Just a Classic Minute
Volume 3

Starring: Nicholas Parsons, Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud and Peter Jones
BBC Audio
RRP: 12.99
ISBN 1 846 07049 X
Available 05 June 2006

Just as uproariously funny - and terrifically popular - today as when it first began on BBC Radio 4 in 1969, Just a Minute challenges contestants to speak for one minute on a given subject without repetition, hesitation or deviation. It's mix of irreverent fun and ferocious competition has always attracted stellar names from the world of comedy and theatre, all of whom pit their wits against regular players including Kenneth Williams, Paul Merton, Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud and Peter Jones. Among the guests in these four archive programmes are Ray Alan, Thora Hird, Bob Monkhouse, Wendy Richard and Stephen Fry...

Just a Minute was devised by the late Ian Messiter who came up with the idea on the top of a number 13 bus. He suddenly remembered being given the horrible task of speaking for one minute without hesitation or deviation by one of his school masters.

Producer David Hatch put the pilot show before a BBC development board who were sceptical that the series would run for more than six programmes. Nearly 40 years later, chairman Nicholas Parsons continues to attempt - and mostly succeed - in keeping control over a roll-call of celebrity contenders attempting to talk on a subject for sixty seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

This is the third volume in the Just a Classic Minute series of comedy CD releases from the BBC. How they choose the episodes to be included is anyone's guess - although I suppose to be fair I've never heard a bad episode of the show in all the years I've been listening to Radio 4. You could probably pick four episodes at random from the '70s, '80s and '90s and it would still be as good as entertaining as this collection.

The first episode, from 1977, stars Kennith Williams, Peter Jones, Clement Freud and ventriloquist Ray Alan. Highlights include Alan having to talk for a minute on "Gread and Gutter" as well as Williams playing the audience like a violin.

Next up we have an episode from 1976 starring Derek Nimmo, Peter Jones, Clement Freud and Thora Hird. To be honest this is the weakest of the four episodes but it's great hearing Derek Nimmo having to talk about what he has in his handbag.

The third instalment dates from 1980 and features Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud and Bob Monkhouse. Monkhouse is hilarious and rolls off a whole stream of one line gags including: "Is Karl Marx's grave a communist plot?" Another highlight is the one minute topic: "Advice to a 21 year old girl."

And finally we have an episode from 1992 that stars Derek Nimmo, Wendy Richards, Paul Merton and Stephen Fry. Fry really throws himself into this episode with some passion - you actually feel for him when he messes up. Also Richards has a not very exciting fishing tale to tell. Actually, it was during this segment that Richards started to sound like she was reading from well prepared notes she had made earlier.

The icing on the cake is the introductions to each episode. Nicholas Parsons, who has been at the helm of the series since it began, puts each episode into context as well as providing some behind the scenes information. Also, his stories about Williams are quite touching. Firstly, Williams was the only person to ever pay Parsons a compliment on air and secondly the fact that Parsons had to occasionally act as Williams's therapist and bring him out of his shell was a nice little insight into the making of this show.

It's a shame though that more episodes were not included. It would have been great if this release had contained six episodes instead of the four. Otherwise, this is an almost faultless collection.

Darren Rea

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