Radio Memories – Just A Minute.

Just A Minute (BBC Radio 4, 1967-present)

I have already looked back at the three attempts to bring this comedy panel game to TV, but I thought that I would review the original radio version as well, as many people think that this is the definitive one, and it has brightened many a Monday evening. Just A Minute is based on a radio game from the 50s called One Minute Please, and this is another one that was created by Ian Messiter.

I have already gone over the rules of this one, but of course this is the game where the four celebrity panellists have to talk on a given subject for one minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. The original host was Nicholas Parsons, and although I wasn’t around at the time, it seems that the format as we know it now took about two or three series to establish itself.

A lot of people have taken the challenge over the years, only to discover that it isn’t as simple as it seems. I was more familiar with the ITV version before I heard the radio version, and I didn’t become a regular listener until the late-90s, so I was rather interested when there was a repeat run of some editions from the 70s and 80s on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra a while ago, as I could hear these for the first time.

One of the most regular panellists who has contributed for over three decades now is Paul Merton, he first featured before Have I Got News For You had launched, and he is always good value. My mum was in the audience for an edition, when one of the panellists was some called Suki Webster. And it turns out that this is Paul’s wife, so I’m sure that she definitely got on the panel on her own merit with no influence from anybody else…

One remarkable thing was the longevity of Parsons, who was the chairman for over half a century and almost 1,000 editions, he was still in charge at an age when most people have long since retired, and it was clear that he had as much enthusiasm for the game as he always did. But after a gap when there was time to consider the next move, a new host was eventually chosen.

This was Sue Perkins, who once mistakenly told Gyles Brandreth that he had “34 minutes” to talk instead of “34 seconds”, but he probably could’ve still achieved this. Who knows how many more years Just A Minute can run for, as I said in my previous review, putting some funny people together and giving them interesting subjects to talk about means that you can stretch the idea almost infinitely.

There have also been some variations on the format, including going to different countries, as this show is indeed very popular around the world, a junior version with children playing, and several highlights have been released on cassette and CD. And there is also a comprehensive fansite ( worth visiting with everything you could ever want to know, including statistics and transcripts.

Game Show Memories – Game Show Stars Part 16.

There have been many people who have had long careers, but this is someone who had just about the longest career of any game show host on the TV and radio, lasting for over six decades. Nicholas Parsons first became a TV regular as long ago as the mid-50s. He would take part in comedy shows, and often played the straightman to various comedians, and this meant that he got to know some of the biggest stars of this era.

Even then he was hosting game shows, but it seems that most of these weren’t that great. In the late-60s, he became the host of one of his most popular shows, and little did he realise that he would still be in charge over five decades later. Just A Minute is a great example of one of those games that is easy to play, but difficult to master. After the format settled down, various regulars would take part for several years, and he managed to keep everything going.

His longest-running TV success launched in the early-70s, when he was the host of Sale Of The Century, where hundreds of questions were asked, and prizes were given away at prices that were rather ridiculous. He hosted this for over a decade, and this was one of the most successful game shows on ITV of its era. When this came to an end in the early-80s, he continued to host Just A Minute all along. He’d always let the panellists get the laugh they wanted, and give them too many bonus points for doing so.

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By the late-80s, he was possibly hoping to host a new TV game show, and it turned out to be a rather unlikely one. Night Network was one of ITV’s first attempts at an overnight service, and he was in charge of The All-New Alphabet Game segment, hoping the celebrity panellists could answer the odd questions. In the mid-90s, there was the first of three attempts to bring Just A Minute to TV, and they were all different in their approach.

The first was on ITV in a late-night slot, and featured more comedians at the alternative end taking part than what you would hear on the radio version at the time. He proved that he could work with the younger generation, although by this point by comparison just about everyone was the younger generation. The second attempt was a more cosy affair on BBC1 in a daytime slot, with older panellists who looked like they were on the verge of falling asleep.

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By the late-90s, most of the original contributors to Just A Minute had gone, but he kept going on. The third attempt was on BBC2 in an evening slot, this time mostly featuring the radio regulars, including Paul Merton, who by now was a veteran of the game. This was another short run though. He did seem to be unstoppable, still hosting when many other people would’ve long since retired, and it was clear that he liked to keep a sharp and always inquisitive mind.

Although they often mocked him, it was clear that panellists including Paul Merton and Gyles Brandreth definitely had a lot of admiration for him, and he even hosted a few shows with Merton about the history of comedy. When he did finally depart Just A Minute, there was the difficult task of choosing a new host, proving that essentially nobody is irreplaceable, but he would be pleased that the game is still played, and he deserves praise for his commitment to game shows.

Game Show Memories – Just A Minute.

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. vlcsnap-01307

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. vlcsnap-01309

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. vlcsnap-01310

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! vlcsnap-01304

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. vlcsnap-01308

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. vlcsnap-01311

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. minute0001