Remembering Nicholas Parsons – 1923-2020

Nicholas Parsons

This morning the world learned that legendary actor and broadcaster Nicholas Parsons has passed away after a short illness, aged 96.

Parsons was most famous for presenting the long-running radio comedy game show Just a Minute on BBC Radio 4. He had hosted all-but-four episodes of the shows run since it first went to air in 1967.

But it wasn’t just radio where Parsons made himself a household name, he was the host of the first version of ‘Sale of the Century’ on ITV from 1971 to 1983.

He began his career as an actor in the 1940’s and regularly appeared on stage in London’s West End. He made a name for himself performing stand-up comedy nights and became established as a comedian.

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, Nicholas Parsons had many supporting roles in television programmes and feature films, and despite his move into radio, continued to appear sporadically on television throughout the rest of his career.

It would be at BBC Radio 4 however, where Parsons would become a stalwart of radio broadcasting with the advent of Just a Minute. The show, which sees a panel of guests trying to talk on a subject for 60 seconds without hesitation, deviation or repetition, quickly became a staple of the Radio 4 schedule.

It was only in recent years, infact in 2018, when Parsons was 94, that Just a Minute regular Gyles Brandreth stood in for him as host because of a bout of illness.

The BBC’s outgoing Director General, Tony Hall said; “Very few people have done so much to entertain audiences over the decades, and no one deserves to be called a broadcasting legend more than Nicholas Parsons. His charm, inventive intellect and ability to create laughs were unsurpassed. Our thoughts are with his family and all who knew him.”

BBC Radio 4’s Comedy Commissioning Editor, Sioned Wiliam added; “A comic giant has left us, and we mourn the loss of our dear Nicholas.

“He was a great comedian in his own right and a hugely skilled host, much loved by us all at Radio 4 and adored by the comedy community who all queued up to work with him on Just a Minute. We will miss his warmth, charm and incredible humour – his legend will live on.”

I can remember the first time I tuned into Just a Minute, and it was purely by accident. I was 16 years old, living in Brighton and in my rented room, when I was trying to find something to listen to on the radio. At this point, I didn’t own a television, just a small portable AM/FM radio. My usual destination was BBC Radio 5 Live, but on this particular evening, the topic of discussion wasn’t at all very interesting. A spot of “band surfing” was commenced and out of the analogue static came BBC Radio 4. It was not really a station I’d much considered listening to before, but after listening to what turned out to be the start of an episode of “Just a Minute”, I was hooked.

Parson’s ability to be witty, comedic, but also very sharp with his panellists was something to behold. A talent that is incredibly rare, indeed many have tried to control Paul Merton on television’s Have I Got News For You, but failed. Parsons never failed. He was always in control, he was always the one to have the final say, but he was always on form.

A true entertainer, a true talent, an irreplaceable icon in broadcasting history.

I tried to write this article without hesitation, deviation or repetition, but as Nicholas Parsons would have said; I think there is hint of all three!

This article was originally written for News on News, and republished here after it was first published there.