#edbookfest: Nicholas Parsons: “Comedy is part of our culture.”

nicholas parsonsNicholas Parsons – Tale of the Century – 17th August 2015.

Nicholas Parsons may be over seven decades into his career, but he’s still frankly hilarious. Before even getting on stage he’s made the whole hall laugh, and the task of “speaking for one hour without deviation or hesitation” is one he simply can’t meet.

“You can still clap now if you want to,” say Nicholas as he takes the stage, before incessantly interrupting to tell anecdotes and compliment the audience. “Carry on, darling,” he smiles.

Just A Minute is a show that has been part of many generations’ lives, so what’s the difference between that first show and where it is now? “It’s all the difference in the world,” he explains. It started as “the biggest disaster you could imagine” run by someone who was “a great inventor, but not a producer”.

He reveals, to gasps all round, that he wasn’t first choice to be chair – Jimmy Edwards was. He was simply never free to record the pilot. Nicholas agreed to chair just for the pilot and return to the panel, where he wanted to be, if they got a series. “The only thing they liked about the pilot was the chairmanship,” he says, but notes that it’s grown in all aspects over the years. “If you’re going to have longevity you have to keep thinking about it, improving, polishing, tweaking it. Now we’ve got the definitive article.

“I must have done something right as I’m still doing it 48 years later.”

just a minuteMost points of discussion he notes “are in the book” which always seems to garner a laugh, even the twelfth time in. He’s just effortlessly entertaining.

But who carried the show? “Me,” he says without hesitation. “Cheap laugh, I’m sorry.” He puts the success down to the excellent players – the game has become so successful that people enjoy playing regardless. People like Graham Norton won’t notice the difference money for an appearance makes, but still he comes back.

Just A Minute is one of the few shows that’s not heavily edited. For a 28 minute show, they record for 33 minutes, and it’s the between-game gags that are snipped. “It’s utterly spontaneous.”

The fandom is a topic of particular interest: there’s people mentioned in the book who kept comprehensive lists of guests and topics who helped Nicholas put it all together, there’s another in New Zealand who has recordings of every show. That international reach is shown in India, where Nicholas says he experienced JAM clubs, where people started playing the games regularly on their own time following the BBC World Service removing the show.

They interchanged comedy for culture, but he says they’re “overlooking that comedy is part of our culture.”

It’s also never sustained its life on TV despite a small spell, and the fact it actually worked brilliantly as a TV show. He believes it’s down to billing – they were put in a quiz show’s slot – “We’re not a quiz show, we’re a comedy show. I wonder why [they won’t put it back on TV] as well, but it’s not up to me.”

Someone asks if topics have ever been repeated, to which the list ’10-20 most often used topics’ is mentioned (the top is ‘Magic’, by the way). In his usual wit, he clears his through, looks into the audience and says, “Well, one or two might have been repeated.”

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