I recently scored tickets to a recording of the long-running BBC Radio 4 programme "Just a Minute". For those who are unfamiliar with it, four panelists are given, in turn, a random topic by the host and must speak for one minute on it without repetition, hesitation or deviation. The other three panelists try to catch them out, and if they score a correct challenge, they take over the topic and continue speaking. A single round can take quite a lot longer than one minute whilst the panelists and host argue over whether or not the challenges are in fact correct. Or end up chatting about something else entirely.
This was the first recording I'd attended that wasn't at Broadcasting House. It was in the Shaw Theatre, between Euston and Kings Cross stations, and it has greater capacity than Broadcasting House. Unfortunately, it isn't air-conditioned. It was also packed full, because "Just a Minute" is a cultural institution and is still very popular. Nicholas Parsons has been hosting the show for almost fifty years, and the adulation he received at the start and end of the recording made it practically impossible to hear his greetings and farewell.
We had a little unintentional pre-show entertainment. The ticketing system works thus: You turn up an hour before the doors open, present your ticket and are given a sticker with a number on it. When the doors open, the production guests (wearing wristbands) file in first, and then the ticket holders are allowed entry in groups of fifty. It all works in quite a civilised fashion despite the crush in the lobby, because British people love queuing.
However, once we'd (nearly) all sat down, it became evident that there'd been some sort of cock-up involving the seating of the production guests. Four people wearing viridescent wristbands were stood at the front, looking up at the full rows of seats with evident displeasure. One was a blonde woman in a white jacket with a formidable aspect. I should not like to have been the young production assistant attempting to mollify her and receiving the pointy end of said displeasure. Hands were waved about. The small number of solitary seats scattered about the theatre were indicated and obviously rejected. Eventually, some audience members were convinced to shift around slightly to permit the foursome to sit in pairs on opposite sides of the theatre.
This had all taken a good ten minutes, by which point the ostensible start time of the recording had passed. The drama had now attracted the attention of literally every person in the audience. When the formidable woman sat down, the entire theatre broke into a cheer. She stood up a few seconds later to hand her empty drink cup (two will get you seven that it was a large gin and tonic) to a frazzled usher. The audience booed. Unfased, she turned around, smiled beautifully and resumed her seat gracefully. I was impressed, as I suspect most of the rest of the audience would have died of embarrassment right then.
It was not until the very end of the show when Nicholas Parsons was bidding us farewell that we had the measure of what had transpired. "If," he said, with a twinkle in his eye "you happen to run across the fellow who tore the sign reading 'Reserved for Nicholas Parson's wife' off the seats in the front..." He made a small, meaningful gesture with his cane.
The four panelists were Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Zoë Lyons and Julian Clary. I shall say no more of the two very funny shows that were recorded, but I think I can safely share another pre-recording anecdote. Nicholas Parsons asked each panelist to speak into their microphone for the sake of the sound engineer at the back. Not one to pass up an opportunity for innuendo, Julian Clary put on his most deliberately camp voice and said, "Hello, David, are you receiving me in the rear?" Nicholas Parsons: "Yes, I think so. Poor David. He can't hear anything now."
After departing the Shaw, I arrived at my place of sleep around 22:30. I walked in the door and was greeted by the smell of freshly baked apple & rhubarb crumble and vanilla custard heating on the hob. A whisky glass was placed in my hand and unopened bottles of Lagavulin and Scapa presented upon the kitchen island for my perusal and selection.
Sometimes, I am a very lucky Nanila indeed.