Radio 4 Extra - Just a Minute: Without Hesitation
On a cold winter's evening I made my way to London's BBC Television Centre. Something rather special was taking place. To celebrate 45 years of a classic radio comedy show, those rich cousins in TV were recording a special series of Just a Minute, featuring its ever present chairman, Nicholas Parsons, joined by regular player Paul Merton and a host of favourite all-star panellists.
I was there for another reason, though. I wanted to find out why it has survived and thrived for so long, from the experts - its devoted listeners. The first thing I noticed when I met them queuing patiently in the cold, were the smiles on their faces. Grins that were there even before I asked them what they liked so much about JAM - as it's fondly known. Just the mention of its name was enough.
I suppose when a show started on 22nd December 1967, and is still on the air in 2012, it must be doing something right. That's what Nicholas Parsons thinks all these years later. As he tells us in Radio 4 Extra's Just a Minute: Without Hesitation, he was never meant to be the chairman. He tells us how he came to sit in the hot-seat - surely one of the hottest in broadcasting with all those brilliant player challenges, across six decades and counting. He remembers how the show was very nearly cancelled before it had a chance to really begin. We find out who managed to save it. Nicholas remembers the show's brilliant creator, his friend the late Ian Messiter, and reveals the inspiration behind those brilliantly simple rules: to talk for one minute on a subject "without hesitation, repetition or deviation".
We hear how the "wonderful blend" of the first classic Just a Minute panel - featuring Clement Freud, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones and Kenneth Williams - came together. We get behind the scenes of some of broadcasting's greatest ever on-air sulks - by Kenneth Williams, of course.
Was there a bit of real frustration there?
We get the chance to hear great guest performances, like the time Bob Monkhouse joined the fun, in 1980. Nicholas explains how the show has survived the loss of such classic players. He pays tributes to other absent friends that were taken far too soon, like the wonderful comedian Linda Smith. And he lets us in on why the show continues to be funny, winning gold awards along the way.
Of course, at the centre of the story is Nicholas Parsons, himself.
Adjudicator extraordinaire and someone whose shoulders would be strong enough, according to its first producer David Hatch, to suffer the combined leg pulling and ribbing of players like Clement Freud and Kenneth Williams. When Nicholas came into the 4 Extra studio he was, as we hear him on Just a Minute, unfailingly polite and focussed on praising what he thinks is the key element of programme's success: the wonderful skill and humour of its players across the decades.
Of course, the incredible thing is that no matter who was on the panel, or whatever year it was, Nicholas has been there for every recording. As one of those legion of JAM listeners, I hope that this lack of hesitation will continue for many years to come.
Peter McHugh produces Just a Minute: Without Hesitation
- Listen to Just a Minute: Without Hesitation at 9am and 7pm Saturday 17 March 2012 or for seven days after transmission, on the Radio 4 Extra web site.
Listen to Just A Minute: India Special part 1, Monday 19 March, 6.30-7.00pm