Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 25, 2016

JAM's future

As we all know JAM is approaching the major milestone of its 50th anniversary. In the past the BBC has marked these anniversaries at the beginning of the year so maybe we are just a few months from the anniversary being marked at the beginning og 2017.

I think though that the controversy over Clement Freud's past as a sexual predator is going to make marking the anniversary very difficult. I will be surprised if there are many more clip shows or classic CD releases simply because the BBC will not be able to rerun shows featuring Clement. I think the most likely thing is a show where the anniversary is mentioned in a low-key sort of way, probably without mentioning the show's most frequent panellist.

I am wondering too if once the show is marked, if we might well find the show will be retired. I have no inside information at all, but to me anyway, the show is not as good as it once was, and with Nicholas in his mid 90s it just seems like the 50th year might be a good time to call it to an end.

What do you think?


A largely unremarked feature of the current season was that Katherine Ryan completed an uninterripted minute in her first show, indeed in her first time speaking.

Last year when David Tennant did this it was big news and indeed Nicholas mentioned it in his behind the scenes interview with Gyles Brandreth just last week. It was very widely reported as a first.

It was a great achievement but not a first. I wrote about this here and again here. At the time I wrote to some of the reporters who had reported this feat, but no-one responded or corrected their stories. So no doubt it is now firmly established as a fact!

Katherine Ryan did this in the first show of the current season, but it seems to have passed most people by. Congrats to her - she joins a small group, even if she is not the second.

In the very next show, Zoe Lyons also went the whole minute on debut, but not on her first time speaking.


Have been behind on panel news  - the recording for season 76 is now complete.

The panels are

*Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Josie Lawrence and Katherine Ryan - two shows
*Paul, Tony Hawks, Julian Clary and Zoe Lyons - two shows
* Paul, Marcus Brigstocke, Janey Godley and Nish Kumar - one show
* Paul, Marcus, Fred MacAulay and Pippa Evans.

So three newcomers this season - the Canadian panel show regular Katherine - the former reality TV star turned comedian Zoe - and the improviser Pippa Evans.

There have been three six show seasons this year - which makes me wonder if we will get a fourth season in November/December this year.

The current season also has a new producer in Matt Stronge, the first male producer since Chris Neill in the late 90s. He started out as a sound editor which makes him very interesting. welcome to the team, Matt.

If this is all the JAM we get this year, here are the appearances (18 shows) -  newcomers are bolded

Paul Merton 16
Gyles Brandreth, Josie Lawrence 6
Graham Norton, Marcus Brigstocke 4
Nish Kumar 3
Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock,, Jenny Eclair, Julian Clary, Tim Rice, Stephen Fry, Pam Ayres, Holly Walsh, Josh Widdicombe, John Finnemore, Rufus Hound, Zoe Lyons, Esther Rantzen, Katherine Ryan, Alexei Sayle 2
Fred MacAulay, Janey Godley, Pippa Evans 1 

Thimgs to note are the high number of newcomers, only three shows didn't have a newcomer. Also the absence of many who you might well have expected to hear - Sue Perkins, Liza Tarbuck, Susan Calman, Alun Cochrane, Shappi Khorsandi - and after all the fuss about his appearance last year, where was David Tennant? Perhaps some of these will be in a November-December season...

July 02, 2016

panel news

The latest panel recording last night featured Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth, Josie Lawrence and newcomer Katherine Ryan.

June 16, 2016

Clement Freud

The man who has played Just A Minute more than anyone else, has been exposed as a sex abuser.

How hard and how depressing it is to write that sentence.

When I first saw the allegations yesterday, my first thought was they would be unfounded allegations. It is very easy to make allegations against a dead person. A couple of years ago there were headlines that the former Prime Minister Edward Heath was involved in the abuse and murder of young boys - no evidence ever came forward to back the claims.

In this case though, not only are named people speaking out on camera, but Clement's family and his old party have issued apologies. So we have to take it as true.

I am not going to repeat the details here. Although the focus of the news articles is on Clement's time as a MP - he shared an office for years with another paedophile MP, Cyril Smith - Just A Minute is also getting a mention.

Gyles Brandreth has written an article essentially summing up Clement as a bit odd

The Telegraph has a piece asking if Just A Minute will be tainted forever.

There are suggestions that the BBC may not again play any of Clement's shows.

If that decision is made, how does that affect the 50th anniversary celebrations coming next year? It is hard to see how any commemorative programme would ignore Clement's contribution.

The whole thing is so ugly.

And quite apart from the effect on how we think of JAM and Clement - one can only feel such intense sorrow for the women affected. I hope with all my heart that Clement's offending does not reach further than the three victims at the moment.

Hard to write such things this day.

May 24, 2016


interesting team for the last panel of the season - Paul Merton, Marcus Brigstocke, Holly Walsh and Josh Widdicombe. I love Marcus and are really glad Josh is getting another run so soon. Holly also did very well in her previous shows.

No debutant for the first time this year, but overall it is a less experienced group.

Sad that both seasons so far this yaer are just six shows.

Yet to appear this year over two seasons - Tony Hawks, Alun Cochrane, Liza Tarbuck, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary - will they pop up in the third season?

May 23, 2016


Two milestones in a week - and the same milestone!

Last Monday Gyles Brandreth made his 100th JAM appearance (radio and TV shows combined) and this week Graham Norton also makes a 100th appearance.

After today there will be 10 JAM centurions - Nicholas Parsons, Clement Freud, Paul Merton, Kenneth Williams, Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock, Gyles and Graham.

It's interesting that two such contrasting personalities cam have appeared so frequently in the show, but both are in the traditions of the show.

Graham is in the high camp tradition pioneered by Kenneth Williams. He doesn't have Kenneth's erudution or the need to show off and put others down - but then no-one will ever be a copy of Kenneth. But the campness and slow delivery style is there. Graham is a famous man in the UK with his TV chat show attracting the world's top celebrities. He's adorable, quick-witted and a bit naughty. Although there are others who are camp on JAM such as Julian Clary, Graham's style is unique and memorable. I always look forward to his appearances.

Gyles is more in the traditions of Derek Nimmo - competitive, literate, erudite and just as Derek was an inveterate place-dropper, Gyles is a great name-dropper. He's plummy and a little pompous, but is also one of the best on JAM at laughing at himself, perhaps the best ever on JAM. The criticism of him on JAM used to be that he relied on old rhymes and jokes which were brought out regularly, but to my ears anyway, he has cur back on that a lot and these days he is much more original. He usually does eight to 10 shows a year, and is on the show far more regularly than anyone else after Nicholas amd Paul. In a way, he has also taken over Clement Freud's role of being curmudgeonly about the rules, although he challenges Nicholas in a more light-hearted way than the great Clement did.

So we now have five living highly experienced panellists - Paul, Tony, Sheila, Gyles and Graham. Contrasting styles which demonstrate how varied the pleasures of JAM can be.

May 06, 2016

exciting panel news

first few shows recorded of the new season.

firstly - Paul Merton, Sheila Hancock, Gyles Brandreth and John Finnemore

 and then

Paul, Graham Norton, Josie Lawrence and .....

ALEXEI SAYLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is getting interesting....

March 24, 2016

JAM wins award

Just A Minute has won the radio comedy award at this year's Chortle awards.

Nicholas Parsons accepted the award with a witty speech that began "we've been on air 49 years and now  you give us an award!"

Congrats to all the current team which continues to produce such outstanding radio.

February 25, 2016

Paul's milestone

Interestingly the BBC has heavily promoted the return of Just A Minute for the year by pointing to a statistical achievement.

Last year it was David Tennant completing a full minute in his debut - touted as a JAM first (which it wasn't).

This year the emphasis has been on Paul Merton passing Kenneth Williams' total of appearances.

As the one who initiated the JAM stats obsession, I can't (and don't) object to interest in them.

But there are two quibbles I can make about the interest in this one.

Firstly, there is the interest in someone getting to second on a list. Usually we get excited when someone BREAKS a record, not by who is second! Paul will probably have to keep playing for another decade or more to pass the great Sir Clement Freud's number of shows.

The other is that if you include TV appearances, Paul actually passed Kenneth in the middle of last year. Now as I often say when people want to argue with me about what should and shouldn't be counted, you can count JAM shows in many different ways and if you look carefully at my website you will see I do do this.

This week Paul passed Kenneth's total of radio appearances. So - fine just to count those - but the BBC promoted JAM's 900th show back in 2014. On radio shows alone, the 900th show is still to come and won't happen until late next year.

It will be interesting to see if the BBC decides to promote the 1000th show  when it comes up, probably in 2018 - or if it waits for the radio milestone to clock over probably three or four years after that.

Anyway, let's put aside my anorakian approach to JAM stats.

There were many good things to come out of the interest in the milestone in the past week.

Let's start with the BBC itself which provided this little duologue on the statistical feat between Nicholas and Paul which is good fun. Whoever scripted it has clearly been making full uise of the website!

Then there is these four full minutes from Paul. I was contacted by a BBC producer and asked to suggest some full Paul minutes. I was asked to nominate clips since 2007. I suggested four and as you can see they were all used. I also nominated a couple of pre-2007 minutes including my personal favourite Paul minute, the one of flying saucers from 1995. And I suggested using the famous 2005 banter on the outwitting by herbaceous borders - but these didn't make the cut. Anyway the full minutes are there and are good fun.

Also Paul gave  a really interesting interview to The Guardian about Just A Minute. Although he and Nicholas have talked about JAM boith on stage and on CD in recent years, these have ended up with essentially being Paul interviewing Nicholas. It's fascinating to read Paul's comments on the show he describes as "his favourite job".

I'll post the article here for posterity as it really is a good one. Sadly though for those looking forward to Esther Rantzen's debut next week, Paul says it didn't go well!

Paul Merton on Just a Minute: 'Our worst contestant? Esther Rantzen'

As Paul Merton surpasses Kenneth Williams as a Just a Minute legend, he talks about the fast-talking panel show’s best and worst guests – and why everyone was scared the day he arrived.

It’s incredible that Paul Merton was ever allowed on Just a Minute. “Five years before I went on the show, a producer told me that mine wasn’t the sort of voice they heard on Radio 4,” says the 58-year-old comedian, in what back in the day would have been seen as an unbroadcastably earthy London accent.

   In 1988, just before he made his debut on the radio panel game, they still had doubts. Ted Taylor, the worried producer, rang Merton up. “He thought he was booking Sid Vicious, I think, because he explained to me that they don’t swear. Then wanted to know what I was going to be wearing just in case I turned up in swastika gear.”

 Little did Taylor realise that, for Merton, this was the realisation of a childhood dream. As a boy in the early 1970s, while his peers were listening to Bowie and T-Rex, Merton would be taping Just a Minute, to learn how to emulate the virtuosity of Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones and Clement Freud.

Today the Sid Vicious of panel shows has become part of the establishment. On 22 February, when Just a Minute enters its 74th series, he will overtake the late Kenneth Williams to become the second most featured panellist on the show. Williams appeared 346 times. Monday’s show will be Merton’s 347th.

Freud, who died in 2009, retains top position with 544 episodes. Does Merton plan to overtake him? “Clement had a 20-year start, so it would be tricky.” He’d have to record 32 series to catch up: that’s more than three series a year for a decade. Merton puts his face in his hands.

He’s unlikely ever to catch up with the 92-year-old host, Nicholas Parsons, who has presented all 864 episodes since the show’s launch in 1967. Indeed, Merton suggests one of the reasons he has stayed on the show for 28 years is because Parsons is such a “generous, sweet man”.

It was Merton rather than Parsons, though, who revolutionised Just a Minute, perhaps even saving it from the chop. “When I started with Clement, Peter and Derek, the atmosphere was like a gentleman’s club, with someone sitting in the corner reading anecdotes about Donald Wolfit. If a woman walked into the room, they stood up – which caught me out completely.”

It was not a happy show. “Sometimes there would be recordings where the four regulars would gang up on Nicholas. On one show, they talked about his first wife being more attractive than his second. I think producers had a bit of a torrid time – they couldn’t get new people on because it was a closed shop.”

Williams’ death in 1988 raised the prospect of the show being axed. His performances – elongating words to thwart the charge of hesitation; throwing flamboyant mock-tantrums; his whole needy, waspish shtick – were so distinctive that Just a Minute seemed unthinkable without him. But then Parsons met Merton on a short-lived TV show called Scruples and encouraged him to apply. Soon Merton found himself on the same panel as his childhood heroes. His presence changed everything.

“There was a view that Paul Merton’s come in, he’s fresh and different, and if we gradually bring in new people, maybe the show has legs.” And so it proved: Julian Clary, Graham Norton, Jenny Eclair, Sue Perkins, Ross Noble, Shappi Khorsandi and Gyles Brandreth have all helped to give Just a Minute a new lease of life. “It’s just as competitive as it was,” says Merton, “but looser and more fun. I think.”Just a Minute, in case you don’t know, works like this. The host gives one of four contestants a topic to talk about for 60 seconds and they have to do so without hesitation, repetition or deviation. If another contestant reckons the speaker has broken a rule, they push a buzzer and get a point for a correct interruption, and then take over the subject for the rest of the minute.

“It seems easy,” says Merton, “but it’s like golf. Just watch Rory McIlroy play and try to copy him.” Why are you so good at it? “Practice. And the gift of the gab. It’s my favourite job. I love it.” He once won 12 shows on the trot. “I had to stop winning because I was becoming Man United and realised everybody wanted Leicester City to have a chance.”

Who have been the worst contestants? “Esther Rantzen was one. There’s an understanding that you won’t object to repetition of words like ‘I’ or ‘and’, but she did. Big mistake. If you start being pedantic, others do it right back.”

But has Just a Minute, like many TV and radio panel games, stayed too much of a gentleman’s club? “I don’t think so, not latterly at least,” he says. “I agree with having quotas. Just a Minute works best when there are women. That said, I have been guilty of sexist attitudes. I remember being on the show with two women and I thought: ‘This will be relaxing.’ We recorded it at the Hay-on-Wye festival and I won’t say who they were, but it was anything but relaxing. They were so tough and funny and competitive.” After the interview, I check the show’s database: he must mean Maureen Lipman and Pam Ayres.

Merton decided to be a comedian when he was a small boy. But he didn’t know how to realise that ambition. “There was no comedy circuit in London. There were northern clubs, but I wasn’t northern. There was Butlin’s, but that wasn’t me. Or there was Footlights if you’d been to Cambridge, like Peter Cook or the Not the Nine O’Clock News crowd. I hadn’t. There was no way in.”So, after leaving school, he worked for seven years as a clerical officer at Tooting employment office. “I remember I was 19 and they were already advising me to consider my pension options.” Then he saw Alexei Sayle. “People go on about seeing the Sex Pistols live. He was my Sex Pistols.” Inspired, Merton quit the civil service and gave himself five years to make it. His break came at 1.30am one April morning in 1982 at the Comedy Store in Soho. “I was last on the bill, so if I was shit it didn’t matter.” He had been working on his policeman-on-acid routine for six weeks. “I had a plastic policeman’s helmet under one arm, and a tiny notebook on which – ingeniously – I’d copied the gags so I couldn’t forget them. And I was speaking in this blank copper’s voice about how I’d travelled to the planet Zanussi.” Did it go well? “Incredibly well. People were laughing at the set-ups before the punchlines.”

Did he think his comedy career would involve so many panel shows? “I’m only in two. They suit my natural laziness. I couldn’t have written 500 sketch shows, but I could improvise on 500 panel shows. There are so many on TV because they’re popular and cheap. That doesn’t mean they’re easy.”

In 2007, novelist Will Self argued that Have I Got News for You had lost its edge. “I don’t think he had a good time on the show,” says Merton. “He made a joke about fisting, which didn’t go down too well. Say something that doesn’t work and the audience think, ‘Oh, I’m not sure I like you.’”

Time for Merton to go: he and Suki Webster, his third wife, are off for a South African safari holiday. Are you enjoying life? “I love it. This is the existence I wanted when I was 10.” He has fame, a happy marriage, a creatively fulfilling life – and no mobile phone or social media profile. “I decided not to do Twitter or Facebook because it’s like taking the vilest heckler home in my pocket. Why would I want to do that?”

That said, there’s always someone who’s ready to rain on Merton’s parade. One day, he recalls, he turned up at Broadcasting House to record a show. “Are you here for Just a Minute?” asked the doorman. “That’s right.” “The queue’s over there,sir."