Just a Minute host Nicholas Parsons was today praised as a ‘broadcasting legend’ and ‘an icon in the world of British comedy’ following his death aged 96 surrounded by his family after a short illness.
Parsons made an extraordinary contribution to film, TV and radio over a 74-year career which saw him host the BBC Radio 4 programme since its inception in 1967 and the long-running ITV game show Sale Of The Century.
The broadcaster, who had been married to his second wife Ann since 1995 and received a CBE in 2014 for services to charity, become a television regular on The Benny Hill Show following his acting debut in 1946.
Fellow BBC presenters lined up to pay tribute, with Graham Norton saying his death was ‘the sound of the final whistle’, referring to the end of a round on Just A Minute, and Nick Robinson calling him a ‘broadcasting giant’.
Parsons, who was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, was best known for the long-running Radio 4 show where panellists have to speak for 60 seconds without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a special episode of Just A Minute at 6.30pm tonight including highlights of great moments from different episodes. It will also air Nicholas Parsons in Conversation with Paul Merton at 11pm.
Nicholas Parsons celebrates his 96th birthday at Grosvenor House in London in October 2019
Parsons with hostesses (from left) Caro Greenwood, Sophie Batchelor, Laura Beaumont, Christine Owen and Eunice Derry in the long-running ITV game show Sale Of The Century in June 1978
Nicholas Parsons had been married to his second wife, Ann, since 1995. They are pictured together on January 16, 2019
Both programmes were first broadcast to mark 50 years of Just A Minute.
There have been more than 900 episodes of the show – and he missed a recording for the first time ever in June 2018 because of flu, and then another in August last year due to a back problem.
His last episode first aired on September 16 last year and the show is currently between series. The broadcast was episode eight of series 85, and it was last broadcast on Radio 4 Extra on October 1 last year.
Today, his agent Jean Diamond said: ‘Nicholas passed away in the early hours of January 28 after a short illness at the age of 96. He was with his beloved family who will miss him enormously and who wish to thank the wonderful staff at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital.’
Among those paying tribute was BBC Director-General Tony Hall, who 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.
Nicholas Parsons (far right), 13, is pictured with his sister Patricia Parsons, 14 (left), Polly the dog, his brother John Parsons (second left), 15, and mother Nel Parsons (centre) on holiday in Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire in 1936
‘His charm, inventive intellect and ability to create laughs were unsurpassed. Our thoughts are with his family and all who knew him.’
‘Humour has sustained me’: The best quotes from the late Nicholas Parsons
Here are some of Nicholas Parsons’ best quotes.
- ‘I believe I would have got more work if I had been more rugged-looking.’ (August 2015)
- ‘The saddest thing about getting old is seeing my cricket bat in the corner and wondering if I will ever play again.’ (June 2015)
- ‘I have a very weak stomach. I am not sure how it would handle kangaroos’ testicles.’ (December 2014)
- ‘I see a lot of the young comedians think it is clever to use foul language and they think it is funny. It isn’t.’ (November 2014)
- ‘The open-necked shirt is really rather ugly. I have seen people with beautifully-tailored jackets on with an open shirt with an awful Adam’s apple there.’ (August 2014)
- ‘Why do people use the word ‘kids’? It makes children sound like small goats.’ (January 2014)
- ‘I can take a grandfather clock to pieces and put it back together again.’ (September 2013)
- ‘I get quite resentful when people ask if I am going to retire. I am in a profession that retires you. If you are no longer hacking it, you won’t be asked back, or the public won’t come and see you. They will let me know soon enough if I am not doing what I should: I’d be out on the rubbish dump.’ (August 2011)
- ‘People ask how I’ve survived so long. Well, I was in the Blitz and there was stoicism in adversity. And humour. Humour has sustained me.’ (December 2010)
- ‘I don’t know if men go bonkers in middle age. I’m bonkers half the time anyway, so I didn’t notice much.’ (August 2009)
- ‘We are rogues and vagabonds waiting by the phone, there to hire for our talents. A bit like prostitutes.’ (March 2009)
Mohit Bakaya, controller of BBC Radio 4, added: ‘Nicholas Parsons was one of the greats, a first class broadcaster and an icon in the world of British comedy.
‘Nicholas always brought his sharp wit, brilliant poise and warmth to everything he did – but particularly as host of Just a Minute where his excellence shone in each episode without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
‘He was that rare beast – a presenter whose appeal spread right across the generations – and he was a unique member of the Radio 4 family. He will be greatly missed by us all, as well as the many, many listeners who he entertained so brilliantly.’
Parsons said he was ‘flattered and delighted’ to be awarded a CBE for his charitable work in December 2013, but most will remember him for his broadcasting.
Julia McKenzie, creative director at BBC Studios Audio which produces Just a Minute, said: ‘Nicholas was such a smart and passionate man who cared deeply about his radio show and Radio 4 and its devoted listeners. He was utterly charming and faultlessly professional.
‘He was funny and kind in person and wonderful company. I can’t really believe he is gone today, he seemed indestructible. His legacy will live on with over 50 years of laughter-filled shows and the lasting friendships he made through his extraordinary career in show business.
‘My thoughts are very much with Annie, his beloved wife and constant support and companion who attended every recording, and the rest of his family. Nicholas, you dear man, what a full life you lived – you really did bring much wit and joy to us all and we thank you for that – we miss you.’
BBC presenter Andrew Neil added: ‘So sad to learn of the death of Nicholas Parsons, though at 96 it was a pretty impressive innings.
‘I last saw him a year ago and he was in great form. A more friendly, generous, polite and solicitous person you could not hope to meet.’
And Radio 4 Today programme presenter Nick Robinson tweeted: ‘Without hesitation, deviation or repetition I’d like to say that Nicholas Parsons was a broadcasting giant who proved that the straight man could be the real star of comedy. Will be hugely missed by all who work at and love.’
Parsons hosts ITV’s Sale of the Century, which ran from October 1971 to November 1983. He made his acting debut in 1947
Parsons is made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen during an Investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle in Berkshire on April 15, 2014
Parsons with the Duke of Edinburgh at the opening of the new Lord Taverners headquarters in London in May 1999
On June 4 2018, he missed his first ever episode of Just A Minute after 50 years at the helm and over more than 900 instalments.
Showbiz royalty praise the life of Nicholas Parsons
‘The sound of the final whistle. Nicholas Parsons was truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with’
‘RIP Nicholas Parsons, 96. A wonderful man who brought so much fun, charm, wit & pleasure to so many millions of people over so many decades. What a life’
‘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’
‘So sad to learn of the death of Nicholas Parsons, though at 96 it was a pretty impressive innings’
‘Without hesitation, deviation or repetition I’d like to say that Nicholas Parsons was a broadcasting giant who proved that the straight man could be the real star of comedy’
‘Oh no. Nicholas Parsons gone? He ruled Just a Minute for Just a Lifetime. A stunning achievement: never scripted, always immaculate’
‘I sort of directed him, but the direction was basically ‘You’re Nicholas Parsons so do that”
‘The end of an era. Nicholas Parsons was such a lovely man – and so versatile: actor, entertainer, writer, TV star and radio host without equal, but for me, most of all, friend’
‘The only mystery is why he was never knighted but friends and admirers like me always thought of him as Sir Nicholas Parsons’
Dame Esther Rantzen
He was replaced by regular panellist Gyles Brandreth and his absence sparked concerns for his health.
Today, write and broadcaster Brandreth tweeted: ‘The end of an era. Nicholas Parsons was such a lovely man – and so versatile: actor, entertainer, writer, TV star & radio host without equal, but for me, most of all, friend.
‘I knew him for more than 50 years: he was simply the best. Thinking of his wonderful wife Annie & family.’
Brandreth tweeted a photo of himself with the Just a Minute host, adding: ‘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. Such sadness today, but what a career to celebrate, from the 1940s to 2020. My hero!’
Dame Esther Rantzen was also among the people paying tribute to Parsons and told how he overcame a speech impediment to have a hugely successful career on screen and on radio.
She said: ‘Nicholas was a miracle of broadcasting talent at an age when many people would have gratefully retired. His mental and verbal agility kept the iconic Radio 4 programme Just A Minute going from the time he chaired the pilot, through to today.
‘He overcame a stammer, he was extraordinarily versatile, being the perfect straight man for famous comics to appearing in black suspenders in the Rocky Horror Show to delighting full houses at the Edinburgh Festival to his most recent role as King Rat of the Water Rats charity.
‘His huge contribution to Childline and The Silver Line has made a huge difference transforming the lives of children and older people, and he has been a valued supporter for the Lord’s Taverners and many other charities.
‘The only mystery is why he was never knighted but friends and admirers like me always thought of him as Sir Nicholas Parsons.
‘As a friend of his for many years I will miss him desperately and I know his millions of fans will feel the same.’
DailyMail.com US Editor-at-Large Piers Morgan was also among those paying tribute, saying: ‘RIP Nicholas Parsons, 96. A wonderful man who brought so much fun, charm, wit & pleasure to so many millions of people over so many decades. What a life.’
And actor Stephen Fry was keen to point out how naturally funny Parsons was on Just A Minute.
He tweeted: ‘Oh no. Nicholas Parsons gone? He ruled Just a Minute for Just a Lifetime. A stunning achievement: never scripted, always immaculate. From comedian’s sidekick to great institution, via Sale of the Century & much more. Unrivalled continuity, professionalism & commitment. Farewell x.’
Parsons poses with a watch to promote Just A Minute 35th anniversary programme in 2002
Parsons is pictured in London in November 2013 (left) and in September 2018 (right)
Parsons with his CBE medal given to him by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle in April 2014
TV host Graham Norton added: ‘The sound of the final whistle. Nicholas Parsons was truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with.
Nicholas Parsons’s 74-year career in TV and film
- Hay Fever (TV movie) – 1946
- The Princess and the Woodcutter (TV short) – 1947
- The Master of Bankdam (film) – 1947
- BBC Sunday-Night Theatre (TV series) – 1950
- Spring at Marino (TV movie) – 1951
- The Passing Show (TV series) – 1951
- The Eric Barker Half-Hour (TV series) – 1951-1953
- Nor Care Beyond Today (TV short) – 1953
- Cash on Delivery (film) – 1954
- Look at It This Way (TV series) – 1955
- Simon and Laura (film) – 1955
- An Alligator Named Daisy (film) – 1955
- Here and Now (TV series) – 1955-1956
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (TV series) – 1956
- The Adventures of the Big Man (TV series) – 1956
- The Third Key (film) – 1956
- Eyewitness (film) – 1956
- Rheingold Theatre (TV series) – 1954-1956
- Brothers in Law (film) – 1957
- Just a Little Cuckoo (TV short) – 1957
- Happy Is the Bride (film) – 1958
- Saturday Playhouse (TV series) – 1958-1959
- Too Many Crooks (film) – 1959
- Man in a Cocked Hat (film) – 1959
- Upstairs and Downstairs (film) – 1959
- Saturday Spectacular (TV series) – 1959
- Calling All Lovers Eva (short) – 1959
- Let’s Get Married (film) – 1960
- Doctor in Love (film) – 1960
- Four Feather Falls (TV series) – 1960
- Carry on Regardless (film) – 1961
- Vacation Playhouse (TV series) – 1964
- Murder Ahoy (film) – 1964
- Seaside Swingers (film) – 1964
- The Arthur Haynes Show (TV series) – 1957-1965
- Night Train to Surbiton (TV series) – 1965
- Call My Bluff (TV series) – 1965
- The Wrong Box (film) – 1966
- The Ghost Goes Gear (film) – 1966
- Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (film) – 1968
- The Benny Hill Show (TV series) – 1968-1971
- The Very Merry Widow and How (TV series) – 1969
- The Ugliest Girl in Town (TV series) – 1968-1969
- I Understand (short) – 1970
- Danger Point (TV series) – 1971
- Sale of the Century (TV show) – 1971-1983
- Comedy Playhouse (TV series) – 1973
- The Best of Benny Hill (film) – 1974
- Spy Story (film) – 1976
- The Morecambe & Wise Show (TV series) – 1978
- This Is Your Life (TV show) – 1978
- The Little and Large Show (TV series) – 1984
- Who Dares Wins (TV series) – 1986
- The Comic Strip Presents… (TV series) – 1988
- Roland Rat: The Series (TV series) – 1986-1988
- Doctor Who (TV Series) – 1989
- Bodger and Badger (TV series) – 1991
- Kappatoo (TV series) – 1992
- Cluedo (TV series) – 1993
- Hospital! (TV Movie) – 1997
- Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! (TV movie) – 2006
- Celebrity Mastermind (TV show) – 2007
- Lady Godiva (film) – 2008
- Caught in a Trap (TV movie) – 2008
- Marple (TV series) – 2010
- The Wotwots (TV series) – 2010
- Comedy Lab (TV series) – 2011
- Good Omens (TV series) – 2019
‘His continued delight at being a part of show business should be an inspiration to us all! Huge love to his wife Annie and his whole family.’
And Good Omens writer Neil Gaiman said: ‘Heartbroken. I was thrilled to have been able to work with Nicholas Parsons on Good Omens.
‘I sort of directed him, but the direction was basically ‘You’re Nicholas Parsons so do that’. Kind and professional and a pleasure to work with. So sad.’
Parsons played Dagon, Lord of the Files in the 2019 TV mini-series adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book.
Writer Neil Gaiman also shared a picture of himself with Parsons, tweeting: ‘I’m so proud to be in this photo working with someone I’d respected and admired through Just A Minute for most of a lifetime.
‘(Favourite acting role was his evil quizshow host in Time Bandits.) RIP Nicholas Parsons. You were an inspiration. Thank you for being part of #GoodOmens.’
Veteran DJ Tony Blackburn tweeted: ‘Very sad to hear that the wonderful Nicholas Parsons has passed away.
‘I knew him for years and have always been a big fan. On his 90th birthday we gave him a Superman Dressing Gown which he told me he loved. He was a superman and a great entertainer. I will miss him very much.’
Comedian Chris Addison wrote on Twitter: ‘Years ago I was due to do Just A Minute and had to cancel at the last minute because of Unexpected Developments in the run up to the birth of one of my kids.
‘The next day, Nicholas Parsons called to make sure everything was all right and ask if we needed anything. RIP, you gent.’
And comedian Rachel Parris tweeted an anecdote about Parsons from the Chortle comedy awards in 2016.
She said: ‘The room was cacophonous, everyone was talking over the winners as usual, all night, until Nicholas Parsons won an award, and a reverent hush fell over the whole room followed by a thunderous standing ovation. Even drunk comics know true quality.’
Another comedian, Russell Kane, also tweeted: ‘Really sad about Nicholas Parsons. What a legend. Was always lovely and encouraging. Rest in peace, may your minutes be remembered without hesitation.’
While Julian Clary said: ‘Dear Nicholas Parsons RIP. So clever, funny and generous. I thought he, and the twinkle in his eyes, would go on forever. What a remarkable life and career.’
And comedian Janey Godley tweeted: ‘I think I should mention that Nicholas Parsons was one of the very few old school iconic comedians/presenters who was very much invested in new and young comics at Edinburgh – he came to see our shows and spent time getting to know us – he was one of ‘us’ he loved stand up.
‘The sheer delight knowing that Nicholas was in your audience was something that ‘lifted’ our spirits at the fringe – despite his age and workload he came to see HEAPS of comedy shows and sat and chatted with us afterwards – nobody else that famous did that for us.
‘He took time with new and emerging comics and always was generous with his time. We were used to famous faces at the fringe but Nicholas was that guy who sat in a tiny hot room and laughed and cheered you on. And for that I will always love him.’
Among his many charitable commitments, Parsons had a long association with the Grand Order of Water Rats and the Lord’s Taverners, for which he served as president.
In a statement issued on the Lord’s Taverners website, they said: ‘Everyone at the Lord’s Taverners is saddened to hear of the passing of Nicholas Parsons, CBE.
‘Member number HM545 and President from 1998-1999, Nicholas has been a huge supporter of our fundraising events and work with disadvantaged and disabled young people since he joined the charity in 1964.
‘We would like to extend our condolences to his wife Annie and his family during this difficult time. His energy, fun and enthusiasm for the charity will be great missed.’
How showbusiness veteran Nicholas Parsons was most famous for his quiz and panel game roles
Nicholas Parsons was a true veteran of the stage, screen and airwaves with a career which spanned more than half a century.
He clocked up numerous acting and comedy parts, but he was best known for his years as question master of TV quiz Sale Of The Century and for his role as host of BBC Radio 4’s Just A Minute, which he was still presenting well into his 90s.
Despite his glittering CV, he once said he believed he would have got more work if he had been ‘more rugged-looking’.
Nicholas Parsons aged 16 (left) with his sister Patricia Parsons aged 17 (back), his mother Nel Parsons (centre) and elder brother John Parsons aged 18 (right) with the family dog Polly on a family holiday in Bosham, West Sussex, in 1940
In 2012, he celebrated the 45th anniversary of Just a Minute – in which celebrity guests strive to talk about a subject for 60 seconds ‘without hesitation, repetition or deviation’ with a TV version broadcast by BBC2.
In 2016, Prince Charles, a fan of the show, performed a cameo on the programme’s Christmas special.
Parsons was born on October 10 1923, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, where his father was GP to the family of Baroness Thatcher.
After studying at St Paul’s School in London, he headed to Clydebank as an apprentice engineer, despite his own hopes of becoming an actor.
But his impressions were featured in a radio show and, following performances with amateur concert parties after the Second World War, he moved into acting – working in rep at Bromley in Kent.
Parsons (right) in the 1960 film Doctor In Love, alongside Moira Redmond (left) and Michael Craig (centre)
Comic roles proved to be a speciality and he became resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre in London after working on the cabaret circuit in the 1950s.
He found TV fame appearing with comic Arthur Haynes in his ITV show in the early 1960s, and he was also a regular on The Benny Hill Show.
At the tail end of 1967, he introduced Just A Minute for the first time – and the show is still going strong today.
Within a few years, he had also become known for hosting ITV’s Sale Of The Century, with its notable opening line ‘And now from Norwich, it’s the quiz of the week …’ which launched as a regional show in 1971, and was broadcast nationally by 1975.
Parsons had guest roles in Doctor Who, children’s series Bodger And Badger, as well as taking a cross-dressing role in a touring production of The Rocky Horror Show in his 70s, and performing a number of seasons with his one-man shows at the Edinburgh Festival.
In 1990, he starred in London’s West End in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into The Woods, and his autobiography The Straight Man – My Life in Comedy was published in 1994.
Parsons celebrates his 39th birthday with his first wife, Denise Bryer, in London on October 10, 1968
He was a regular guest on television and radio comedy shows, and in 1999 he took his comedy chat show The Nicholas Parsons Happy Hour to the Edinburgh Festival, returning to the event in years that followed.
Notable projects include The Arthur Haynes Show, Carry On Regardless, and Cluedo, and he starred in West End comedies Boeing Boeing, Say Who You Are, as well as musicals and revues.
His first major success on television was as the straight man to Haynes in the famous partnership that flourished in the 1960s, and included Swing Along, a season in 1963 at the London Palladium.
Among his many charitable commitments, he had a long association with the Grand Order of Water Rats and the Lord’s Taverners, for which he served as president.
Parsons said he was ‘flattered and delighted’ to be awarded a CBE for his charitable work in December 2013.
He was best known for his years as question master of TV quiz Sale Of The Century (pictured, in 1975) and Just A Minute
He said at the time that he would save celebrations for his day at the palace, joking that his 90th had been enthusiastically marked.
‘I received the letter two months ago and was told to keep quiet about it or it might be taken away so my wife and I kept quiet about it,’ he revealed.
‘We won’t be celebrating until the day we go to the palace – I’ve done so much celebrating for my 90th birthday this year,’ he said.
Ten years previously, Parsons received an OBE for services to drama and broadcasting.
On June 4 2018, he missed his first ever episode of Just A Minute after 50 years at the helm and over more than 900 instalments.
Parsons celebrates his 96th birthday at Grosvenor House in London last October alongside Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
He was replaced by regular panellist Gyles Brandreth and his absence sparked concerns for his health.
However, the BBC’s head of radio comedy explained that Parsons was ‘taking a couple of days off’.
When introducing the show, Brandreth said: ‘After 50 years at the helm, [he] quite rightly thinks he should be allowed a day off.’
In 2019 Parsons was give a Broadcasting Press Guild (BPG) award for his outstanding contribution to broadcasting.
BPG chairman Jake Kanter said of Parsons: ‘His warmth, sharp wit and clear-headed determinations in rooms full of fast-talking show offs have kept him at the top of his game.’
Parsons married his second wife Ann Reynolds in 1995, and had two children from his first marriage to Denise Bryer.