Just a Minute

Just a Minute

Infobox Radio Show
show_name = Just a Minute

imagesize = 250px
caption = The cover of "Just a Minute: The Best of 2006". People depicted (from top-left, clockwise), Nicholas Parsons, Stephen Fry, Pauline McLynn, Paul Merton, Tim Rice, Julian Clary, Liza Tarbuck, Graham Norton, Clement Freud and Pam Ayres.
format = Panel game
audio_format =
record_location =
runtime = 30 minutes
creator = Ian Messiter
developer =
producer = Tilusha Ghelani
executive_producer =
starring = Nicholas Parsons
narrated =
opentheme = The Minute Waltz by Frédéric Chopin
endtheme =
country = flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
language = English
home_station = BBC Radio 4
syndicates =
first_aired = 22 December 1967
last_aired = Present
num_episodes = 701 as of 18th August 2008 (as mentioned by Paul Merton during this episode) and not including TV version
website = [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/comedy/justaminute.shtml Just a Minute]
podcast =

"Just a Minute" is a BBC Radio 4 radio comedy panel game which has been broadcast since 22 December 1967 and is hosted by Nicholas Parsons. It began in the year that Radio 4 launched, and is one of the station's longest running programmes. [BBC Radio 4 was launched on 30 September 1967, around three months before "Just a Minute" was created.] "Just a Minute" won a Gold Sony Radio Academy Award in 2003. [cite web|url=http://www.radioawards.org/winners03/win03.htm|title=2003 Winners|publisher=Sony Radio Academy Award|accessdate=2007-09-07]

The object of the game is for panellists to talk "for just a minute" on a given subject, "without repetition, hesitation or deviation". 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.


Originally known as "One Minute Please",cite web|url=http://www.ukgameshows.com/page/index.php/Just_a_Minute|title=Just a Minute|publisher=UK Game Shows.com|accessdate=2007-09-10] and with slightly different rules, the premise of the game came to Ian Messiter as he rode on the top of a number 13 bus, recalling a Latin master from his school days who punished him with the task of speaking for sixty seconds without hesitation or deviation. To this, he added a rule disallowing players from repeating words (other than those in the subject title), as well as a scoring system based on panellists' correct and incorrect challenges.cite web|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/comedy/justaminute.shtml|title=Just a Minute|publisher=BBC|accessdate=2007-09-07] The show's theme music is Frédéric Chopin's piano Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, nicknamed the "Minute Waltz" (which, despite its name, lasts longer than the 60 seconds taken to complete a round of "Just a Minute").

A pilot for the show was recorded in 1967, featuring Clement Freud and Derek Nimmo as panellists. The chairman was originally planned to be Jimmy Edwards, but he was replaced with Parsons. Although Paul Merton stated in the 40th anniversary edition that Parsons has chaired the show ever since without missing a single episode, this is not entirely accurate. On the 21st of October, 1968, it was chaired by Kenneth Williams with Nicholas Parsons being one of the four contestants. As chairman, Kenneth Williams tended to go with any challenger, using a prompted audience response to overcome any objections by Nicholas Parsons or Clement Freud. Additionally both Clement Freud and Geraldine Jones have chaired earlier shows (see below for more details), with Nicholas Parsons as a contestant. On one occasion, when Clement Freud was late for the recording, Ian Messiter stepped in to the chair at short notice, with Nicholas Parsons once again competing. When the pilot was made, executives at the BBC disliked it. In response, the producer of the pilot, David Hatch, threatened to resign if the series was not commissioned. As the BBC did not want to lose Hatch, they allowed the series to be made with Hatch as producer.

The show broadcast on 7 October 1968 featured the highest scorer, Nicholas Parsons, with 33 points. [cite episode|title=Episode 18|series=Just a Minute|airdate=1968-07-10|season=2|episode=2] Generally, however, the points are de-emphasised for the "value to the show" as Parsons often puts it. Still, many competitors (Merton, Freud and Graham Norton chief among them) are extremely competitive and often say things just to get bonus points.


The four panellists are challenged to speak for one minute on a given subject without "repetition, hesitation, or deviation". Over the years, the application of these rules has changed:

* "Repetition" originally meant not repeating a particular idea or concept, but is now understood to prevent repetition of any word or phrase, although challenges based upon very common words such as "and" are generally rejected except in extreme cases (for example, when repeated half a dozen times or more)."Just a Classic Minute Volume 1: Disc 1, Track 1: Introduction" Published 2006-07-07. Accessed 2007-09-07.] Words contained in the given subject are exempt unless repeated many times in quick succession. Disagreements often occur over such things as homophones, plurals, and different forms of verbs: the rulings do not seem to be consistent. Repeating the same word but pronouncing it differently (as Ross Noble did with "Diplodocus" on the 11 September 2006 episode) does not count as repetition. [cite episode|title=Episode 691|series=Just a Minute|airdate=2006-09-11|season=52|episode=11] The general rule as stated by Nicholas Parsons is that "Just a Minute" is a radio show so they must go on sounds alone, which is why saying "BBC" is considered repetition. Skilful players make full use of obscure synonyms in order to avoid repeating themselves.
* "Hesitation" is watched very strictly: even a momentary pause before resumption of the subject can give rise to a successful challenge, as can tripping over one's words. Even pausing during audience laughter or applause (known as "riding a laugh") is not usually permitted. There is, however, often controversy over what actually counts as hesitation, and what can be explained as merely "elongation", or purely pausing for breath.
* "Deviation" originally meant only deviating too far from the subject, but is now more broadly interpreted, allowing speakers to be challenged for "deviating from the English language as we know it", "deviation from grammar as we understand it", deviating from the truth, and sometimes even logic, although some of these are applied inconsistently. For example, in one episode broadcast in 2005, Paul Merton was not challenged for deviation even though he claimed that sudoku was "invented by a man called Alf Roberts", who "used to be the mayor in "Coronation Street", but he got fed up of that" and had also been "a car, an opera singer and also a plate of beans". [cite episode|title=Episode 637|series=Just a Minute|airdate=2005-08-22|season=50|episode=7] The panel understood he was just joking, so allowed him to continue, until he was stopped with one second to go, for repetition of "hoop".

A panellist scores a point for making a correct challenge against whoever is speaking, while the speaker gets a point if the challenge is deemed incorrect. However, if an "incorrect", but witty, interjection amuses the audience, both the challenger and speaker may gain a point, at the chairman's discretion. A player who makes a correct challenge takes over the subject for the remainder of the minute, or, more likely, until he or she is correctly challenged within the rules of the game. A panellist also scores a point if he is the person speaking when the 60 seconds expires. An extra point is always awarded when speaking for the entire minute without being challenged.

The difficult part of the game is to continue to speak within the three cardinal rules for any substantial length of time, whilst remaining coherent, and hopefully also being amusing. Therefore, to speak for the full minute without being challenged is an honour. Below is an example of a speech given by Sheila Hancock which lasted for a full minute without being challenged. The subject was, "How to win an argument".

"Well it varies according to the person that you are arguing with. Should it be a child that you are having a contretemps with, the ideal is deviation tactics. For instance Lola Lupin who I mentioned before won't eat her dinner. So what I do is say, "yes it is rotten food, let us sing a song", making sure that that particular chanson has a few vowels in it that require her to open her mouth! During which I pop the spoon in and I have won the argument. However if it is an argument with a person that knows their subject what I do is nod sagely and smile superciliously, let them ramble on, and at the end I say "well I'm sorry, I think you're completely wrong", turn on my heels and leave. I..." [cite episode|title=Episode 633|series=Just a Minute|airdate=2005-07-25|season=50|episode=3]

The points system means that great rewards may go to those who make entertaining challenges, even if they do not speak for very long. An often rewarding time to challenge is a few seconds before the minute ends. Here, one could get a point for a challenge, not have to speak very much, and get another point for speaking "as the whistle went". The game is scored and a winner declared, but the attraction of the show lies less in the contest than in the humour and banter of its participants.

The structure of the second season in 1967 was slightly different. There were three panellists and a chairman, with the latter position 'rotating' each week and the previous incumbent joining the panel. The four contributors were Clement Freud, Kenneth Williams, Geraldine Jones and Nicholas Parsons. In addition to the repetition, hesitation, deviation rules, there would be occasional rounds where individual words like 'An', 'A' or 'The' would be prohibited.


The chairman and host of "Just a Minute" is Nicholas Parsons. He has held this position since the show's inception, although on occasion he has swapped the chair with contestants including Clement Freud and Kenneth Williams. Ian Messiter also chaired on one occasion in 1977, when Clement Freud arrived late and Nicholas Parsons was required to take his place on the panel. [cite episode|title=Episode 230|series=Just a Minute|airdate=1977-01-12|season=11|episode=11]

Until 1989, Ian Messiter sat quietly on the stage with a stopwatch and blew a whistle when the speaker's minute was up. He was replaced by a series of different whistle-blowers for a decade until Janet Staplehurst took on the role permanently in 1999, until she retired at the end of the first 2006 series. [cite episode|title=Episode 650|series=Just a Minute|airdate=2006-03-13|season=51|episode=11] Trudi Stevens is the current incumbent. Messiter continued to be involved with the show, setting the subjects until his death in 1999.

For the first few decades of the programme, there were four regular competitors, Clement Freud, Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones and Kenneth Williams. Clement Freud likes to list examples, and to challenge with only a few seconds to go. Derek Nimmo frequently improvised descriptions of his experiences abroad, often on theatrical tour. Peter Jones once said that in all his years of playing the game, he never quite got the hang of it, though his self-deprecating, laconic style was perfect for a game he understood perfectly. Kenneth Williams was often the "star of the show": his flamboyant tantrums, arch put-downs, and mock sycophancy made him the audiences' favourite. Williams often stretched out his speeches by extending every syllable to breaking point (some words lasting for up to three seconds), and his regular mock-anger often included the complaint, "I've come all the way from Great Portland Street," which was not far away from where the show was recorded.cite web|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A330797|title=H2G2 - Just a Minute|publisher=BBC|date=2000-06-30|accessdate=2007-09-11]

Freud, the only survivor of the four, still appears regularly, and Paul Merton is also now considered a regular, but it is relatively common for an edition to feature one or neither of these two. Merton frequently launches into flights of fancy, such as claiming to have had unusual occupations or to have experienced significant historical events. He often wins by challenging just before the whistle, and by accruing bonus points "because the audience liked his interruption".

Other panellists who contribute quite often include Graham Norton, who weaves elaborate monologues with innuendo, Tony Hawks, who appears almost as often as Merton (and also often delves into the surreal), and Stephen Fry, who has been known to quickly challenge himself before anyone else notices his transgression — according to the rules he thus wins the right to continue speaking. Other frequent guests include Chris Neill, Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Gyles Brandreth, Tim Rice, Jenny Eclair, Sue Perkins, Marcus Brigstocke, Ross Noble, and Julian Clary. New players are introduced fairly frequently.

Recording locations

"Just a Minute" has always been recorded in theatres, although the location was never given during the first 25 years of the show. The first show in 1967 was recorded in the Playhouse Theatre in central London, and the 35th anniversary show was recorded there on New Year's Day 2003. [cite episode|title=Episode 1|series=Just a Minute|airdate=1967-12-22|season=1|episode=1] [cite episode|title=Episode 577, 35th Anniversary Special|series=Just a Minute|airdate=2003-01-01|season=45|episode=1]

In 1992, the then-new producer, Sarah Smith, took the show outside central London and recorded some shows in nearby Highgate. [cite episode|title=Episode 415|series=Just a Minute|airdate=1992-01-04|season=28|episode=1] A year later, the show left Greater London for the first time; the first such shows broadcast were recorded in Bury St. Edmunds and Llandudno. [cite episode|title=Episode 424|series=Just a Minute|airdate=1993-01-02|season=29|episode=1] [cite episode|title=Episode 426|series=Just a Minute|airdate=1993-01-16|season=29|episode=3] The show started going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1994 and has been there every year since. [cite episode|title=Episode 445|series=Just a Minute|airdate=1994-12-31|season=31|episode=2]

If the show was recorded outside central London, the location was always mentioned. However, if the show was recorded in central London, the location was never mentioned until 1998. The show was recorded in the Playhouse Theatre, then later moved to the Paris Theatre, then finally into BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House. In 2002, under the reign of then-producer, Claire Jones, the London recordings of "Just a Minute" moved out of Broadcasting House and into other theatres in the city. The show's London recordings are now returning to BBC Radio Theatre.

TV versions

Several television versions have been attempted. Two pilot episodes were recorded for television in 1969 and 1981 but never broadcast, except in documentaries about Kenneth Williams. In 1994, nine shows were broadcast on a regional London channel. Two additional variations were added: a round in which the team were presented with an object to talk about, rather than a subject, and another round where the audience suggested a topic. Tony Slattery featured in all programmes.

Later that year, another five instalments were broadcast in a very similar style to the first nine, and in 1995, fourteen more episodes were broadcast. "Just a Minute" became a team game, with the Midlands and London playing against each other, under team captains Tony Slattery and Dale Winton. Each player earned individual points, which were totalled for each team at the end of the show. The gimmick of the audience choosing a subject was abandoned in this series. Both this series and the series before were produced by Mike Mansfield.

In 1999, the BBC televised the show, with twenty episodes recorded during a single week in Birmingham.

Other formats

A Swedish version of the show, called "På minuten", has been broadcast on Sveriges Radio P1 since 1969. It has been referenced in other BBC panel games. The similarly long-running "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" includes a musical parody entitled "Just a Minim", in which the contestants must sing a song, but sticking to the rules of "Just a Minute". "Clue" also mentions "Just a Minute" and especially Nicholas Parsons frequently.

Nicholas Parsons was once a guest host on an April 2005 edition of BBC One's satirical panel game, "Have I Got News for You". He surprised Paul Merton's opposing team captain, Ian Hislop, by asking him to talk about "Taking advice from your lawyer" within the "Just a Minute" rules. At one point, one of the guests, Chris Langham, challenged for deviation, claiming it was the wrong programme. [cite episode|title=Episode 242|episodelink=List of Have I Got News For You episodes|series=Have I Got News for You|serieslink=Have I Got News for You|airdate=2005-04-29|season=29|episode=3]


External links

* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/comedy/justaminute.shtml Official BBC Radio 4 site]
* [http://www.geocities.com/deanbedford/jam.html Just a Minute transcripts]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/justaminute/ Just a Minute] on the BBC website
* [http://www.comedy.org.uk/guide/radio/just_a_minute/ Just a Minute] on the British Comedy Guide

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