Inventor of the hugely popular radio panel game Just A Minute!, still running after 30 years


IAN MESSITER, who has died aged 79, invented the long-running and hugely popular radio panel game Just A Minute!

Messiter devised a number of game shows for the BBC but none so successful as Just A Minute!, which after more than three decades still draws up to two million listeners a week. Its appeal is primarily due to the simplicity of its formula: four contestants have to talk on topics ranging from “The Great Wall of China” to “Eating Winkles” for 60 seconds “without hesitation, repetition or deviation”; points are awarded for successful challenges and for still speaking when the whistle goes at the end of the minute.

The other factor, for more than 20 years, was a particular mix of regular panellists, which until the death of Kenneth Williams in 1988 consisted of Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud, Peter Jones and Williams, with Nicholas Parsons as chairman.


The seeds of Just A Minute! were sown when Messiter was a schoolboy at Sherborne. One history lesson, he was caught staring out of the window by the fearsome Percival Parry Jones (PJ), who bellowed at him: “Messiter! Repeat what I have been saying for the last minute without hesitation or repetition.”

Messiter failed to do so, and was hauled in front of the class and caned six times on his bare bottom. “It was a humiliating experience but it changed my life,” he recalled.

Later, as a young producer for BBC radio, he suggested his format for a comedy game show (adding the third rule of “no deviation”). An early version, One Minute, Please, was made with Roy Plomley in the chair; this evolved into Just A Minute! In recognition of his help, Messiter sent PJ a bottle of champagne.

The son of a doctor, Ian Cassan Messiter was born on April 2 1920 at Dudley, Worcestershire, and educated at Winton House Prep School and Sherborne.