Melanie McDonagh

Why wasn’t Gyles Brandreth chosen to host ‘Just a Minute’?

Why wasn't Gyles Brandreth chosen to host ‘Just a Minute’?
Gyles Brandreth (Getty images)
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Turn aside if BBC Radio 4 isn’t your thing, still less its panel games. But for those of us who grew up with ‘Just a minute’ there was one obvious and outstanding candidate to replace the late Nicholas Parsons, who gave every indication that he was immortal until he was actually cut off at the age of 96. And it wasn’t the person who actually got the job.

The obvious candidate was Gyles Brandreth – though if you’d put in a case for Andy Hamilton, the other genuinely funny man on radio, I’d give it serious thought. But Gyles didn’t get it, nor did Andy. Sue Perkins did.

Perkins is, of course, a decent performer. She's also articulate and bossy. But the BBC has missed a trick in failing to appoint Brandreth. Brandreth is measurably better and more mellifluous than Perkins. He also has that authoritative-yet-anarchic combination, with an enormously wide range of cultural reference, which is vital in a show that relies overwhelmingly on the personality of the presenter to carry the project. 

Of course, Brandreth is posh, getting on a little, is a former Tory MP who has written a book about Prince Philip, and isn’t by any stretch of the word, woke. Did those things count against him?

This isn’t be the first time the BBC has taken a look at what’s meant to be a comedy programme and taken a sledgehammer to it. The News Quiz was funny once; the last time was when Miles Jupp was presenting. He has the kind of voice that makes a double entendre out of the most innocuous sentence. Since he last appeared, it’s been one dismal comedian after another, all chosen with an eye to credentials other than being actually funny.

Naturally everyone has been very nice about Perkins’ appointment, including the late Nicholas Parson’s widow and Gyles Brandreth himself. Is that because they don’t say what they think? If so, let me do it for them. The programme, which is based on a genius simple idea, will now be less pleasurable listening.