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Radio / Just a Minute

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The regular personnel from the early years. Clockwise from top left: Clement Freud, Derek Nimmo, Kenneth Williams, Nicholas Parsons, Ian Messiter.

(For full effect, begin reading this page playing Frédéric Chopin's "Minute Waltz" in your head.)

Nicholas Parsons: Reg Shoe, will you begin the next round please, 60 seconds on the subject of "the origins of Just a Minute", starting now.

A BBC Radio 4 comedy Panel Game which has been broadcast since 22 December 1967 and was originally hosted by Nicholas Parsons, who appeared in nearly every single episode for 52 years (apart from just two absences for health reasons). It began in the year that Radio 4 launched, and...

Nicholas Parsons: Report Siht has challenged.
Report Siht: "Radio 4" twice.
Report Siht: I mean you repeated yourself.
Nicholas Parsons: Ah, yes. There was too much "Radio 4" in your speech, not that you can have too much Radio 4, so that's a point to Report Siht, you take over the subject, and you have 50 seconds to explain Just a Minute, starting now.

Just a Minute is one of the station's longest running programs, with over 800 episodes as of 2013, and it won a Gold Sony Radio Academy Award in 2003. It has been adapted for television thrice; for ITV in 1994, the Beeb in 1999, and that same corporation again in 2012 for the forty-fifth anniversary.

The object of the game is for panelists to talk "for just a minute" on a given (often rather strange) subject, "without hesitation, repetition or deviation" (except they can repeat the subject or any words therein). These rules stemmed from creator Ian Messiter's old teacher, who told him to repeat everything he had just said without hesitating or repeating himself after accusing him of not paying attention to the lesson (Messiter added the rule about deviating personally).

Nicholas Parsons: chrisboote has challenged.
chrisboote: Repetition of "subject". We can't start having two subjects, that way madness lies!
Nicholas Parsons: Well, we do have multiple subjects each show, but I see your point. So we give chrisboote a point for a correct challenge, but we'll leave the subject with Report, 35 seconds on Just a Minute, starting—
Nicholas Parsons: Trope-tan has challenged.
Trope-tan: Repetition of "deviating".
Report Siht: "Deviation" and "deviating"... two different words...
Trope-tan: Ah, yes.
Nicholas Parsons: Yes, yes, two different words. So we give Report another point for an incorrect challenge, he's still got the subject, 35 seconds on Just a Minute, starting now...

The game comes from attempts to try to keep within these rules, which whilst they appear to be simple, are very hard not to break. To speak for the full minute without being challenged is extremely difficult, and meritorious when achieved (though the most common cause is when the other players agree to ignore any mistakes in order to watch the poor sap struggle for a whole minute [or longer if the moderator is feeling malicious as well]).

Nicholas Parsons: That Troper, you've challenged.
Report Siht: How was that hesitation?
Report Siht: That was clarifying, and don't type in capital letters!
Nicholas Parsons: Gentlemen, please, let's not argue. As long as he doesn't pause for any length of time, it doesn't count as hesitation. So Report gets another point for an incorrect challenge, he keeps the subject, 20 seconds on Just a Minute, starting now.

You score a point for a correct challenge (as well as all the rest of time left on that subject), being incorrectly challenged and for talking whilst the whistle goes. You may also be awarded a bonus point for an incorrect challenge, if the audience likes it enough. The most common cause of a correct challenge is...

Nicholas Parsons: And Trope-tan has challenged.
Trope-tan: I'm sorry, but you were repeating the word "challenge".
Nicholas Parsons: Yes, too many "challenges". Well spotted, Trope-tan. So you...
Report Siht: Oh, come on! I was talking about the rules, for crumbs' sake!
Nicholas Parsons: Report, I'm sorry, but that is the peril of this game. Trope-tan gets a point, and she has 12 seconds to talk about Just a Minute, starting now.

Repetition is the most common cause of disqualification, followed by Hesitation, with serious challenges for Deviation quite rare (although it's often used as a "miscellaneous" challenge for tongue-in-cheek comments). On more than one occasion individuals have challenged themselves.

If you don't believe how hard this is then try it for yourself. Talk for one minute about "Bunny Ears Lawyers I have known", without repeating yourself, hesitating, or deviating from the subject in a significant way.

A large number of people have appeared on the show, but there have been five "regular" players over the course of its history: Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones, Clement Freud and Paul Merton...

Nicholas Parsons: That Troper has challenged.
(audience boos and hisses)
Nicholas Parsons: Oh, That... That Troper, you haven't won any friends in this audience with that challenge! No, I think a history of the panelists is a very important part of Just a Minute, so Trope-tan gets a point for an incorrect challenge, she keeps the subject, there are 2 seconds left to talk about Just a Minute, starting now.

Paul Merton is the only current regular panelist, though others like Tony Hawks and Gyles Brandreth appear often as well...

(whistle blows)
Nicholas Parsons: So Trope-tan was speaking as the whistle went, gained that extra point, and she's moved into the lead with that final display of incredibly fast speaking.
That Troper: i could have done better
Nicholas Parsons: Report Siht, it is your turn to begin the next round, our next topic, "the future of Just a Minute". Will you talk on that subject for sixty seconds as usual, starting now...

The future of the show was unclear following the death of Nicholas Parsons, who had chaired over 900 editions and missed only four episodes over 52 years, in January 2020. (If one includes the various television adaptations over the years, then Parsons hosted...)

Nicholas Parsons: And logbat99 has challenged.
logbat99: Repetition of "Parsons".
Nicholas Parsons: Yes, quite right, you can't have too much of me either. So, you have a point and you take over the subject; 45 seconds on the future of Just a Minute, starting now.

He hosted just over 1,000 episodes in total. Also, in February 2021 an announcement was broadcast: the show would return with a series of guest hosts including Stephen Fry, Paul Merton and Gyles Brandreth; one of them, Sue Perkins, was later revealed to be programme's permanent host beginning with the 87th series in September of that year.

This show contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Syntax: A sometime tactic of Paul Merton, usually just to get a laugh:
    [The subject is "mutton dressed as lamb", and Sue Perkins has just resumed a description of such a person]
    Sue Perkins: Boobs like spacehoppers— [buzz]
    Paul: That's not true, boobs don't like spacehoppers! They see them as rivals!
  • Ascended Fanboy: Paul Merton grew up as a huge fan of the show, and would record episodes from the radio and listen back to them as his means of entertainment when he was living in a bedsit with no television. Not only did he eventually appear on the show and become a regular participant, but frequently appeared with three of the four regulars whose shows he spent so many years repeatedly listening to.
  • Audience Participation: In the early years, if Nicholas were faced with a difficult decision regarding a challenge, he would often put it to the audience, asking them to cheer or boo depending on whether they agreed or disagreed with the challenge. (As something of an audience favourite, Kenneth Williams often benefitted from such "decisions".)
  • Bad News in a Good Way: Nicholas tends to tell people that they're in a "very strong" fourth place, or that they've given "great value". This often gets him accused of being patronizing, although he insists he's just trying to be kind.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Panellists frequently resort to this if they get a historical or cultural subject about which they know nothing and yet about which they must now speak. Paul Merton is particularly fond of this device, using it to pursue surreal flights of fancy and/or play up his Book Dumb persona.
    • Gyles Brandreth seems especially fond of claiming connections (especially of a romantic nature) to famous people of all ages and all professions, and although some of the stories are basically true (if exaggerated), many of them are obvious lies told for comic effect.
  • Brick Joke: The last subject of the last episode of the 1972-73 series was "Making a spectacular exit". When Just a Minute returned five months later for the 1973-74 series, the first subject of the first episode was "Making a spectacular entrance". The two episodes even featured the same panel (Clement Freud, Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo, and Kenneth Williams).
  • Buffy Speak: An often-employed tactic to avoid challenges of repetition is to describe the same concept in increasingly absurd ways. This leads to constructions like "moving-the-boat-through-the-water people" note .
  • Butt-Monkey: Nicholas is frequently the target of good-natured but relentless abuse from the contestants (and, one feels, often somewhat less good-natured in the case of Kenneth Williams). Not only do the panellists constantly mock him, both during their monologues and in response to his judgements as chairman, but the game itself will often deliberately provoke this, setting subjects such as "The chairman's darkest secret".
  • Character Catchphrase: "You great nit!" from Kenneth Williams.
  • Christmas Episode: Over the show's history there have been very occasional Christmas-themed episodes, using appropriately festive subjects.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Usually Paul Merton, who was once allowed to speak for 1 minute and 15 seconds, with no-one buzzing in, while he recounted the story of a dolphin he met on a number 47 bus.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Clement Freud and Paul Merton.
  • Department of Redundancy Departmentnote : A common cause of repetition is simple reduplication for emphasis — "way, way back", "very very big", etc. Invariably causes an audible-down-the-airwaves Facepalm from the poor sap who falls into this trap.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first series in 1967-68 featured a number of rounds where the panellists had to avoid using certain common words such as "and", "the", or "I"; also, instead of using a whistle to mark the end of sixty seconds, Ian Messiter would use either a cuckoo machine or a bicycle horn. The second series from 1968 only featured three panellists per episode, and for three of the six episodes, Nicholas rotated the position of chairman with each of the three regular panellists (Clement Freud, Kenneth Williams, and Geraldine Jones), while Ian had moved on to using a bell when the sixty seconds were over. It wasn't until the third series from 1968-69 that the programme settled into its current format.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: The male guests will frequently make allusions to their desires for Nicholas Parsons and tell tales of the kinds of things they get up to with him after the recording finishes.
  • Flawless Victory: The impressive feat of speaking for the full minute without being interrupted once nets you a rather measly two points - one for speaking when the whistle went, and one for lasting the full minute.
  • Foreign Remake:
    • Sweden has had its own version, På Minuten, going for almost as long as the UK version (albeit with a six-year hiatus from 1988-94). There are some slight rules differences, with deviation being treated more leniently, while repetition of multiple forms of the same word (such as using both the singular and plural of a noun) is not permitted but repetition on either side of being challenged and/or losing the subject is allowed. The panellists have also played for prizes since 2004, usually some sort of Foreign Queasine (which has led to many panellists trying to avoid winning at all costs).
    • India has had a few versions as well. At one point Radio 4 broadcast a couple of Crossover shows with some of the regulars from the Indian version.
  • Gratuitous French: The panellists will occasionally slip into foreign languages, and French, as the most widely studied foreign language in Britain, is the most common.
    • In a 1974 episode in which Derek Nimmo was buzzed for supposedly over-repeating the word "I", he decided instead to use the French equivalent, "je".
    • In an episode of the 2012 television series, the opening subject was "Pardon my French", and the opening speaker was Gyles Brandreth - who, as a young boy, attended the Lycée Français de Londre, and took the opportunity to show off his fluency in the language. When Tony Hawks successfully challenged him, he also spoke his first few sentences in (slightly less fluent) French, and even Nicholas joined in (although, in contrast to Gyles and Tony, Nicholas' French was not subtitled as it was a mixture of French and gibberish).
  • Gratuitous German: In at least one episode, Clement Freud decided to employ his native language (born in Berlin, he did not move to England until his family fled the rise of the Nazis) to speak on the subject of "liaisons" after some Gratuitous French from Tony Hawks and Nicholas earlier in the round.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A panellist will sometimes win the subject on a particularly picky or controversial challenge, only to be picked up on the same error once they begin speaking and lose the subject again. Nicholas will also often use the phrase on these occasions.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Kenneth Williams frequently went on tirades complaining about pedantic challenges going against him or about one of the other panellists dominating the show, even though he could be responsible for some very pedantic challenges himself and was by far the most dominant panellist in most of the episodes he recorded. Nicholas would frequently call him out on his more obvious hypocritical challenges, such as complaining about other panellists speaking too slowly or affecting funny voices (both of which were integral parts of Kenneth's approach to Just a Minute). In most cases, he was likely invoking the Rule of Funny, although, as with his insults toward Nicholas, this may not always have been true.
  • Large Ham: Many panellists have moments of this, since overacting is seen as an easy way to deliver a small number of words in a manner that eats up a lot of time, or a good way to get laughs from the audience; all of the original regulars except for Clement Freud had many ham moments of different flavours:
    • Kenneth Williams practically made an art form out of stretching out every syllable of every word, sometimes to the point that he was successfully challenged for hesitation. (One-time panelist Elaine Strich said "he makes one word into a three-act play.") Gyles Brandreth and Graham Norton are among those who have most proudly carried on this tradition.
    • Derek Nimmo would often get very loud and animated if he got a subject, though unlike Kenneth Williams he would often talk extremely quickly and eventually get buzzed for repetition or "deviation from the English language" if he spoke too quickly to be understood. Paul Merton has carried on this tradition, especially if he gets a subject with five seconds or less left on the clock.
    • Peter Jones shared Derek's tendency to get loud and animated,note  but almost exclusively when he was arguing with Nicholas or the other panellists over a point of procedure; when he had the subject, he tended to speak more slowly and deliberately.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Players sometimes do this to avoid repetition, but doing so without hesitation can be even more difficult.
    "Shakespeare wrote play after... script."
  • Long List: Clement Freud often employed this tactic to avoid repetition.
  • Long-Runners: Just a Minute has been airing on Radio 4 since 1967. Nicholas was present as either the chairman or a panellist in every episode from 1967-2019 except four. As of 2013, according to Paul Merton he holds the record for presenting a single show longer than anyone else in radio.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • There's actually nothing stopping you from buzzing during your own time, challenging yourself for a mistake before anyone else can, and winning a point whether the challenge is accepted or not. This is only allowed because it's funny when it happens, and no one takes the game seriously enough to really abuse it.
    • If somebody gets the subject with only a few seconds remaining, a common tactic is to just repeat the subject on the card over and over again before the whistle goes. Paul Merton is especially fond of this approach.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Clement's typical reaction when Nicholas would refer to a mistake on his part as a Freudian Slip.
  • Nice Guy: Nicholas is always hugely complimentary to all the panellists (and gets viciously lampooned for it by Jack Dee in the "Just A Minim" rounds of rival show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue). However, there is the occasional instance where he returns their affectionate ribbing, or when things start getting Off the Rails.
  • "No. Just… No" Reaction: From the 2012 BBC TV series, on the topic of the host himself. The moment in question becomes funnier when one notes that Sue Perkins is a lesbian:
    Sue Perkins: There is nothing so erotic as the sight of Nicholas Parsons...
    [Paul Merton holds down the buzzer, shaking his head and mouthing "no"]
    Sue Perkins: Intervention! Intervention! ...I've done it again Paul, I've done it again.
    [Paul nods, as Sue facepalms.]
    Paul Merton: There are limits, aren't there.
  • Off the Rails: There are many instances where the show will descend into chaos over arguments as to whether or not a challenge is valid.
    • One instance ended in Nicholas being given the subject for the rest of the round, while another ended with Nicholas changing the subject of the round with four seconds to go.
    • In the 11 November 1974 episode, the final subject, "fun", passed back and forth between the various panellists until finally it was given to the audience for the last second of the round, resulting in a cacophony of hundreds of people shouting over each other until Ian Messiter blew the whistle. (As Sheila Hancock had been the last successful challenger, she got the point instead of the audience.)
    • In an incident from the 2012 TV series, the subject of 'The Owl And The Pussycat' came up. Before starting the round, Nicholas, a huge fan of Edward Lear, decided to spontaneously recite the entire poem, causing the panellists to walk off in search of help...
    • Of course, stopping people from doing this during their speeches is the intended point of the "deviation" challenge... but given it's not very entertaining to challenge people on that basis, people generally get away with it.
    • The 22 February 1999 edition took this trope and turned it up to eleven for the final round, when Nicholas spontaneously switched to French just after the first challenge... A few moments later, Paul was challenged for NOT speaking French, and it just went downhill from there:
      Clement Freud: Liaison is no more than a relationship between one, two or three, even four, possibly five, maybe six people...
      Nicholas Parsons: Paul Merton challenged.
      Paul Merton: Well he's not talking about metalwork. Deviation.
      Nicholas: Metalwork's not the subject, liaisons is. You did a metalwork version and the audience loved it, we all loved it. You got both points...
      Paul: Repetition of maybe.
      Nicholas: No he didn't say maybe, no, no, he didn't.
      Paul: Hesitation.
      Nicholas: Or the fact he wasn't speaking in French? Ah right, 13 seconds still with you Clement starting now.
      Clement: (speaks in German)
  • Oh, Crap!: Any time a player realises they've talked themselves into a repetition but it's too late to change tack or rephrase to avoid it:
    "I started the morning in Mexico City, then flew out across the Gulf of [Oh, Crap!] Mexico..."
  • Orphaned Punchline: Paul Merton on the subject of "pulling someone's leg":
    Paul: The microphones weren't working particularly well when we did the sound-check for this particular programme, but now they're... (goes silent for several seconds) ... and there was half a pound of mince left at the end of the evening!
  • The Points Mean Nothing: Nicholas is quick to remind everyone that it is the contributions that really matter, and indeed some of the most fondly remembered panellists have been those who were consistently funny but seldom won (most notably Kenneth Williams and Peter Jones). Not that this has stopped many panellists over the years from taking the competitive aspect seriously and chasing every last point.
    • Calling Clement Freud... Paul Merton also has been known to have quite the interest in scoring. Recently, there have been series where he's won or tied for the win in just about every episode. Even Kenneth Williams would be ecstatic when he won and more than usually short-tempered if he had gone for a long time without a win.
    • The idea of panellists' contributions meaning more than points was brought in full force of the last episode of Series 62; after some persuasion from Cyrus Broacha, who pointed out that letting the foreign guy win isn't done in India, Nicholas decided that Cyrus and Anuvab Pal were in fact the joint winners, given how well they contributed. The two Indian men rejoiced... then pointed out how this was "yet another victory not legitimately earned!"
  • Pun: The words of the subject can be interpreted however the panellists choose; this can lead to some very creative wordplay, particularly from Clement Freud.
    (on the subject of "dim sum")
    Clement Freud: If you buy a really expensive car that has lots of buttons and pushers which make the car go faster or more slowly, and there is one that illuminates the headlights and another "dim sum"...
  • Running Gag: Regular or recurring panellists who have had to speak on hundreds or even thousands of subjects over the years inevitably end up re-using some of the same jokes for multiple subjects.
    • Gyles Brandreth has trotted out several jokes with considerable regularity over the years (some of which have ultimately been retired), whether the subject directly pertains to them or not (meaning he sometimes gets challenged for deviation or repetition of the same jokes):
      • Describing an incident when he went on stage to perform Shakespeare and was pelted with eggs by the audience, meaning he "went on as Hamlet, came off as Omelette."
      • Explaining that he was once a Member of Parliament, "and then the people spoke."note 
      • Describing an assignment he had as an MP to investigate pornography, and explaining that he still has the raincoat, but his wife has sewn up the pockets.
      • "(Famous sexy woman) was once in my bed. Maddeningly, I was elsewhere at the time."
    • If a panellist gets the subject with two seconds or less left on the clock, the panellist who just lost the subject will frequently challenge for hesitation as soon as Nicholas says "starting now." Nicholas almost never upholds the challenges, which are clearly intended for purely comic effect.
  • Self-Deprecation: Clement Freud on the subject of "why I love Just a Minute".
    Clement: I actually prefer I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue!
  • Serious Business: The show made a few headlines in the late noughties with complaints that there were too many challenges for repeating very small words or very brief hesitations, with proposals for rule changes such as deducting points for wrong challenges. Such changes were ultimately not implemented but it was noted that people stopped buzzing so much in episodes produced after the stories.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: Several attempts have been made at this over the years.
    • Two pilots were shot in 1969 and 1981, but apart from furnishing footage for documentaries on Kenneth Williams (who participated in both pilots)note , neither has ever aired.
    • A television adaptation did air for two 14-episode series on ITV in 1994-95 and one 20-episode series on the BBC in 1999, but mostly with guests who were visibly unfamiliar with the gamenote  and with various peculiar gimmicks (such as having the panellists talk about a mystery object or, in the second ITV series, dividing them into teams captained by Tony Slattery and Dale Winton: London versus the Midlands respectively).
    • A more straightforward adaptation aired for ten episodes in spring of 2012 to celebrate the radio version's 45th anniversary. In contrast to the previous adaptation, the panellists were mostly veterans of the radio version (Paul Merton appeared in every episode). The majority of episodes, however, featured at least one guest who had never played before, such as Russell Tovey, Jason Manford, Hugh Bonneville, and Stephen Mangan. All of them were either respected comedians, respected actors, or somewhere in-between.
  • Swapped Roles: There were a few special episodes in which Nicholas was on the panel, with one of the regular panellists (usually Clement or Kenneth) taking over as chairman. In these episodes, Nicholas tended to showcase just how good he had gotten at detecting hesitation, repetition or deviation (although when Clement Freud was chairing, this didn't help him much).
  • Thematic Theme Tune: Frédéric Chopin's "Minute Waltz".
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Well, Peter Jones frequently started his speeches with "Well..." when he had the subject. This led to many challenges of repetition if he lost a subject and then won it back, only to begin with "Well..." again, and eventually challenges of deviation when he didn't start a speech with "Well..."
    • Of course, Kenneth Williams had an unfortunate tendency to overuse "Of course" when he had the subject, and would try to argue that it constituted "parts of speech" when he was inevitably buzzed for repetition after using it twice or even three times in under 20 seconds. Jones was also prone to peppering his speeches with "Of course", though less liberally than Kenneth.
  • The Voiceless:
    • The scorer/whistle-blower, for the most part. During Ian Messiter's tenure as scorer/whistle-blower, he was occasionally heard speaking, and in the final episode of the 1976-77 series, Clement Freud even insisted that Messiter be given the final subject ("When we meet again") with two seconds left.
    • Also, Clement Freud was delayed for the recording of one episode in 1977, so Ian Messiter took over as chairman while Nicholas took Clement's place on the panel alongside Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, and Peter Jones. (He finished first.) In another episode in 1982, it was Messiter who took Clement's place on the panel alongside Kenneth, Derek, and Peter. (He finished last.)
  • Written-In Absence: Hilariously inverted in a 2004 episode where Charles Collingwood is stuck in traffic and the recording has to begin without him. At the beginning of the second round Nicholas (at Paul's suggestion) asks Charles to begin with the next subject in spite of the fact that he still isn't present; by the time Charles does show up, he's already in second place because of incorrect challenges: two for deviation because he isn't speaking, and one for...
    Paul Merton: Repetition of "zoological gardens"? No, I'm sorry, I panicked!