The BBC has been forced to issue statements reassuring people that the world is not about to end. ‘The apocalypse is not upon us,’ tweeted BBC Head of Comedy Julia McKenzie yesterday as Nicholas Parsons missed his first episode of Just a Minute in the show’s fifty-year history. Shock-waves rocked Radio 4 audiences up and down the country (‘and around the world!’ as Parsons was so often heard to say) as instead of our beloved Parsons, we heard the mellifluous, unctuous and utterly irritating tones of Gyles Brandreth (for it was he.)
In all fairness, Brandreth didn’t do a bad job; in fact I found him much less irritating as chair than as a contestant as he’s forced to be impartial and can’t squeeze in any of the nauseating tributes to Margaret Thatcher of which he is so fond. JAM is a difficult game to play, which explains why so few new contestants stay the course: Sarah Pascoe was last night a case in point, struggling to rack up more than a few seconds on any of her given subjects. But it must also be a hard game to adjudicate as you have to listen carefully and make finely-balanced decisions whilst remembering that this is supposed to be entertainment. Paul Merton is an excellent foil to Parsons (and toned down his usual piss-taking of Brandreth for this episode) in fact he seems to have been born to be on panel shows, which is not something you can say of every comedian.
The BBC has denied that there is anything wrong with Parsons and said that he just wanted a rest; which at the age of 94 is fair enough. But one wonders just how much longer he can keep going. There may be JAM tomorrow – but will it be Parsons JAM?