Thursday, December 06, 2012

Just a minute

Nicholas Parsons
Just a minute is a radio comedy and television panel game produced by BBC Radio 4. Its producer is David Hatch and its presenter is Nicholas Parsons. Three months after Radio 4 was launched, Just a minute was broadcast on 22 December 1967 for the first time.

The basic idea for the show originates from Ian Messiter’s school-time memories. He remembered himself daydreaming as a school boy during history classes and therefore being instructed by his master to repeat what had been said during the previous minute without hesitation or repetition. Messiter decided to create a game by adding two things to his basic idea. On the one hand, players were not allowed to deviate from the subject; on the other hand, he developed a scoring system based on panellists’ challenges.

Each episode proceeds in a similar and very straightforward way.

  • Episodes begin with “Minute Waltz”, a piece of music composed by Frédéric Chopin. This theme song reflects the basic rule of the show which consists in speaking on a given subject without “repetition, hesitation or deviation” for one minute.

  • Every time four participants, who can either be regular panellists or one-time guests, are invited to compete rhetorically against each other. They have to talk about a subject which they cannot prepare in advance.

How does the scoring system exactly work?

The chairman picks a subject and the speaker begins his talk in which the others have to spot hesitations, repetitions or deviations. When one of the challengers thinks he has found such a mistake, he buzzes. If he challenges correctly, i.e. he really finds a mistake in the speaker’s words, he scores a point. Then he has to take over the speaker’s turn for the remaining time, or until he himself is challenged correctly for having made a mistake. However if he challenges incorrectly, the speaker gains a point and continues his flow of words. 

There is one special case in which both speaker and challenger score a point. If a witty interjection makes the public laugh, a mistake is not counted as being a mistake on the chairman’s agreement. When 60 seconds have expired, the person who is talking at that moment wins a point. Sometimes a speaker manages to talk for the whole minute without being challenged and therefore receives an extra point. If the speaker is likely to fill in a whole minute, the challengers will refrain from buzzing in and the whistle-blower will not interrupt the speech by marking the end.

Why is Just a minute so popular?

First of all the programme manages to defy the ravages of time. It has hardly changed since its creation 44 years ago. Moreover, it has recently picked up a Silver Award in the comedy category at the Sony Awards. The success of the programme certainly also lies in its easy concept that allows every participant to leave traces of his own personality and by doing so making each episode unique. "I think it's because the format is insanely basic," says radio comedy writer David Quantick. "It's so blank that it can be filled by [all sorts of] people [...] who don't have to adapt their style of humour to the show at all."

By Jana Backes and Justine Klepper

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