With over four decades' worth of episodes, Just a Minute has plenty of moments from which to choose, but here are some noteworthy ones.
Given the subject of "Body language", Stephen Fry opened thus:
Stephen Fry: My bottom speaks fluent German...
This was as far as he was able to get before riotous laughter from the audience, the other panellists, and host Nicholas Parsons cut him off. Eventually Paul Merton pressed his buzzer and balanced a smaller crown atop Stephen's.
Paul Merton: You don't have to tell me, I heard it clearing its throat earlier!
Sir Clement Freud was given the opening subject of "Answering back" in one episode. When Nicholas finished his opening spiel about having sixty seconds to speak without hesitation, repetition, or deviation, "starting now", Clement simply replied:
Clement Freud: Shan't!
Sue Perkins, upon gaining the subject "Chick Lit", gave a hilarious parody/deconstruction of the "chick lit" genre.
Sue Perkins: Alex is a doctor, slack jawed and ready to roll. She doesn't have a job but wants babies. Oh my ovaries are drying, must find a man, where can I go? The supermarket, I don't care. I'll travel miles because a baby will take my mind off the lack of personality that the writer has ascribed to me. He looks hot, what does he do? Is that a stethoscope? Touch me but maybe don't, because let's face it, I want to widen the audience that buys these books and pornography will simply detract from the overall theme. The... (whistle blows as the sixty seconds are up)
In Dara O Briain's first episode, he gets the subject "Stiff upper lip" with fifty seconds left and immediately gets challenged for hesitation. Nicholas agrees with the challenge but decides to let him keep the subject because he's new. He starts again: "Being Irish..." Clement challenges him for deviation, for starting too quickly this time. Dara starts again: "Being Irish..." Paul challenges for repetition, but Dara says it's not his fault he didn't get to finish the sentence, prompting an argument ("So with the two words "being Irish," you've got me for hesitation, repetition and deviation"). Nicholas lets him keep the subject. Dara: "As a Paddy..." Paul then challenges for deviation for not saying "being Irish." Dara finally gets the thing off the ground with, "Not hailing from these shores..."and ends up losing the subject after a sentence and a half anyway.
In a 1974 episode, Kenneth Williams was given the subject "Immanuel Kant", and initially spoke for 39 seconds about Kant's life and The Critique of Pure Reason until Barry Cryer buzzed him for perceived deviation. Nicholas overruled the challenge, but Kenneth was apparently more than usually thrown by the interruption, leading to the following:
Kenneth: Of course, the other th- oh, dear! [buzz] [audience laughter] Nicholas: Kenneth Williams will start again, you have 21 seconds on Immanuel Kant starting now... Kenneth:[overlapping with Nicholas] Well I can't now because it's just ruined me! [buzz] I mean it's just ruined me! Nicholas: Clement Freud has challenged. Clement Freud: Deviation, he wasn't talking about Immanuel Kant. He was talking about his personal ruination. Nicholas:[overlapping with Clement] Right, Kenneth Williams, you continue with Immanuel Kant, you have 18 seconds starting now. Kenneth: But it'd be impossible for me to collect my thoughts, and all the thoughts that need collecting- [buzz] Nicholas: And, er, Clement Freud has challenged again. Clement: Repetition of "thoughts". Nicholas: Yes, you repeated "thoughts", but don't worry Kenneth, carry on on Immanuel Kant, and you have 14 seconds starting now. Kenneth: Well you see, he- [buzz] Nicholas: And, er, Derek Nimmo's challenged. Derek Nimmo: What's happening!? [audience laughter] Nicholas: Kenneth Williams must continue on Immanuel Kant because he was thrown by all three of you, he has 13 seconds starting now. Kenneth: He makes a definite- [buzz] Nicholas: Er, Derek Nimmo's challenged. Derek: D'you mind if I go home? There doesn't seem to be a point, does there really!
This then opened the floodgates for first Clement, then Derek, and finally Barry to buzz in with non-challenges simply because they wanted Kenneth to have extra points... then, when Kenneth was finally able to get going again, Derek finally successfully challenged him for repetition. The massive number of points he accumulated during the round was enough to hand Kenneth a rare win for the game.
The time Tim Rice said that the way to be irresistible to women was to be "strong and silent," and gave an example. This caused a lengthy argument about whether the silence in question counted as hesitation or not.
The 25 August 2003 episode was full of funny moments.
Paul said he'd been to see Clement's "one-man tribute to Robbie Williams," with a Brief Accent Imitation of Clement saying, "Let Me Entertain You." (A little later, when Clement got a subject away from him, Paul retaliated with, "Your Robbie Williams show was rubbish.")
"Why aye, Your Majesty!" will be heard ringing across the place. "I'd very much like to enjoy one of your champion Ferrero Rochers!"
Ross Noble and Tony Hawks' argument as to whether or not moles can have jobs.
Clement gets the subject "Records" at the very end of a round that's beginning to drag on a little: "The great thing about Virgin Records is that they have no" — [whistle] — "holes in them."
David Mitchell, on his first appearance, started with the first subject and was buzzed on the grounds of hesitation by Clement Freud before he'd said a word. Nicholas then ruled it was not a valid challenge and gave David a point, prompting this:
David: That's actually a rate of point scoring of infinity per word! I'll never keep it up!
Clement's challenge merits a mention as well:
Clement: You know, people think, because someone hasn't played the game before, that you should be kind to them. But he hesitated! It was a most obvious hesitation!
Note that the challenge happened after less than half a second. (Needless to say, it was not meant seriously and was simply Clement's way of "welcoming" David to the show.)
In 2003, when the subject was "one minute"...
Paul Merton: One minute can be fast, slow, medium paced... (buzz) Nicholas Parsons: Ross challenged. Ross Noble: No, it's a minute.
The episode from August 2010 where, in the final round, the other panellists constantly buzz in on John Sergeant knowing their challenge is wrong.
In a 2006 episode, the subject was "The London Marathon". Clement Freud managed to get the subject with 30 seconds left and quipped that he could run the London Marathon as he had the body of an 18-year-old boy... in his refrigerator. Paul Merton buzzed in but withdrew his challenge, saying that Clement really did have an 18-year-old boy named Simon in his fridge. He was given the subject anyway and began talking about his own relationship with Simon, at which point Julian Clary buzzed him for deviation - and during the ensuing banter, Clement claimed that Simon was in fact dead, to the dismay of Paul and Pauline McLynn. The round quickly collapsed into chaos, to the point that when Nicholas tried to return the subject to Julian, he slipped up and said Julian had four seconds to talk about Simon... and decided he might as well officially change the subject of the round.
Paul pretending his microphone was dying so he could get away with several seconds of silence followed by an Orphaned Punchline. Everyone let him get away with it until he did it again a moment later and Clement challenged not for hesitation, but for repetition.
Similarly, Paul was given the subject of "telepathy" in a 1994 episode. The ensuing long silence (12 seconds!) was as funny as it was predictable, as was Tony Hawks claiming that he had repeated "...".
On several occasions, Peter Jones talked for quite a while under the impression that he had the subject when he didn't. For example, in Barry Cryer's debut in 1974, he was speaking on the apt subject "what it's like the first time", and told a joke about misunderstanding the direction "stand in boiling water" the first time he tried to cook a tin of soup. Derek Nimmo challenged him, but was told by Nicholas that his challenge was wrong. However, as soon as Nicholas said "starting now", Peter Jones tried to clarify Barry's joke, and after Ian Messiter stopped and re-started the watch, Peter went on talking over Barry until the whistle went.
In the 1974-75 series opener, Clement Freud had the subject "The first of a new series" with three seconds to go, and before he said anything Peter Jones challenged for hesitation. Nicholas ruled that there hadn't been a hesitation and gave Clement back the subject... with two seconds left. The idea that not speaking for a second didn't qualify as hesitation led Peter to an epic rant that Kenneth Williams would have been proud of. This rant was intertwined with Derek Nimmo complaining that his buzzer wasn't working, then followed by a brief rant from Kenneth when Nicholas accidentally said his name instead of Clement's and he assumed Nicholas was about to chastise him, making for a chaotic yet hilarious start to the new series.
In Linda Smith's first appearance everyone gave her joke challenges, culminating with "I just thought she should have another point." Her response was "Can I just say I don't find this at all patronising?"
Along similar lines, she was in an episode with Stephen Fry once when he inevitably started talking about the Latin root of the subject, and she buzzed to say that she was feeling "educationally insecure" and to try to sell him a bunch of violets.
The live episode from the Edinburgh Fringe 2011 where Gyles Brandreth managed to drag absolutely every subject around to the Royal Family within a couple of sentences, to much bewilderment from Paul Merton.
In one 2012 episode, Sue Perkins gets the subject of Dadaism, and gives a lengthy speech on what it entails and where it originated, getting more and more melodramatic, finally saying "And it's gone way, way, way—ARGH!" Cue the buzzer from Paul Merton, after which Nicholas reveals to her that she had been speaking for fifty-nine seconds.
In a 1971 episode, Kenneth Williams was given the subject of "Heinrich Schwarzburg" and spoke quite convincingly of the man's life story before losing the subject to Clement Freud with three seconds to go. After Clement used up the last few seconds, Nicholas revealed that, as far as Ian Messiter knew, there was no such person as Heinrich Schwarzburg, and they were just playing a prank on Kenneth.
In the 18 April 1981 episode, Clement Freud was apparently feeling more than usually unkindly disposed toward Nicholas and seemed to be taking every opportunity to criticise his abilities as chairman, and the other panellists were only too happy to join in:
Upon winning the subject of "cheek", Clement said that this was exhibited by Nicholas in taking on the job of taking control of people "whose multi-syllabic words he doesn't understand, whose meaning he is unable to comprehend, and whose hours and time he is unable to keep", then acknowledged the numerous repetitions of "unable" and wondered why he hadn't been challenged. Peter Jones buzzed to say that he hadn't challenged because he'd been enjoying the speech, prompting loud and delighted laughter from Kenneth Williams as well as the audience.
Later in the programme, Clement was given the subject of "making an effort", and declared that he would like to dissociate Nicholas from such a concept. Derek Nimmo buzzed to say he endorsed Clement's statement.
Between these two denunciations, Peter was given the subject of "stink bombs", and while he was speaking, Derek (who sat next to him when they appeared together) produced a trick safety pin bought from a joke shop and put it through his nose. Peter was so surprised that he completely dried up and Derek promptly buzzed him for hesitation. Nicholas gave him the subject, and as he spoke of having set off a stink bomb in the studio, Derek produced a bag of plastic snow which he emptied over his head, to gales of laughter from the audience and other panellists. (Peter rather wisely pointed out that the performance was somewhat lost on the radio audience.)
As the laughter died down, Clement nonsensically challenged Derek for saying "Tunbridge Wells". Nicholas overruled the challenge, but Clement continued to debate the point over Nicholas saying "starting now", leading Nicholas to point out that since Derek wasn't speaking, anyone could challenge him for hesitation! (No-one took the bait, however.)
In one 2012 episode, Liza Tarbuck has the subject of "Camels". She says "There is nothing more delightful than a camel." Kit Hesketh-Harvey buzzes in — "How can you say that in front of Nicholas Parsons?" Nicholas says "I've never been compared to a camel before..." and Paul Merton comes in with "Not favorably, no!"
From a 2012 episode, Charles Collingwood gets the subject "The Contents of Nicholas' Wallet". He claims that Nicholas has the body of a small labrador in his wallet, squashed up tight. Julian Clary challenges with the statement "Let's just...stop this now". Nicholas says, incredulously, "Exactly! I've got the body of a labrador in my wallet...?" Cue Paul Merton: "So you admit it!"
In one 1993 episode, Peter Jones challenged Clement Freud for hesitation while he was speaking on the subject of "ginger", and Paul Merton pointed out "There was a repetition of 'restaurant'."
Nicholas: I know there was, but he didn't challenge for that. Paul: No, but I've just done. Nicholas: Yes, but Peter got in first. I disagree with the challenge, actually, Peter, so Clement has to keep the subject, even though Paul's challenge was correct — mind you, that doesn't mean to say you can't challenge later — twelve seconds left, starting now. Clement: Candied, caramelised— (buzz) Nicholas: Paul Merton, you've challenged? Paul: Repetition of 'restaurant'. Nicholas: Yes, that's right. Ten seconds— Paul: ...That was one of the most bizarre rulings I've ever come across! Nicholas: Well, you challenged him for repetition of 'restaurant'. Paul: Yes, I did. Nicholas: And he did repeat 'restaurant'. Paul: He did. Nicholas: That's right. Paul: But you wouldn't give it to me before. Nicholas: But he — you — let's get this — let's — I mean, there are simple rules, which we follow — he did have 'restaurant'... Paul: Nicholas, in an earlier programme, you accused me of living 'in a world of my own'. Nicholas: I try to live in the world of Just a Minute, which is particularly difficult, making these obstuse — er decisions on... Paul:Obstuse? Nicholas: And obtruse! I tactfully suggested that you could challenge later, you did challenge later,you got in there with another repetition of(devolves into gibberish) and Clement Freud is right, so actually I'm entitled now to say to you, yes, that is right, 'cause Clement Freud did repeat 'restaurant' before and so you get a point for a correct challenge to take away from Clement Freud and—(devolves into gibberish again) Derek Nimmo: ...He's finally flipped! Nicholas: Ten seconds on ginger, starting now! Paul: Could I have that last ruling in writing?
In a 1974 episode, Derek Nimmo was given the subject of "old Nick", and inevitably took the bait to launch into an energetic diatribe against Nicholas (as if portending the chaos ahead, when Nicholas announced the subject, a passing emergency siren could be heard in the background):
Derek: That great fat slob who sits up there on this podium! Week after same seven days! And adjudicates about this programme! Great big gross ugly man! [buzz, which Derek ignores] I loathe him! "Old Nick", I shout every week when I come to the studio! How can I look at old Nick getting more and more elderly... [buzz, which Derek ignores again] every time I see him the great eyes sagging, the dreary ears like a frog, ears like a frog... [huge audience laughter] with an 84-year-old mother! Nicholas: The round of applause was for the glass of water that I threw over Derek Nimmo!
In one of the 2012 TV episodes, Nicholas announces the next subject as "The Owl and the Pussycat", and starts reciting the entire poem (which he doesn't remember very well, at that). The whole panel looks increasingly concerned, culminating in all four walking off set with Marcus Brigstocke holding up a piece of paper with "GET HELP!" written on it.
In one of the 2012 TV episodes, Nicholas — rather worriedly — announces that the next subject is "Nicholas Parsons". Sue Perkins opens with the sublime "Nicholas Parsons was born before records began..."
From the same episode, Nicholas explains to Sue why he's enforcing a certain challenge. Sue replies with an overly-melodramatic "Don't be strict with me, Nicholas! Keep the love alive!". Paul Merton gives an utterly shocked expression, and then "Another one, Nicholas!?"
There's an episode from 1984 with Gyles Brandreth, Martin Jarvis, Kenneth Williams and Derek Nimmo where Nicholas seems to be particularly confident — putting on a Northern accent to chew out Martin, answering a challenge in fluent French, and making Kenneth Williams momentarily speechless!
Kenneth: Are you taking the rise?! Nicholas: Yes! Kenneth:(brief hesitation) ...Well!
In a 2010 episode, Ross Noble goes on a very surreal tangent after Tony Hawks challenges him. Eventually Nicholas gives Ross the benefit of the doubt, and when the clock starts again he is so taken aback to still have the subject that he is immediately buzzed for hesitation. (It's also the same episode where Nicholas gets a bit lost during a challenge and ends up awarding himself points.)
In a 2014 episode, Gyles Brandreth gets the subject of "My favourite view", and starts with "You know that wonderful line of Maureen Lipman's, 'What's the worst thing about oral sex? The view.'" He continues speaking over the loud (and surprised) audience laughter about his favourite view being from the cell in Ford Prison which he served time for a bank robbery (a Call Back to an earlier round about "The best way to spend a bank holiday") as all three of the other panellists (Paul Sinha, Shappi Khorsandi, and Patrick Kielty) buzz him repeatedly.
In a 1973 episode, one of the subjects Ian Messiter saw fit to include was "My oldest possession". However, Nicholas, by his own admission, was too vain to wear his glasses during recordings, and accidentally read the subject as "My oldest profession", to the amused disbelief of Messiter and the panellists.
Barry Took's debut episode in 1973 included an example of the value of timing in comedy. Suffering from the usual first-timer nerves, he randomly challenged Peter Jones just for an excuse to say something, said something being "Good evening." The audience laughed and applauded, so Nicholas awarded him a bonus point (while noting how odd it was to award someone a point just for saying "Good evening"), but left the subject with Peter. Barry was then given the next subject, "My preference", and near the end of the round, Derek Nimmo and Clement Freud both buzzed him simply to say, "Good evening," to further laughter from the audience.
During a round on 'Green Fingers', Clement Freud ends up with the subject and begins talking about how he has herbaceous borders that would outwit, outplay, outperform... at which point Paul Merton challenges for deviation:
Paul: I don't know that a herbaceous border can outwit anybody! If I saw a herbaceous border offering me a cheap villa in Spain, I don't think I'd go for it. I don't think I'd find myself sitting in Madrid 3 years later going, "Well, I rue the day I took a business deal with that herbaceous border!" It's deviation, a herbaceous border can't outwit anybody. A tulip, now there's another thing! Nicholas: Paul you're on great form and we absolutely love it. But, the thing is... Paul: Nicholas, no, you're not going to say it! You're not going to tell me you've been outwitted by a herbaceous border!
Later in the same round, Paul and Linda Smith wonder what circumstances could lead to a herbaceous border outwitting someone:
Paul: You hear about it on Gardener's Question Time. "Dear Gardener's Question Time, my herbaceous border has recently bought a Volvo car without my knowledge!" Linda: Yes! "Dear Gardener's Question Time, my herbaceous border has recently beaten me at chess!" Paul: Am I the only person here whose herbaceous border has made it to the final of Brain of Britain?