Just A Minute (ITV, 1994-1995, BBC1, 1999, BBC2, 2012)
Just A Minute is the comedy panel game that has been running on BBC Radio 4 for a remarkable 50 years, but my introduction to the show was through the first attempt at a version that was shown on TV. There have been three attempts to bring this show to TV (all on different channels), and just like the radio version they have all been hosted by Nicholas Parsons.
Just A Minute is a great example of a game that is easy to play but difficult to master. Four contestants take part. They are given a category that they must talk on for one minute without breaking one of the three main rules, hesitation, repetition, or deviation. If one of their rivals believes that they have broken one of these rules, they can buzz in and challenge, and if their challenge is correct, they take over the category and must try to talk for the remaining time.
This continues until the minute is up, with bonus points on offer for speaking when time is up, and also for going the whole minute without being correctly challenged. Although there is a winner declared at the end Parsons always insists that the most important thing is the contribution that the panellists make to the show, not necessarily how many points they score.
So if you can think of enough creative categories, and find enough witty people to talk about them, you’ve got an idea can be stretched almost infinitely. The first version of Just A Minute came to the screen in the mid-90s. I’m fairly sure that the first series was only shown on ITV in the Carlton region in a late-night slot (and was also sponsored by the Evening Standard). The four panellists in this version were usually drawn from the alternative comedy scene, and some of the categories reflected London life.
To help the show be a little more visual, there were some changes to the rules. Firstly, there would be a round where a mysterious object would appear, and the panellists had to talk about what they thought it was. There was also a round where the studio audience could suggest the category (a little like what happened on Whose Line Is It Anyway?). Also in this version there was never actually a clock on-screen indicating how much time was remaining in the round!
There were some changes for the second and final series. I think that this series was also shown in the Central region (a sign of the forthcoming Carltonisation of that region) and there were two regular panellists. They were Tony Slattery and Dale Winton (who I don’t think has ever taken part on the radio version which is a surprise as he was good value). After this TV version ended, from about the late-90s I began to listen to the radio version and really got into it.
The second TV version of Just A Minute was shown on BBC1 in 1999. This was in a daytime slot and I don’t really remember watching it, but it seems that this version lacked the edge of the ITV one, with fewer alternative comedians taking part and no regulars. The third and final attempt at bringing Just A Minute to TV was on BBC2 in an evening slot in 2012. Again, this was for only a short run, and it featured some veterans such as Paul Merton mixed in with a few newcomers proving that all these years later lots of people want to have a go.
None of the three TV versions of Just A Minute were really a huge hit with viewers, but it remains consistently popular on the radio after half a century. My sister was in the studio audience for an edition of the ITV version, and a while later my mum went to the recording of a couple of editions of the radio version, and they both very much enjoyed the experience.