Having been a staple of BBC Radio 4 since 1967 and a regular attraction at the Fringe since 1993, Just A Minute almost defines its own genre at this point. The comedy panel game, in which the panellists attempt to speak for a whole minute on a given subject without hesitation, repetition, or deviation, ranks alongside other shows like The Archers and Desert Island Discs as the most beloved in the fine tradition of British radio.
This particular episode, recorded at the BBC Big Blue Tent in Edinburgh, is one of the very few in which long-term host Nicholas Parsons is unable to fulfil his normal role having suffered a back injury.
In his stead, regular panellist and back-up host Gyles Brandreth steps in to assume the hosting duties. He is joined by Paul Merton, who has played the game more than any other contestant, and comedians Mark Watson and Fred MacAulay, with Kiri Pritchard-McLean making her debut appearance.
While the absence of Parsons, whose voice and likeness are so synonymous with Just A Minute, is undeniably noticeable, credit is due to Brandreth whose combination of managed pomposity, eruditeness, and knowing self-deprecation allow him to sit in the chair in his own way. He wins over the audience—whose sighs at the news of Parson’s absence were audible—with familiarity and a funny warm-up monologue peppered with jokes and references to his long-time friendship with Parsons, and quickly establishes the familiar feeling that has made this charming parlour game such a success.
Just A Minute is at its best when it resembles a group of friends gathered in a comfortable living room in the afterglow of a good meal, who play the game purely for the fun of it. In this, Merton, Watson, MacAuley, and Pritchard-McLean succeed as an ensemble. Their individual talents—Merton’s absurdism, Watson’s befuddled charm, MacAulay’s working-class sarcasm, and Pritchard-McLean’s eloquent grip on popular culture—all work together, while at the same time each player knows when to use the game, and the talents of their fellow panellists, to enrich the experience of the game as a whole.
It may be raining outside during the recording, but inside the BBC’s Big Blue Tent the dreich conditions are banished by a show that deserves its status as both a national and Fringe institution.