Nicholas Parsons

Nicholas Parsons
Nicholas Parsons

Parsons recording Just a Minute at the Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh.
Born Christopher Nicholas Parsons
10 October 1923 (1923-10-10) (age 88)
Grantham, Lincolnshire
Nationality British
Occupation Actor, radio and TV presenter
Known for Just a Minute
Sale of the Century
Spouse Denise Bryer (1954 – divorced 1989)
Ann Reynolds (1995– )
Children 2 children with Bryer

Nicholas Parsons OBE (born Christopher Nicholas Parsons on 10 October 1923 in Grantham, Lincolnshire) is a British actor and radio and television presenter.


Early life

Parsons was born at 1 Castlegate, Grantham, Lincolnshire, the middle child with an older brother and a younger sister. His father was a general practitioner in Vine Street, whose patients included the parents of Margaret Thatcher. It is possible he delivered the future Prime Minister in 1925.[1] His mother, born in Bristol to a founder of local company WB Maggs & Co., was training as a nurse when she met Parsons' father in a hospital.

Parsons was born left-handed but was made to write with his right hand. As a child, Parsons had a stutter, which he overcame by the age of 15, and was slow to learn owing to dyslexia. He also suffered migraines.[2] Educated at St Paul's School in London, he wanted to be an actor. However, his parents considered that a career in engineering would be better, as he had repaired clocks and was good with his hands.[2]

After he had left school, his family contacted relatives in Scotland who arranged a job for him in Clydebank near Glasgow, where he spent five years employed in the shipyards of Clydeside by Drysdales, in the manufacture of pumps. Whilst there he also had two six-month periods studying engineering at the University of Glasgow.[3] Although he never graduated, he gained enough qualifications to become a marine engineer and was given a position in the Merchant Navy during World War II, which he never took up owing to illness.

Broadcasting career

He started his career while training as an engineering apprentice; he was found by Canadian impresario Carroll Levis, doing impressions and working in small repertory theatres in Glasgow.[4]

Parsons made his film debut in Master of Bankdam in 1947. He continued his stage career in small parts in West End theatre shows, then did two years in repertory at Bromley, Kent and later Windsor, Maidstone and Hayes. After becoming a resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre in 1952, Parsons became well known to TV audiences during the 1950s as the straight man to comedian Arthur Haynes. After the pair appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1961, the partnership broke up at Haynes request allowing Parsons to return to the stage, before he became a regular on The Benny Hill Show from 1969 to 1974. After Haynes' sudden death, Parsons appeared as a personality in his own right, culminating in the long-running Anglia Television game show, Sale of the Century, broadcast weekly from 1971 to 1983.

Parsons has been the host of the BBC Radio 4 panel game Just a Minute since it was first broadcast on 22 December 1967. The show continues to be transmitted and Parsons has been heard in every edition. The programme's longevity is arguably due in part to the chairman's ability to act as straight man to the comedians who participate. He has also been the votes presenter for the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest from 1960-1963.

He was also the non-singing voice of Tex Tucker in the TV series Four Feather Falls at the suggestion of his then wife, actress and voiceover artiste Denise Bryer. During the late sixties he presented a satirical programme on Radio Four called Listen to This Space, which by the standards of its time was very risqué. Also, in the late 60s, he portrayed "David Courtney" on the short-lived American sitcom The Ugliest Girl in Town.

In 1988 he appeared as himself in The Comic Strip Presents episode "Mr Jolly Lives Next Door", in which he had the misfortune to encounter two incompetent escort agency directors (Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in their usual cheerfully-violent, dipsomaniac personas) followed by the psychopathic and misnamed Mr Jolly himself (played by Peter Cook). In 1989 he made a guest appearance in the long running BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who as the doomed Northumberland vicar Reverend Wainwright in the Seventh Doctor serial The Curse of Fenric. Another guest role in 1989 was in The New Statesman, where he played host to a daytime quiz show. He has also taken the role of the narrator in the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show. In 1993 he appeared in the final fourth series of the UK TV show Cluedo as Reverend Green. In 2010, he made a brief appearance as Father Gorman in 'Marple: The Pale Horse' but was killed off three minutes into the show.

In April 2005 he was the weekly guest presenter on the BBC news quiz Have I Got News for You, having been turned down some time previously. According to Guy Adams, writing in The Independent's "Pandora" column, Have I Got News for You team captain Paul Merton, also a regular panellist on Parsons' show Just a Minute, had commented shortly before the decision, "I have two contenders for the job, who represent the best possible choices. One would be Nicholas Parsons. The other would be Bagpuss." Parsons surprised Merton's fellow team captain, Ian Hislop, by invoking the rules of Just a Minute for one of the rounds.[5]

Parsons came last on Celebrity Mastermind, broadcast on BBC1 in December 2007.

In 1994, Parsons published his autobiography, The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy.[6] In 2010, he was inducted into the UK Radio Hall of Fame, receiving the award at a recording of Just a Minute at the Lowry Centre, Salford.[citation needed]

In October 2011, the BBC announced that to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Just a Minute, the show would transfer to television for a ten part daytime series, with Parsons as host and regular panelist Paul Merton confirmed as a guest.

Roles outside broadcasting

Between 1988 and 1991 Parsons served as Rector of the University of St Andrews. In 2005 he became honorary Chairman of the International Quizzing Association (IQA), a body which organises the World and European Quizzing Championships. He is a leading member of the Grand Order of Water Rats charity, and a Pro Dono Ambassador. He was the president of the charity the Lord's Taverners 1998–1999. Parsons is also a high-profile supporter of the Liberal Democrats. Each year he holds his own live chat show in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival promoting up-and-coming comedians.

Selected filmography


  1. ^ The One Show, 29 January 2008
  2. ^ a b "Desert Island Discs with Nicholas Parsons". Desert Island Discs. BBC. Radio 4. 2007-11-09.
  3. ^ "Ed Doolan Interviews...". Ed Doolan Interviews. BBC. Radio 7. 2008-10-25.
  4. ^ BBC - Press Office - Nicholas Parsons
  5. ^ "Episode 242". Have I Got News for You. 2005-04-29.
  6. ^ The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy (Weidenfeld & Nicholson) ISBN 978-0297812395

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Stanley Adams
Rector of the University of St Andrews
1988 - 1991
Succeeded by
Nicky Campbell

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