Radio 4's Just a Minute spawns a junior version

Just a Minute with Jenny Eclair, Josie Lawrence, Nicholas Parsons and junior contestants Jenny Eclair, Josie Lawrence and Nicholas Parsons with junior contestants

No hesitation, repetition or deviation. It's a simple formula that has worked for Just a Minute since 1967. But now the Radio 4 show chaired by Nicholas Parsons is asking children to take up the challenge for a special version on the 4 O'Clock Show, a strand on Radio 4 Extra.

While some grown-ups might find sticking to the rules difficult and possibly terrifying, senior content producer Elizabeth Clark says the young contestants were 'absolutely brilliant and in some cases better than the adults'. It puts paid to the old adage of 'never working with children or animals'.

Start Quote

Our show has listeners right across the age groups, from school children to elderly people”

End Quote Nicholas Parsons, Just a Minute host

Speaking from her base in Glasgow, Clark says, 'I think what surprised us most is just how funny a lot of the children were.' That includes using sarcasm and wit to make Junior Just a Minute as amusing as the adult version.

There was very little reformatting done to the original programme, which stars panellist Paul Merton talking for 60 seconds on a range of surprise subjects. In the junior version the 10 children selected - between 11 and 13 years old - were split into teams, coached by either Jenny Eclair or Josie Lawrence.

The subjects they were asked to talk about ranged from school uniforms and imaginary friends to dinosaurs and how to make a million pounds.

'Terrifyingly clever'

The five, 25-minute shows were filmed in front of a live studio audience at Rada and included three rounds that varied slightly in length, with the final round lasting a full minute.

'Certainly, we were all a bit nervous for them on the day, because we didn't know what was going to happen,' explains Clark. The children had already been through two auditions to get accepted onto the show, but had not performed in front of a large audience.

Luckily they were 'phenomenally and terrifyingly clever', according to Eclair. The regular guest says that some of the children only needed a couple of years and they would be positively 'Paul Merton-esque'.

Young fans

Vying to deliver the perfect Just a Minute speech was 13-year-old Jonah Calkin, who's been listening to the show since he was a little boy. 'I've always loved the comedy challenges and the competitors making little snide remarks. That's what I've always loved, and it was great meeting Jenny [Eclair] and Nicholas Parsons.'

At the age of 90, Parsons was thrilled to meet the show's young fans, who are several decades younger than he is. 'Our show has listeners right across the age groups, from school children to elderly people,' the host says, 'and I know from speaking to one or two youngsters that they do play in schools.

'My granddaughter plays it in the playground with her friends and some teachers use it as an educational tool … it's very disciplined for the mind.'

He'd like to do more - the production team just needs a minute or two to gather their thoughts.

  • Junior Just a Minute, 4 O'Clock Show, Radio 4 Extra, from November 11

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