jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG Tuesday 4th February 2020


Nicholas Parsons CBE died last week on 28 January 2020 aged 96. He was born 10 October 1923.

It is some accolade and legacy when your death is marked by the main political cartoon in the Daily Mail.

If you are not familiar with Nicholas Parsons’ work the cartoon refers to the Radio 4 programme ‘Just A Minute’ which he presented for over 50 years, that was over 900 shows since its inception.

Just a Minute is a BBC Radio 4 radio comedy and television panel game, chaired, with a few exceptions, by Nicholas Parsons from 1967 until 2019. Its first transmission on Radio 4 was on 22 December 1967, three months after the station’s launch. The Radio 4 programme won a Gold Sony Radio Academy Award in 2003.

The object of the game is for panellists to talk for sixty seconds on a given subject,[4] “without hesitation, repetition or deviation”. The comedy comes from attempts to keep within these rules and the banter among the participants. In 2011 comedy writer David Quantick ascribed Just a Minute’s success to its “insanely basic” format, stating, “It’s so blank that it can be filled by people as diverse as Paul Merton and Graham Norton, who don’t have to adapt their style of humour to the show at all.”[5]

Parsons appeared on every show for 51 years, either as chairman or panellist, until he was absent through illness for two episodes recorded in April 2018 and broadcast the following June. Those shows were hosted by Gyles Brandreth, as were two episodes recorded and broadcast in August 2019, when Parsons was again unwell.

Film, TV and radio

Nicholas Parsons appeared in over 25 films

In the 1950s, Parsons provided the non-singing voice of Tex Tucker in the children’s TV puppet series Four Feather Falls, having put himself forward for the job at the suggestion of his first wife, actress and voiceover artiste Denise Bryer, who was in the show. During the late 1960s, he created and presented a satirical programme on BBC Radio 4 called Listen to This Space, which by the standards of its time was very avant-garde, and he received the Radio Personality of the Year Award for his work on this programme in 1967.

Parsons became known to TV audiences in the 1950s and 1960s as the straight man to comedian Arthur Haynes for ten years; the partnership broke up at Haynes’s request. They had a successful season at the London Palladium in 1963, and shortly before the split appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in the United States, although Parsons was not credited. Subsequently, Parsons returned to the stage, before becoming a regular on The Benny Hill Show from 1968 to 1971.

After Haynes died, Parsons appeared as a personality in his own right on television, including in the long-running Anglia Television quiz show Sale of the Century, broadcast weekly from 1971 to 1983. In 1983 Hill wrote and performed in the sketch “Sale of the Half Century”, with himself cast as Parsons.

Parsons was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1978 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.

Just a Minute

Parsons was the host of the BBC Radio 4 comedy panel game Just a Minute from its first broadcast on 22 December 1967.

Although there were a number of episodes when he relinquished the chair and was a panellist, Parsons never missed an episode until 2018, when regular panellist Gyles Brandreth stood in for him for two episodes that were recorded in April and broadcast in June, due to a bout of illness: Parsons was then 94 years old. Brandreth again stood in the following year for two shows recorded at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Just a Minute continued to be transmitted with Parsons as host until his last show on 23 September 2019.


In 1988, Parsons appeared as himself in The Comic Strip episode “Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door”, alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson.

In 1989, he featured in the long-running BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who as the vicar Reverend Wainwright in the Seventh Doctor serial The Curse of Fenric. He appeared as the Mayor in the BBC’s series for children Bodger & Badger.


Parsons featured in the original London cast of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods at the Phoenix Theatre in 1990 as the Narrator. This was followed by an appearance in the fourth and final series of the UK TV show Cluedo as Reverend Green.

Parsons took the role of the Narrator in the 21st anniversary revival of the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show at the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End in 1994.

Later career

Parsons was guest presenter on the BBC topical quiz show Have I Got News for You.[10] He appeared on Celebrity Mastermind in 2007.[30] Just a Minute transferred to television in 2012 for a ten-part early-evening series to celebrate its 45th anniversary, with Parsons and regular panellist Paul Merton.[31]He appeared opposite ex-wife Denise Bryer in the Big Finish adaptation of the Gerry Anderson series Terrahawks, playing the ex-husband of Bryer’s character, Zelda.

Parsons wrote an autobiography entitled The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy, which was published in 1994, and he produced a book of memoirs in 2010 called Nicholas Parsons: With Just a Touch of Hesitation, Repetition and Deviation.

In October 2016, at the age of 92, Parsons presented the BBC documentary The Incredible Story of Marie Antoinette’s Watch, following the story of the Marie Antoinette watch created by Abraham-Louis Breguet, and allowing him to indulge his lifelong fascination with horology.

He played himself and provided the voice of Dagon, Lord of the Files in Good Omens, filmed between 2017 and 2018.

From 2001, he appeared annually at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe presenting his comedy cabaret show The Happy Hour.

Awards and recognition

Parsons was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2004 New Year Honours for services to drama and broadcasting. He was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for charitable services, especially to children’s charities.

He held the Guinness World Record for the longest after-dinner speech (11 hours) until it was reclaimed by former holder Gyles Brandreth.



“Great things never came from comfort zones.” – Neil Strauss


Happiness is…Just A Minute



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Love is…what makes growing old easier




©2020 Phil M Robinson