Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

January 29, 2016

JAM panels

the first four shows of the new season have been recorded.

the two panels were

Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Pam Ayres and Rufus Hound.

Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Tim Rice and Esther Rantzen

Welcome Rufus and Esther to the JAM family!

January 20, 2016

2015 player rankings

For the ninth time - the annual JAM player rankings.

The year has been another enjoyable one with just about every show a funny one. There were 24 JAM radio editions and seven Junior Just A Minutes. I have considered the Junior JAMs in terms iof the adult performers, but feel it unfair to rank the children.

There were 26 JAM panellists this year (again, not including the children).

JAM Radio appearances were as follows:

Paul Merton 20
Gyles Brandreth 10
Sheila Hancock 6
Susan Calman 5
Tony Hawks, Graham Norton, Jenny Eclair, Julian Clary, Josie Lawrence, Marcus Brigstocke, Alun Cochrane 4
Sue Perkins, Tim Rice, Liza Tarbuck, Stephen Fry, Pam Ayres, Shappi Khorsandi, Mike McShane, Robin Ince, Lucy Beaumont, Andy Hamilton, David Tennant, Josh Widdicombe 2
Janey Godley, Joe Lycett, Tom Allen 1

Junior Just A Minute appearances were as follows:

Josie Lawrence 7
Jenny Eclair 5
Paul Merton 2

For those interested in how I've ranked people in the past and checking out how good my picks were...

click here for 2014 rankings

click here for 2013 rankings

click here for 2012 rankings

click here for 2011 rankings

click here for 2010 rankings

click here for 2009 rankings

click here for 2008 rankings

click here for 2007 rankings

Those who appeared in 2014 but not in 2015 include Russell Kane, Richard Herring, Kevin Eldon and Stephen Mangan. Russell and Stephen must surely return soon however.

For those who want to know how good I an at picking who wouldn't be back -I scored five out of five on this last year, ie. none of those named in this category appeared this year. .

Lucy Beaumont- Lucy is a good contributor on other panel shows, but on JAM she would be a contender for the title of least effective player ever.
Alun Cochrane-
(2014 - had some moments, 2013: had some moments, 2012: had some moments; 2011: had some moments; 2010: had some moments; 2007: won't be back) As the preceding information shows, Alun really hasn't been a top contributor, and I think the time has come to decide that he has had a fair go and it hasn't been a big success. Time for Alun to look back on his 21 shows and for someone else to be given a go.
Janey Godley -
(2012 - had some moments, 2009: won't be back; 2008: won't be back; 2007: let's hear more) I follow Janey on Twitter where she tweets often, is funny and an advocate of bad language! On JAM she sounds like she is fun and enjoying proceedings but she isn't really competitive enough or witty enough to shine in this format.
Mike McShane - (2009: won't be back, 2008 - had some moments) Warmed up a bit by the end of his second recording this year. I adored Mike on Whose Line Is It Anyway. Perhaps if he was allowed to sing rather than talk?.
Tim Rice - (2009: had some moments; 2007: average) Tim first appeared on JAM as long ago as 1980. Thirty-five years on, we can say he had some good moments. But these days JAM needs comedians with more laugh lines, rather than just people who are brave enough to challenge Kenneth Williams or Clemen Freuld.

Tom Allen - A very good debut from Tom, let;s hope he gets a second run so we get a better idea of how good he can be.
Stephen Fry -
(2012 - let's hear more, 2011: average; 2009: let's hear more) There was a time when I would happily rank Stephen as one of the very best players ever. To me, he is not as good as he was and his last few appearances have been a little disppointing. Still we know he is a witty and competitive man so maybe his next shows will have him back at his brilliant best.
Shappi Khorsandi - (2014 - had some moments, 2012: about average, 2011: had some moments; 2010: had some moments; 2009: average; 2008: won't be back) Still jolly and amusing but not a top performer.
Liza Tarbuck - (2014 - average, 2013: average, 2012: average; 2011: average; 2010: won't be back; 2009: had some moments; 2008: won't be back) Liza is one of those players who appears every second season, she has a great hearty chuckle, and stands up to the boys. But it's hard to recall highlights from her.
David Tennant - David made the news with his first-up perfect minute. That must surely guarantee him a recall in the year ahead. 

Marcus Brigstocke - (2013 - average, 2012: let's hear more; 2011: let's hear more; 2008: let's hear more; 2007: silver) Still a very good player in the Paul Merton style and always a welcome addition to any panel.
Julian Clary (2014 - let's hear more, 2013: 4th, 2012: silver; 2011: bronze; 2010: 5th; 2009: let's hear more; 2008:4th; 2007: 4th) I'm a big fan of Julian - I didn't feel he was at his best this year.
Andy Hamilton
- A pretty good debut from a Radio Four favourite.
Tony Hawks - (2014 - 5th, 2013: let's hear more, 2012: let's hear more; 2011: average; 2010: let's hear more; 2009: average; 2008: let's hear more; 2007: average) Tony is always up for the show, and usually has a few good lines.
Robin Ince - (2008 - had some moments) Long overdue for a second go on the show, he was funny and clever and I hope we don't have to wait another seven years to hear him again,
Joe Lycett
- (2014 - average, 2013: average) A good contributor who we could hear more from.

Pam Ayres - (2013 - 5th, 2012: let's hear more; 2011: had some moments; 2010: average; 2009: average; 2007: let's hear more She gets better all the time, she adds something completely different to everyone else, and I think she should be on more often.
Susan Calman - A really strong debut year, very reminiscent of the cheeky humour of Linda Smith. She will surely be on the show many more times.
Graham Norton
- (2014 - 2nd, 2013: had some moments, 2012: had some moments, 2011: 5th; 2010: let's hear more; 2009: 5th; 2008: bronze; 2007: let's hear more) Always very funny but he doesn't a;ways get as many chances to speak as the others.
Sue Perkins - (2014 - let's hear more, 2013: let's hear more. 2012: champion; 2011: let's hear more; 2010: let's hear more; 2009: bronze; 2008: silver; 2007: let's hear more) Only two shows this year and was at her usual good form.
Josh Widdicombe- A very strong debut from Josh, he fitted in like a glove, and we must have him back soon.

5th best
Jenny Eclair -  (2014 - let's hear more, 2013: bronze, 2012: 4th; 2011: let's hear more; 2010: 4th; 2009: let's hear more; 2008: let's hear more; 2007: had some moments) Jenny is a great contributor these days, consistently funny and stroppy.
4th best

Josie Lawrence - (2014 - let's hear more, 2013: let's hear more, 2012: let's hear more; 2011: 4th; 2010: let's hear more; 2009: had some moments; 2008: won't be back) Why she waited so long to do JAM, I don't know, because she is great at the show these days - witty, inventive and argumentative.
Bronze medal

Sheila Hancock - (2014 - champion, 2013: about average, 2011: silver; 2010: let's hear more; 2009: average) Sheila now does a couple of shows every season and is always up for an argument and a funny story. I love her and she continues to provide a Clement-like gravitas to the show which is very much appreciated.
Silver medal

Gyles Brandreth - (2014 - 4th, 2013: champion, 2012: 5th; 2011: let's hear more; 2010: bronze; 2009: 4th; 2008: let's hear more; 2007: bronze) Second only to Paul these days as a witty and competitive player, and has a growing role as the butt of everyone else's humour..
Champion of the year
Paul Merton - (2014 - 3rd, 2013: silver. 2012: bronze; 2011: champion; 2010: champion; 2009: silver; 2008: champion; 2007: champion) Paul is the glue for this show and gracefully guides the show. Hard to imagine the show would or could continue without him.

January 04, 2016


lovely piece on the gorgeous Sheila Hancock in The Guardian.

You’re about to star in a musical production of Grey Gardens (a 1975 US documentary about the reclusive lives of Edith Ewing Beale - Jackie Kennedy’s aunt – and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, who lived in a house called Grey Gardens). Are you looking forward to it?
Very much so, although it’s rather unnerving. We only had three-and-a-half weeks’ rehearsal, which is a terrifyingly short time for a musical. But it’s in amazingly good shape, I must say. All the youngsters are really on top of it. I’m an old lady, so it’s slightly harder for me to learn.

Is it good being back in fringe theatre?
[Laughs] It’s a nightmare, but fun. We all share a dressing room – men, women, kids, everyone. There’s just a rail of clothes separating the girls from the boys. At my age, darling, standing around in my knickers and bra, chatting to a load of lads across some coat hangers… 

Are you a fan of the Grey Gardens documentary?
I was given the DVD, and there was something about it I was drawn to. These two women are gutsy originals. They were part of the political elite and American aristocracy, where women were used to make marriages and allegiances. The Beales just didn’t fit that mould, and became outcasts.

Does the mother/daughter relationship resonate with you?
Absolutely; it’s amazing on that score: the terrible fights, the profound love, the co-dependence. One fight scene reminds me so much of the screaming rows when my daughters were teenagers.

The Beales ended up living in squalor. Do you find that tragic?
They’re tragic from the outside, but it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s like my experience of watching death – you feel awful seeing it, but the person is getting on with dying, so they don’t care how you feel. I reckon the Beales were happier than they would have been smiling benignly behind some dreadful US president, pretending to support him.

Is the squalor strangely appealing?
Squalor doesn’t worry me [laughs]. I am a bit of a slob. But I do a lot of work with people who are having a bad time and I see how easy it is to descend – for your life to run out of control, both domestically and mentally. It’s like Quentin Crisp said: “After the first four years, dirt doesn’t get any worse.” Same with the Beales: bins filled up, so they started throwing cans into a pile in the corner, which became part of the furniture. Then the rats and raccoons came in, but they were such animal lovers, they adored it. I totally understand that – I’m a cat lover, and if I went a bit odd, I’d be surrounded by pussycats.

You did a lot of work with Kids Company. How do you feel about it being wound up?
Very sad. I’m still in touch with the girl I mentor through it, and she’s fine, but it was a terrible blow when it closed. It became a witch-hunt and the way Camila [Batmanghelidjh] was treated was disgraceful. The scope of their work wasn’t appreciated. She gave her life to kids and could have been handled with more love.

You did a memorable turn in EastEnders as the manipulative mother of gangster Steve Owen (Martin Kemp). How was that experience?
I was thrilled to be asked. And bless their hearts, they let me rehearse, because the EastEnders cast don’t usually get any rehearsal time at all. It’s amazing how they pull the stops out – characters suddenly step into the limelight and shine. I admire people who work in soaps, and get pissed off if anybody’s snide about them. Some of our best acting, lighting and filming can be found in soaps. What they turn out, quickly and under pressure, takes my breath away.

You’ve just filmed an episode of Casualty?
Yes, for the 30th anniversary. I play a lesbian – who dies, of course. Dying or going senile, that’s my role nowadays. Maggie Smith talks about always playing buttoned-up boots. She’s bloody lucky.

Would you like to do something like Downton?
Of course. But it would be even better to be a real-life dowager.

By one of your grandchildren marrying into royalty?
That’s right. I’ve got high hopes for the youngest, Rosie. I’ve got my eye on those princes for her. Trouble is, my grandchildren’s table manners are so appalling. I keep saying they’ll never marry a prince unless they learn to eat properly. The plan is to get Rosie-Posey trained up for marriage, then I’ll live in a dowager cottage in the grounds. She’s a bit wayward for a princess, but I might be able to tame her and make her hair all shiny!

Your daughter Abigail Thaw is an actor, currently appearing in Endeavour, the prequel to Inspector Morse. What advice do you give her?
She’s far more likely to give me advice. When you’re old, you’re meant to be wise, but honestly, I’m not.

Though your book, The Two of Us, about you and your late husband John Thaw, struck a chord with readers…
That’s true. It had an effect I didn’t expect. It’s used in bereavement counselling, and I have files full of letters from people saying it’s helped them. I put it down to the fact that it’s honest about how ghastly it is when somebody’s ill and dying. I used my diary for those bits because I wanted it to be raw, rather than written beautifully. People think, “Oh good, it’s not just me who feels like that.”

Is more writing in the pipeline?
I might tackle another novel, and I’ve got an idea for a children’s book. There’s all sorts I want to do, but time’s running short. At my age, it’s not a matter of slowing down, it’s about speeding up. I’m doing more now than I’ve ever done. I’m greedy for new experiences.

I heard that you think being called a national treasure is “bullshit”.
Well, it is. What it amounts to is that you can still stagger across the stage, put one foot in front of the other, and that seems to surprise people. I know people who get called national treasures who are vile.

You spoke out recently about insurers discriminating against older drivers…
I had this £1,400 increase in my premium. Insurance companies in this country pluck statistics out of mid-air and it’s total bullshit. In 60 years of driving, I’ve only ever had six points on my licence. I love cars with a passion. I’ve had MGs, Jaguars and now I’ve got a souped-up Mini Cooper. I love being in my car with Radio 3 on. They’ve never asked me to go on Top Gear, though, sadly.

You danced in the Strictly Christmas special three years ago. Fancy a full series?
I wouldn’t have the energy, but that one time was so special. I’d never learned to ballroom dance, because I was always working during the evenings in its heyday. When I turned up to meet my Strictly pro partner, Ian Waite, and said I’d never done a foxtrot in my life, he nearly had a fit. What I would love to do is more telly comedy. I did a tiny bit in Toast of London and was in one episode of Catherine Tate’s Nan. I was crying with laughter.

What did you do on New Year’s Eve?
I popped into a party for a quick drink, but I didn’t do the whole midnight thing. I always find it a bit embarrassing when people sing Auld Lang Syne. Nobody knows when it finishes, so it goes on and on. John and I always used to take a bottle of champagne up to bed.

Any new year’s resolutions?
I don’t bother with that any more, darling. I’ve given up giving things up. I want to take on more.