of panellists over the years is a roll call of British humorists, from Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud and Kenneth Williams to Sheila Hancock, Josie Lawrence and Paul Merton Merton actually got on by writing in, asking to appear. And guess who made sure he did? Nicholas Parsons.

March 26, 2012

Tim Rice .... errrrr.... sings

the old and the new

I recently went on some long car journeys and spent a fair chunk of time listening to the JAM CDs, especially the Classic series including the relatively recent Collection. It's interesting to hear an old show and then a new one.

This will be a controversial statement perhaps but I have a feeling the older shows are better, funnier. In their different ways Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo and Clement Freud are all very funny but it is Kenneth Williams who provides the high points. It is a wonderful thing that we have so many of these old shows around to enjoy.

We've been together now for 45 years

Nicholas Parsons has been in the news complaining in his nice way about jokes about the aged being the last politically safe jokes. I'm not sure that this is true really. Nicholas turns 89 this year and is now at an age when it is truly amazing that he continues to be as busy as he is. He does now look a little frail, but his voice in no way sounds like that of an 88 year old, still clear and strong.

He has said recently he hopes to do 1000 editions of Just A Minute. He is currently on 829 - he needs to last another seven or eight years to get to 1000. I suppose one can't count him out as he seems to have had no health problems of any significance, but it will certainly be exceptional if he is still presenting the show in his late 90s.

I see some talk about a knighthood for him and I think he deserves it.

But while we are talking about 45 years, two points of interest. The 35th anniversary was celebrated in December 2002/January 2003. The 40th anniversary was celebrated in December 2007/January 2008. Aren't we celebrating the 45th anniversary a year early? (To be fair I should note that the 25th anniversary was celebrated in early 1992.)

Also the BBC has done more on the 45th anniversary than it did at 25, 30, 35 or 40. (It did nothing at all at 30.) Is 45 special in Britain? What will it do for the 50th anniversary?

Or could it be that a fuss is being made now because of a suspicion the show won't make it to 50?

Without Hesitation and India special

The three hour Without Hesitation special on Radio Four last week was exceptionally well done. For those who missed it, it featured five shows in their entirety, with extensive clips from two others, some other features such as some perfect minutes, some different versions of the Minute Waltz, a few comments from David Hatch and Paul Merton, and linked by Nicholas Parsons. The shows included either in part or in their entirety featured Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Derek Nimmo, Kenneth Williams, Peter Jones, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock, Graham Norton, Linda Smith, Julian Clary, Stephen Fry, Wilma Ewart, Bob Monkhouse and Beryl Reid.

It made me think that this sort of format could work at least a few more times. I wouldn't mind hearing Paul reminisce about the show for example. In this show he picked Peter Jones as his favourite of the "original" gang of four - I would have liked him to tell us why and to analyse Kenneth and Derek's style (we have heard him at length on Clement). Tony Hawks too would be interesting - I thought his comment on how intimidating it was to debut on the show on The One Show was revealing. And wouldn't it be illuminating to hear Sheila Hancock, Tim Rice and Gyles Brandreth comparing the old days and the new.

I do love Nicholas but I think we have now heard just about everything he has to say about JAM.

Anyway well done to the team involved.

I also really liked the first of the Mumbai shows. It's always a bit of a gamble to have two newcomers on the show but Cyrus Broacha and Anuvab Pal both did well and held their ends up. They were both witty and competitive and it was a very competitive show even though Paul and Marcus Brigstocke are the best players of the game itself of the current generation. I thought Cyrus was the better of the two and he would surely get another call-up if he was living in the UK.

One interesting aspect was the rowdiness of the crowd which certainly added to the atmosphere. I'm not sure if it was in fact the crowd that was louder than a British crowd, or just the way the show was recorded. But in any event, the show worked very well.

Today the fans get two shows, one on TV at 6, one of the radio at 630. We will look forward to two very good shows. Certainly JAM's first trip overseas was a huge success. We now look forward to the team's first trip to New Zealand.

Sticky Moments

Back in the late 80s my first sighting of Julian Clary was on the cult classic Sticky Moments. A take-off of the game show format, the programme broke new ground in many ways, especially with the reversal of the view that homosexuality was something to be pitied. A running joke had Julian commiserating with pianist Russell Churney about his heterosexuality.

The double entendres and general naughtiness has been much copied since, especially by Graham Norton in the early days of his chat show, and it doesn't seem quite as daring today as it did at the time. But at the time it was a revelation. In New Zealand, it was only a couple of years after homosexual sex was decriminalised and to that point gay people on TV were closetted characters where their sexuality was implied rather than explicit such as Mr Humphries on Are You Being Served. It was a breath of fresh air to see someone revelling in their sexuality as Julian does.

For JAM fans, the programme was conceived by Julian, but principally by Paul Merton. I think this was the first TV show he was heavily involved in.

I mention all this because most of the shows have turned up on YouTube and they are still deliciously funny. This show here features Nicholas Parsons as guest and although JAM is not mentioned it's surely not coincidental that the pianist plays The Minute Waltz.

All the shows can be viewed here. Funny stuff and dare I say, still the best thing that Julian has done in his career in my opinion.

March 23, 2012

JAM on The One Show

Here's Nicholas Parsons, Tony Hawks and Gyles Brandreth promoting the JAM TV series on The One Show

March 17, 2012

looking ahead

I can't recall as much interest before in Just A Minute as the debut of the latest TV version gets nearer - it is confirmed as March 26th at 6pm on BBC2 by the way.

The British Comedy Guide says this is the schedule for the two weeks...

Monday 26 March - Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins and Phill Jupitus with Nicholas Parsons
Tuesday 27 March - Paul, Julian Clary, Stephen Fry and Russell Tovey with Nicholas
Wednesday 28 March - Paul, Sue, Marcus Brigstocke and Ruth Jones with Nicholas
Thursday 29 March - Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Liza Tarbuck and Miles Jupp with Nicholas
Friday 30 March - Paul, Josie Lawrence, John Sergeant and Jason Manford with Nicholas
Monday 2 April - Paul, Sue, Graham and Tony Hawks with Nicholas
Tuesday 3 April - Paul, Jason, Shappi Khorsandi and Hugh Bonneville with Nicholas
Wednesday 4 April - Paul, Sue, Marcus and Stephen Mangan with Nicholas
Thursday 5 April - Paul, Tony, Gyles and Liza with Nicholas
Friday 6 April - Paul, Julian, Stephen Fry and Shappi with Nicholas

I think the series will be a success with strong panels.

bits of news

The three hour special on Just A Minute on BBC Radio Four Extra is on later today. Six shows are featured and some other minutes which I had a small part in selecting.

There's to be a documentary on the India trip on Radio Four on April 2nd, which includes some bits of Nicholas playing JAM with the locals.

More recording dates - Recording on Wednesday 4th April and Sunday 22nd April at the Radio Theatre, Broadcasting House, London. Recording on Friday 25th May at The Spa Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, YO15 3JH as part of the Bridlington Arts Festival.

India clips

The BBC has posted two clips from the recent recordings in Mumbai in India

That's Anuvab Pal beside Paul, and Cyrus Broacha beside Marcus Brigstocke.

and there's a great selection of photos from the trip to India here.

This is my favourite - isn't this a gorgeous picture of Annie and Nicholas Parsons and the producer Tilusha Ghelani - a good looking trio!

Paul on the One Show

Paul Merton talked about JAM on TV and a brief clip is played on The One Show recently

March 02, 2012

promotion for JAM on the telly begins

Interesting comments in the Guardian's radio blog on Just A Minute.

"Radio feeds off the imagination," says the BBC's commissioning editor for comedy and entertainment, Caroline Raphael. "Good radio comedy isn't always going to make good TV."

And what about Just a Minute, the much loved BBC panel show which has been airing for seemingly almost as long as Nicholas Parsons has been alive (45 years. Parsons is actually 88)?

This show was the subject of two TV pilots in the 1990s – the fact that neither was aired suggests how good they were. But still, the BBC has tried another time, filming 10 episodes due to air this month at 6pm on BBC2.

And Raphael thinks they may have cracked it. "They have realised that the best way to do it is to keep it as like the radio version as possible," she says. "It's a show that works so why tamper with it. Even the lighting is set up as it is in the radio theatre to make it as similar as possible. Sometimes you can take it over straight."

I have posted on the page in a no doubt pointless attempt to get them to correct the error about the pilots. Still, interesting remarks from Caroline Raphael.

more audio CDs

The BBC is bringing out its Classic Collection from last year as separate CDs.

Just A Minute: Derek Nimmo Classics came out at the beginning of February. The collection includes four shows from 1981, 1989, 1991 and 1999, and features Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud, Peter Jones, Paul Merton, Kenneth Williams, Tony Slattery, Steve Frost and Richard Murdoch.

Just A Minute: Peter Jones Classics came out last week. The collection includes four shows from 1971, 1977, 1988 and 1999, and features Peter Jones, Clement Freud, Kenneth Williams, Paul Merton, Derek Nimmo, Andree Melly, Stephen Fry, Lance Percival, Magnus Pyke and Christopher Timothy.

Just A Minute: Clement Freud Classics is due to come out in June. The collection includes shows from 1967, 1976, 1991 and 1999, and features Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones, Kenneth Williams, Graham Norton, Linda Smith, Ray Alan, Wilma Ewart and Beryl Reid.

Presumably the CDs featuring Paul Merton and Kenneth Williams will follow.