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Sixty seconds that hooked the nation

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‘Just a Minute’ is celebrating its 50th birthday. In all that time, the panel game has been presided over by only one man: 94-year-old Nicholas Parsons. Valerie Grove salutes the show and meets its vintage ringmaster

Radio 4 is festooned with candles and balloons this year. So many favourite programmes are celebrating birthdays. I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, the funniest and most surreal panel-game, is 45. The Today programme is sixty, as it reminds us daily, and so is Test Match Special. The venerated Desert Island Discs, an ideal formula that pleases both castaway and audience, is 75. As for the Shipping Forecast – our ‘nightly litany of the sea’, as its presenter Zeb Soanes calls it – at 150, it predates even the earliest crystal sets. And then there is the panel-game Just a Minute or, as it is fondly known to participants, JAM. JAM celebrates fifty years on air on 22nd December, when Nicholas Parsons, 94, can flourish his unique trump card: he has been in the chair for the entire half-century. He even chaired the pilot.  It was not an instant success...


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