Jan 28, 2020: Minute

Nicholas Parsons died this morning. He was 96 years old.

For about thirty of those years, if not more, he’s been a consistent part of my life ever since my dad introduced me to the wonders of Radio 4 comedy and I started to enjoy Just A Minute, the game in which contestants talk for a minute without repetition, deviation or hesitation. Or, in the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue song-based piss-take “Just A Minim” without repetition, hesitation, deviation or repetition.

I enjoyed it. I loved the fact that he’d presented that show forever and that it was never scripted. There’s no chairman’s script for JAM, just Nicholas reacting to what the contestants say – I guess there might have been something for the “welcome listeners from here and, of course, from around the world” part. But I doubt it. He’d done it once or twice, probably enough for it to stick with him.

The playfulness of the show was always a favourite of mine. When they let people – usually new players – talk for longer than the minute. When fingers come off buzzers, and the regulars sit back to let a newbie chunter on for as long as possible, only calling them out on one of the three rulings way after the sixty seconds have elapsed. Or Paul Merton’s Parsons-based stories loosely based on the subject on the card. It was always a buzz for deviation, because Nicholas had never done any of it, obviously, but it wasn’t done with malice or hate – just pure unadulterated love and respect.

And the audience response to anything like that showed how much Nicholas was loved. Paul would often draw the audience’s attention to the longevity of the show, making a point that it was whatever-high-numbered series, and that Nicholas had been there for them all.

He only missed two recordings, the most recent during the Fringe after he fell on the train.

That’s when we last saw him, being wheeled past for Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour in the Pleasance Courtyard. He looked frail and unwell, not helped by him being bundled up in a wheelchair after the fall left him less than mobile. And the show wasn’t his best, it was obvious he was struggling – whether that was the pain, or the medication for the pain, I don’t know. Maybe a combination of the two. It wasn’t the man, because stuff he’d done around that time were up to the usual standards.

Happy Hour was becoming our go-to show of the Fringe. We have a few must sees – Michael Legge, Showstopper, Austentatious if our paths cross. Happy Hour was up there – we booked it on a whim some years ago, and it’s been a staple of our first day or so ever since. Long queues in the Pleasance Courtyard, because every show was a sell-out. Making the mistake, in the first year, of arriving too late and being waaay back in the queue, out on the pavement and well up the road, ending up on the “emergency chairs” of the venue – uncomfortable stools, way up the back (of the venue, not of the body).

This year we were ridiculously early, and stood only a few back from the front of the queue, in the rain and the run-off from the rain, for ages. We made a new friend in the queue, saw an old friend and generally enjoyed the whole thing.

It’s going to be strange not having that particular pilgrimage to make this year. It really has become as much a part of the week as almost definitely always having breakfast at the City Café.

I didn’t know him. I never met him.

But I’m going to miss him