BBC’s under-rated and these days hidden gem of comedy radio is the show Just a Minute. The original host Nicholas Parsons had plenty of minutes in his lifetime. He ran the longevity of the show from 1962 to 2019, well into his 90s. The witty Lincolnshire-born presenter came from a town called Grantham, known for its infamous daughter Baroness Margaret Thatcher and Sir Isaac Newton. One famous for apples falling off a tree, and the former, a Darth Vader-impressionist for stealing milk from developing children.
“Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race!” – Translation from G. L. Smyth, The Monuments and Genii of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and of Westminster Abbey
Nicholas Parsons reportedly only missed around four episodes of the radio show, Just a Minute, between 2018 and 2020. Parsons was clearly caught slacking at the young age of 94. His good friend Gyles Brandreth, a regular show panelist stepped in for those occasions. Even into his 95th year, Parsons was active at a charity event, with the Grand Order of Water Rats.
The aim of the gameshow Just a Minute, is to speak unbrokenly on a subject for sixty seconds. Regular panelist (for 33 years) and comedian Paul Merton has mastered this skill. Evidence can be found on the BBC website, although you can’t say BBC because that’s repetition. No repetition. I repeat, no repetition. The rules of Just a Minute involve:
|When the leader or chair person says start talking, or ends their introduction the competitor must speak immediately.||Try not to speak too swiftly. You may trip over your own words.|
|Don’t hesitate. Don’t speak slowly because… No hesitation. Nor should you acknowledge others speaking and that you’re going to go down another avenue.||A wide vocabulary is useful.|
|Deviation: changing the topic is ill-advised. That’s a rule broken. No deviation. Keep it on topic.||Don’t ask questions to the chair person or fellow panelists. That’s deviation.|
|To say, “um”, “er”, “ee”, “oo”, “ah”, “walla walla”, “bing bang” or “ahhhh” is to break the rules. See hesitation.||The listening competitors can challenge any broken rules.|
|Repeat only the words on the subject card, although it being a radio show. No repetition of other words. Even acronyms such as BBC, CCTV etc count as repetition.||Short words don’t count as repetition. e.g. I, our, we, the…|
The game show can be adapted to be a fun end of year game. It would certainly encourage fluency and accuracy in thought to speech. The show created by the late Ian Messiter was caught day-dreaming and faced the cane, but could avoid doing so by speaking for two minutes on the class subject (he should have been listening to). So, in a sense, repeating the game in the classroom, at the end of the school year, is returning it to its origins. Without a cane. Thanks Mr Messiter! Interestingly, the creator’s son, Malcom, even presented the show on a televised version in 2012. Now, actress and comedian Sue Perkins hosts the regular radio panel show. In my humble this is essential listening to improve your skills of English and spoken ability. There’s no harm in trying. Sharpening the tongue is a skill of its own.