I first appeared on Just a Minute back in August 2009
, fulfilling an ambition, but not acquitting myself all that well (at the game at least). The fact that it has taken so long to get me invited back on is perhaps a testimony to my mediocrity, but I was glad to get the offer to return, even if it meant a long train journey to Bridlington where the show would be recorded. I love this show and am in awe of Nicholas Parsons, who is still at the helm despite being 88 years old and is able to keep up with this pacey game with great control and wit.
I was guaranteed a third performance on the show as we were recording two episodes tonight. I wasn't as nervous as before and with all due respect to my fellow panellists they were not as intimidating as Merton and Perkins who I'd been up against last time, so I suspected I would have more fun. I was pitted against the charming and gentlemanly and tanned Tony Hawks, my old mucky mucker Jenny Eclair and quiz nerd and stand up Paul Sinha and they were all friendly and supportive before the record.
My main concern this time was to avoid the hesitations that had plagued me last time I'd played. I say "um" and "er" and "you know" an awful lot without even realising. But I had a little test run in the morning against my wife and I seemed to have eradicated the ers. And suddenly a minute didn't seem all that long to talk continuously - maybe I could go for longer than the record 12 seconds that I had managed on the last occasion. Not a hope. In fact my very first go tonight began with an "er", which the others kindly ignored (I know that Sue Perkins would not have been so kind), though they picked me up on my second one about six seconds later. Was it going to be another hesitation marathon for me?
I got a grip and managed to avoid too many more needless non-verbal fillers and had the confidence to use my buzzer and try out challenges (some more spurious than others it has to be said). I also executed a neat trick on my opponents, talking about Somerset and then referring to the county as Somersetshire. I knew someone would think this was a repetition and indeed the massive fool Paul Sinha fell right into my trap, but alas Nicholas Parsons erroneously decided that Somersetshire was not a word ( check out wikipedia to see that it is indeed an archaic name for the county
) and my scheme backfired. I hope there will be many letters of complaint. It's an outrage not seen since England had that clear goal disallowed against Germany. Who knows how different the results might have been had I been allowed to keep the subject?
I really enjoyed myself though, perhaps a little too much and was chastised a couple of times, once quite harshly, by Mr Parsons for buzzing in for challenges which were poor. I quite enjoyed being rebuked though. Parsons reminds me a bit of both my father and my headmaster (admittedly they are the same person) and in spite of his lack of knowledge about 19th Century and Middle Ages county nomenclature, I have massive respect for this remarkable man and if he felt I was spoiling his game then I can only bow down to him and admit that I was at fault. I enjoyed him criticising me for being pedantic and spiritedly defended myself saying that that was pretty much the whole point of the show.
There was a delightful moment when the subject was "romantic gestures" and I managed to steal the subject from Jenny Eclair with another bit of pedantry and Nicholas Parsons warned the lady with the whistle to ready herself saying, "Stick it in your mouth, darling." The double entendre was not lost on the audience, and juxtaposed nicely with the subject of the round and the host was lost in giggles as he realised what he had done. How marvellous to be a part of all this and to work with this man whose career has spanned seven decades. Even after a tiring train journey he was sharper than any of us and able to spot repetitions that the rest of us missed entirely. Throughout the two games my ability to speak for long-ish periods improved and in the second show I took a subject with 20 seconds to go, improvised a story based on what the last two people had been talking about and rode a wave of spontaneous applause and laughter right up to the whistle. That felt pretty good. If they let me on another ten or twenty times I might actually be able to play this game with the proper degree of skill and without getting over-excited and interrupting too much.
Anyway you can listen for yourselves in June. I think I did OK, despite worrying about having been over-enthusiastic on the buzzer
Afterwards we went out for a meal and a few drinks and it was an honour and a pleasure to spend time with this entertaining company, especially Mr Parsons, who apologised with some reservations for telling me off, whilst making it clear that I had still deserved the verbal spanking. I love hearing the stories about which celebrities and ex-panellists have been nightmares to work with. But Parsons wins by staying alive the longest, which is my ultimate showbiz aim. Just keep working until you achieve the status of being a national treasure, just by dint of refusing to die. It's my only hope.
I felt very privileged to be amongst such company and the long trip has been more than worthwhile. Not just to Bridlington, but from the kitchen table in my student digs when I used to listen to this show making mung bean casseroles.