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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Reecey Recommends: Just A Minute.

Just A Minute
(Guest Article by Reecey.)

Sometimes you need to write an editorial that serves no purpose other than to talk about something you absolutely adore in an attempt to get other people to love it just as much.

So consider this a greeting to all the wonderful readers of Fission Mailure, not just in this country, but around the world.

Can I write my self satisfying editorial about how much I love this radio programme with no deviation, repetition or hesitation for sixty continuous seconds?

No, no I can’t.

It doesn’t work in text anyway, how would hesitation even work? Or would a buzzer sound and Paul Merton say ‘hesitation, I’m afraid’ every time I use an ellipses?

(Which would make an amusing game for when you’re playing Final Fantasy VIII, surely.)


Deviation, Squall Leonhart's never even been a contestant!

Well, he’s got me there.

To our subject, then.

For the uninitiated, Just a Minute is a Radio Four panel game created by Ian Messiter and hosted by the venerable Nicholas Parsons CBE.

The format was tested out several ways in the fifties, but the version we know and love today was first aired in 1967, three months after the launch of Radio Four.

(As a side note, if you’ve ever seen The Boat that Rocked, then you’ve had a brief and sensationalised history of the climate surrounding the birth of Radios One to Four.)

It’s relevant, Paul.

You may think I’ve left out mentioning the original host, but I have not. Nicholas Parsons is the original host. This will be his fiftieth year hosting.

The man is ninety three years old.

He’s older than both Bruce Forsyth and Dick van Dyke, two men who seem to have never not existed. He’s older than the Queen.

Yet despite these mind boggling facts, his performance on Just a Minute is still cheerful and sprightly, and he doesn’t at all com across as a fossil. A little old fashioned, but never particularly ignorant of the modern day. Which isn’t an easy thing to do, because when you’re an older white gentleman, coming across as a fossil is the easiest way to play the straight man to varying comedians, some of whom are young up and comers.

It’s a testament to how long running this series is that Paul Merton, who is now well established as a comedian (he once presented Room 101) and a regular on the programme, only had his television breakthrough in the same year he offered to join the show as a regular.

The man he was stepping into the shoes of was Kenneth Williams of Carry On fame.

If you can find episodes of Just a Minute with him in (he only recorded three hundred and forty four of them), you really should, the man was a comic genius and the Carry On films do not show that to its fullest extent.

In fact, because of the simplicity of the format, it gives all of the comedians an excellent platform to show off their personal brand of comedy and the ability to play off each other to hilarious effect.

A few other notable performers are the late Clement Freud, famed raconteur Gyles Brandreth, former Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins, angry man David Mitchell, not a pro skater (even if he sounds like one) Tony Hawks, late famed astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, time travelling actor David Tennant, famed transvestite Eddie Izzard, part time lord of hell Andy Hamilton, current QI host Sandi Toksvig and the host and main panelists of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

(Which is a subject for another day.)

There are far, far too many to list here.

A rogue's gallery.

It’s something of a testament to how much I’ve listened to this programme in my life that only after six hundred words does it occur to me that the rules may not be quite as self explanatory as I think they are. So, a brief explanation:

At the beginning of each round one of the four panellists is given a subject and it is their aim to talk about it for a full minute without violating any of these three rules.

No Repetition: This is the easiest one to grasp, you cannot repeat words unless they are on the card describing the subject. Of course, exceptions are made for basic words like ‘and’ or ‘the’, unless the panellist is taking the michael with them. Ah, additionally, singulars and plurals count as different words for this rule.

No Hesitation: Still, pretty easy to get, don’t pause for thought. Tripping over your words also counts, as does pausing for audience applause. Something that trips up new players an awful lot.

No Deviation: Initially this strictly meant deviating from the subject, but it’s been expanded for comedic effect to things like deviating from reality, deviating from logic, deviating from the truth and deviating from the English language as we understand it.

If the panellist breaks any of these rules, then they can be interrupted by another panellist, and if the challenge is correct, the second panellist takes over the subject and aims to speak for the remaining time.

Points are given for posing a correct challenge, having an incorrect challenge posed against you, speaking as the whistle goes and an extra point on top of that for speaking for the full minute. Bonus points are also awarded for being especially funny during challenges.

If this all sounds a bit weird, it’s actually far, far easier to learn the rules by listening to the programme once or twice.

Describing what makes any particular episode funny is difficult at best, unless it’s got Julian Clary in it and his entendres cause you to laugh so hard that you swear you can taste blood in your mouth, because these rules are so simple that the rotating panel can do all sorts of things with them. From Clement Freud rules lawyering his way to victory, Paul Merton deliberately using singulars and plurals to trip new players up, Kenneth Williams’ tantrums, all the way to Sue Perkins ribbing Nicholas Parsons and Gyles Brandreth talking about some great political figure of the twentieth century who he of course knew personally.

Everyone has their own spin on the formula and brings something unique to the show and its discourse, and that’s what’s given a programme originally inspired by a smug teacher attempting to embarrass his pupil such lasting appeal and such a loyal fanbase. Not just in this country, but around the world.

They did a couple of episodes in India once, it was great.

So, I suggest you take the time to listen to it when you can (it is available on the BBC World Service and online) and soon, you too will feel the immense satisfaction of when someone starts with a topic and keeps speaking, uninterrupted, until the whistle goes.

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