In Depth

Nicholas Parsons: legendary TV and radio host dies aged 96

Showbiz colleagues pay tribute to presenter of BBC Radio 4's Just A Minute

Nicholas Parsons, who hosted the BBC radio show Just A Minute for more than 50 years, has died at the age of 96.

“Nicholas passed away in the early hours of 28 January after a short illness at the age of 96,” said a statement released on behalf of his family. “He was with his beloved family who will miss him enormously and who wish to thank the wonderful staff at the Stoke Mandeville hospital.”

In 2018, Parsons made headlines when he missed an episode of the Radio 4 comedy show – in which contestants must talk for a minute on a subject and avoid hesitation, repetition or deviation – for the first time in half a century.

Regular guest Gyles Brandreth filled in, noting that “after 50 years at the helm [Parsons] quite rightly thinks he should be allowed a day off”, the BBC reported.

Reacting to the news of his death, Brandreth described Parsons as his “hero”, writing on Twitter: “Nicholas Parsons was a wonderful role model: always courteous, always good-humoured, always the professional & still at his best aged 95! I thought he was immortal because he was always so alive.”

Referencing the famous comedy show, Graham Norton wrote: 

Just A Minute regular Stephen Fry added: 

Parsons began his showbiz career appearing in West End shows, The Guardian reports, later becoming the straight man to comedian Arthur Haynes in the late 1960s. 

The pair would go on to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in America, before Haynes ended the relationship as he began to consider Parsons’ growing popularity a “threat”, according to the BBC.

Just A Minute first aired on 22 January 1967 and, according to the broadcaster, Parsons had originally wanted to appear as a panelist. But after his straight man role with Haynes, the BBC felt he would make a perfect host.

“As a good straight man,” Parsons later said, “you know how to throw out the lines so the comic will have a good springboard to come back. You also know how to take a joke at your expense.”

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As well as presenting Just A Minute – which kept a regular audience of two million listeners into the 21st century – Parsons also appeared on The Benny Hill Show and hosted the ITV quiz Sale of the Century between 1971 and 1983.

Away from comedy, he was a keen cricket player and fan, as well as a prominent supporter of the Liberal Democrats. In the 1970s, he was offered the opportunity to stand for the then Liberal Party, but declined to remain in the entertainment industry.

Parsons also once held the Guinness World Record for the longest after-dinner speech – 11 hours – until Brandreth claimed the title.

In the 2004 honours list, Parsons was awarded an OBE for services to drama and broadcasting. He was made a CBE in 2014 for charitable services, especially to children's charities.

He was married twice and is survived by his wife Ann, and two children from his first marriage.

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