City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: Nicholas Parsons, No Repetition, Hesitation or Deviation

By Allan Alstead - Posted on 21 August 2014

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Nicholas Parsons with Al Senter as Chairman

An appearance by Nicholas Parsons is always a highlight of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and this year was no exception. Nicholas Parsons has been entertaining his audiences for over forty six years as the programme host of 'Just a Minute' so his book about the programme is almost overdue, although he has two other books to his credit. At the age of ninety he looked remarkably sprightly and told the audience that he just needed a stick, "to get me up the stairs"!

Going back over the history of the programme he said that the idea for Just A Minute had originally been sold to Radio 4 and he was asked to pilot the pre-run, however, this was so bad that he thought that was the end of the project.

In fact, the BBC decided to run the show, but with Parsons as the host. Since then he has appeared in every show over six decades which must be some kind of record. Chair Al Senter asked him if he changed the programme and the Parsons responded with the maxim that, "any actor is only as good as their last performance". But he admitted that he did make adjustments, really to help the show to flow more smoothly.

Asked about the characters who came on the show he said he found Paul Merton easy to work with - possibly because Parsons is a master at playing 'the straight man' and he is the perfect foil for comedians to use as the butt of their jokes.

Wendy Richards occasionally got very miserable and Parsons would have to try and cheer her up - not easy in the middle of a live show! But Kenneth Williams was very special as he was a regular, but he had the occasional attack of the sulks, so Parsons would suggest to him that, "your audience wanted to hear more from you" and this form of flattery normally worked.

Parsons was asked about his early life and how he happened to find himself in show business; he said that although he had always wanted to be an actor he was told by his parents that he really needed to get a 'proper job'. So he was sent up to Clydebank near Glasgow to work as an engineering apprentice. He also attended Glasgow University where he studied engineering although he never graduated. He did, however, manage to get sufficient credits to become a mechanical engineer. It was while working as a mechanical engineer that he was discovered by Caroll Levis and put on his radio show - as they say, the rest is history.

All the way through this fascinating hour Nicholas Parsons kept reminding the audience that, "it's all in the book you know!" Seldom has anyone done such a hard sell for their own book, but I am sure it will be highly entertaining. Before leaving the stage he fired one last salvo about his cravats and managed to get the audience to agree that we should all bring back the cravat!

No wonder that tickets were in such demand as this was a hugely entertaining hour. We should be very grateful to the anonymous writers in Wendbach for their sponsorship of this for this most popular event.