The beginning of a new series of ‘Just A Minute’ is always a cause for small celebrations. Whatever the charms of ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ (and they are many) ‘Just A Minute’ is the cream of the crop of Radio 4 flippery and it’s always great to have it back. This week’s ‘season premiere’ (yes, I’m inappropriately importing the nomenclature of American television into Radio 4, what of it?) was an excellent example of the show’s appeal, despite the absence of Sir Clement Freud. This week’s panel was Sue Perkins, Graham Norton and Gyles Brandreth in addition to Paul Merton.
Norton is so good on this show, so spontaneously funny, self-aware and selfless in performance, that he instantly makes you forget the vagaries of his TV career and start loving him again. Perkins is excellent (particularly when teasing chairman Nicholas Parsons about the fact he’s attracted to her – sounds dull but it’s playfully done and it works) and Brandreth is a bizarre enigma. It’s difficult to work out whether this joke book writer and one-time Tory MP is an insanely competitive, frequently screaming, probably sexually-disturbed sociopath, or whether he’s just pretending to be because he thinks it’s funny. Certainly he makes a lot of noise and can’t seem to stop himself from ploughing the seediest furrows of comedy at his disposal.
In fact, the whole episode was spectacularly sordid as ‘Just A Minute’ goes. At one point Norton pretended to scandalised by Brandreth’s suggestions that there are homosexuals in the Conservative party and then used this as cue to talk about ‘handimen’ (make of that what you will). There were also jokes about most panellists’ Mothers (including the suggestion that Brandreth’s was eagerly ‘waiting at home in a camisole’ for a sexual visitation from Perkins) and, of course, further suggestions that Parsons is himself deeply depraved. Only Merton didn’t really indulge, preferring to insist he’d made successfully made ham sandwiches (and later chicken vol-au-vents) in the hesitations in Brandreths’s contributions, claim that Nicholas Parsons was so close to being knighted he ‘could taste it’ and indulging in some alliterative wordplay, all in a bid to gain enough bonus points to ensure his own victory.
I, of course, have no idea who won – as Sir Nicholas points out often, it’s not the points that count, it’s the contribution to the comedy that’s important.