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24 September 2014
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13.12.02

RADIO 4


Radio 4 celebrates 35 years of repetition, deviation and hesitation


Paul Merton, Clement Freud, Sheila Hancock, Nicholas Parsons and Graham Norton star in Just A Minute's 35th Birthday Show
BBC Radio 4's most devious panel game celebrates a special anniversary on New Year's Day, 2003.


It was in 1967 that creator Ian Messiter and producer David Hatch put the pilot for a new game show, Just A Minute, before a BBC development board, who were sceptical that the series would run for more than six programmes.


 


Thirty-five years and a total of 567 editions later, Chairman Nicholas Parsons continues to attempt – and mostly succeed – in keeping control over a roll-call of celebrity contenders attempting to talk on a subject for 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation.


In a special hour-long anniversary edition, Just A Minute's 35th Birthday Show, (New Year's Day 2003, Noon-1.00pm) the panellists pitting their verbal wits against each other under Nicholas's eagle eye are: Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Sheila Hancock and Clement Freud.


There are also contributions from regular panellists including Jenny Éclair, Ross Noble, Steve Frost and Pam Ayres.


Original producer David Hatch attributes the show's initial success to the special cocktail of the simplicity of its rules combined with five key ingredients.


"I think it's interesting how these games build," he says.


"With Just A Minute, it started with the element of chemistry between Clement Freud and Derek Nimmo. Then they brought in Kenny Williams, and he added the madness element.


"Then Peter Jones came along and he was completely different – very dry – he probably only said six lines in each show, but they would be the best six lines in the show.


"And then there was the rivalry against Nick (Parsons) so suddenly you have five ingredients – instead of just the war between Clement and Derek, that even on its own, was fantastic."


The show is now produced by Claire Jones who agrees with her predecessor: "It's a great format fuelled by very funny, very clever people and I feel very lucky to be working on it."


Nicholas Parsons, Chairman of Just A MinuteNicholas Parsons says: "Colloquially, we refer to Just A Minute as JAM. Those who play the game enjoy it so much, it certainly is the jam on top of the bread they earn for taking part."


Enid Messiter recalls, of her husband: "Ian didn't become a doctor as his family hoped – his brand of medicine was making people laugh.



"To quote from his autobiography, written in 1990, 'pleasure is not something we can go out and buy, beg or steal. Pleasure can only be found by giving it... that is what children, grandchildren and friends are for. That is what my inventions are for'...


"I am so proud of the legacy Ian has left me, my family and the BBC and look forward to hearing the 35th birthday edition."


Notes to Editors


An Arena special, Radio Ha!, on BBC TWO, Boxing Day, 9.00pm, presents a double bill from the funny side of Radio 4, taking an irreverent look at Just A Minute and Dead Ringers.


Just A Minute – A Short History


The show was devised by the late Ian Messiter as a successor to his One Minute Please.


Ian came up with the idea on top of a number 13 bus, where he suddenly recalled the dreaded task of having to speak for one minute without hesitation or deviation which was meted out by one of his school masters to his class.


Jimmy Edwards was originally invited to be the programme's chairman, but because the pilot was recorded on a Sunday, he would have to have given up his weekly game of polo.


Thus, Nicholas Parsons was appointed host, dealing with the verbal backchat of the likes of Clement Freud, Peter Jones, Kenneth Williams and Derek Nimmo.


The first programme was broadcast in 1968.


In the early days, it hosted the cream of British comedy talent, including Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Beryl Reid, Barry Took and Brian Johnston, performing to a packed studio audience.


The rules of the game remain the same. Four contestants are given 60 seconds to speak on a subject shown on a card, but they have to do so without hesitation, repetition or deviation from the theme. Only the word or phrase on the card may be repeated.


For each correct challenge, the challenger is given one point. For an incorrect challenge, the person being challenged receives the point. There is a point for speaking when the whistle blows and a bonus point for speaking for the whole minute without interruption.


With the death of Kenneth Williams, there was a fear that the show would die with him, but this wasn't to be the case as new comedians stepped in to continue the show's popularity, including Julian Clary, Stephen Fry, Graham Norton, Jenny Éclair, Liza Tarbuck, Ross Noble and Paul Merton.


Ten things you may not know about Just A Minute


Ian Messiter, the show's inventor, was originally an illusionist called Cassan The Mystic, named after his surgeon father Dr Cyril Cassan Messiter.


Clement Freud and Nicholas Parsons were at the same school.


Nicholas Parsons originally didn't want the job of chairman, preferring to be on the panel. He has now been chairing for 35 years.


Paul Merton wrote to the producer asking to be on the panel.


Kenneth Williams' mum sat in the front row for every performance he appeared in, laughing loudly at her son's jokes.


There was a Just A Minute board game manufactured by Chad Valley in the fifties.


Clement Freud, as one of the original Just A Minute panellists, has taken part in the greatest number of shows – 443 so far.


The first TV version of the game was sold to Dumont TV in America in 1954.


Peter Jones was a pioneer in radio improvisation being the first comedian to be allowed on the airwaves without a BBC approved script.


Guests have included Aimi MacDonald, Alfred Marks, Liz Frazer, Willie Rushton, Warren Michell, Barbara Castle, Prunella Scales, Fenella Fielding and Beryl Reid, Magnus Pyke, Thora Hird, Pam Ayres, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Cribbins and Patrick Moore.


Words


Nicholas Parsons


As chairman, I endeavor to keep the show moving, while at the same time generating as much fun as possible, and it is this fun and enjoyment in what we are doing which is communicated to the listener and helps keep the show successful.


Sheila Hancock


I have been lucky enough to span the changing face of Just A Minute. First the likes of Kenneth Williams, Peter Jones and Derek Nimmo. Then the new generation of Paul Merton, Graham Norton and thank heavens, more women such as Jenny Éclair and Linda Smith.


I always enjoy myself inordinately. In fact I have been known to spend most of the recording laughing at the others, forgetting I am being paid to contribute. It was because of one such feeble performance that Kenneth coined the phrase 'they shouldn’t have women on this show'.


Clement Freud


I think the next 35 years will be harder for me…


Bernard Cribbins


I remember every time I got into trouble – you know, with a hesitation or digression or whatever – and Nicholas Parsons would ask me what I was doing, I would always reply 'I'm just offering Kenny another mint'.


Julian Clary


Playing Just A Minute makes my brain hurt a little bit; it's the deviation, I just can't help myself.


Tim Rice


It's one of the programmes I always listen to and want to be on. I even enjoy listening to it when I'm not on it.


Paul Merton


It's the only time I've ever done this, I wrote a letter to the producer suggesting myself... so he phoned me up and he wanted to know what I was going to be wearing... I don't know what he thought... I was going to come in the nude or something...


Just A Minute is the best panel game ever devised and it will run forever.


Ross Noble


It's like spinning plates, playing chess and giving directions to a place you've never been to all at the same time while someone melts your brain with a blowtorch.


Wendy Richard


It's always been an honour to be on the show.


Charles Collingwood


A comedy institution! May it run as long as the Archers!


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