In the first episode of the new series of Just A Minute on Monday, Paul Merton clocks up 347 episodes on the Radio 4 panel show.
He’ll overtake Kenneth Williams and become the second most featured panellist on the show.
Clement Freud, who appeared regularly in the series from the very first episode in 1967 until his death in 2009, retains top position with 544 episodes to his name. It will take a while for anyone to catch up with him as that is a whole 32 series’ worth of appearances.
Paul Merton says: “Having over taken Kenneth Williams’ total number of appearances on Just A Minute, I would like to say without hesitation, deviation or repetition that I am amazed, astonished, thrilled, seasick and severely gobsmacked.”
Sioned Wiliam, Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Comedy, says: “Paul has well and truly joined the pantheon of the all-time great players of Just A Minute with his brilliant flights of fancy and sparkling wit. And it will only take him another decade to overtake the phenomenon that was Clement Freud…”
The programme goes into its 74th series, and episode one will be the 865th, but the rules remain the same: the contestants are challenged to speak for one minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition on any subject that comes up on the cards.
Nicholas Parsons says: “Paul Merton is one of the outstanding players of Just A Minute. Since his first appearance in 1989, he has been consistently amusing, clever and witty at playing this amazingly difficult game. He is also a very generous player. He is more concerned with contributing and making sure we have a good show than striving to win and impose his personality on the programme – though he does frequently finish up with the most points! His occasional verbal excursions when he takes a subject into the realms of fantasy are delightfully surreal moments in the show. His contribution over the years has been consistent and amazing and it is always a pleasure when he is part of the team. He deserves the record he has achieved and long may he be around to improve on it and give more pleasure to the thousands who tune in regularly to hear him playing Just A Minute”.
The format of Just A Minute was created by Ian Messiter and producer David Hatch, who put the pilot for the new game show before a BBC development board, who weren’t sure that the series would run for more than six episodes. Nicholas Parsons was appointed as the host, presiding over panellists including Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud and Kenneth Williams. It was first transmitted on 22 December 1967 and 48 years, and a total of 864 editions later, Nicholas continues to attempt in keeping control over a roll-call of loquacious celebrity contenders.
Kenneth Williams was a stalwart of the programme and appeared 346 times over the course of 20 years (1968-1988). With his death there was a fear that the show would fade with him, but this wasn’t to be the case as new comedians stepped in to continue the show, including Julian Clary, Stephen Fry, Graham Norton, Jenny Éclair, Sue Perkins, Ross Noble and Paul Merton.
There are three series of Just A Minute a year, with special editions recorded at Edinburgh Festival.