Nicholas Parsons

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Nicholas Parsons
CBE
Just a Minute.jpg
Parsons recording Just a Minute
at The Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh in 2007
Born Christopher Nicholas Parsons
(1923-10-10) 10 October 1923 (age 90)
Grantham, Lincolnshire, England
Education St Paul's School, London
University of Glasgow
Occupation Actor; radio and TV presenter
Years active 1947–present
Known for Just a Minute
Sale of the Century
Title Rector of the University of St Andrews
(1988–91)

President of the Lord's Taverners
(1998–99)
Spouse(s) Denise Bryer (m. 1954; div. 1989)
Ann Reynolds (m. 1995)
Children 2 (with Bryer)
from the BBC programme Great Lives, 13 May 2008.[1]

Website
www.nicholasparsons.co.uk

Christopher Nicholas Parsons, CBE (born 10 October 1923) is an English radio and television presenter and actor. His long career in television, radio and theatre has made him a household name and he has been described as "the ultimate quiz show host" because of "(his) geniality, clarity of diction and the speed with which he rattled through questions."[2]

Best known today for his long-standing position as host of the comedy radio game show Just a Minute, Parsons is also famous as the long-term host of Sale of the Century, a show whose audience peaked at over 21 million viewers (a record for an ITV game show).

Early life[edit]

Parsons was born at 1 Castlegate, Grantham, Lincolnshire; he was the middle child of the family, having an older brother and a younger sister. His father was a general practitioner, whose patients included the parents of Margaret Thatcher. His mother, born in Bristol to a founder of local company W.B. Maggs & Co., was training as a nurse when she met Parsons's father at University College Hospital, London.

Parsons was born left-handed but was made to write with his right hand. As a child, he had a stutter, which he managed to control as he grew older, and was slow to learn owing to dyslexia.[3] He also suffered from migraines but nevertheless excelled at school.[4] Educated at Colet Court and St Paul's School in London, Parsons' initial career plan was to become an actor. However, his parents believed that a career in engineering would be better, as he had repaired grandfather clocks as a young man and was creative with his hands.[4]

After he had left school, his family contacted relatives in Scotland, who arranged a job for him on Clydebank near Glasgow, where he spent five years employed as an engineering apprentice at Drysdales, a maker of marine pumps.[5] While there, he also spent two six-month periods studying engineering at the University of Glasgow.[6] He never graduated, but finished his apprenticeship and gained sufficient qualifications to become a mechanical engineer. He was given a position in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War, which he never took up due to illness.

Career in entertainment[edit]

He started his career while training as an engineering apprentice; he was discovered by Canadian impresario Carroll Levis, and appeared in his radio show. He also gained valuable early experience in amateur concert parties.

At the end of World War II, he became a full professional actor. He made his film debut in Master of Bankdam in 1947 and continued his stage career in West End theatre show, with two years in repertory at Bromley, Kent, and later Windsor, Maidstone and Hayes, and played many supporting roles in British films of the 1950s and '60s. In 1952, he became a resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre,[7] performing regular nights of stand-up comedy to packed houses. He starred in the West End show Boeing-Boeing for 15 months and later, other West End productions throughout the 1970s

Parsons became well known to TV audiences during the 1960s as the straight man to comedian Arthur Haynes. They had a successful season at the London Palladium in 1963 and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in America in 1966. In the same year, the partnership broke up after ten years at Haynes's request, allowing Parsons to return to the stage, before becoming a regular on The Benny Hill Show from 1969 to 1974. After Haynes' sudden death, Parsons appeared as a personality in his own right on television, including in the long-running Anglia Television quiz show Sale of the Century, broadcast weekly from 1971 to 1984.

Parsons has been the host of the BBC Radio 4 comedy panel game Just a Minute since it was first broadcast on 22 December 1967.[3][8] The show continues to be transmitted and Parsons has been heard in every edition and has presented the show in six different decades. The programme's longevity is arguably due in part to the host's ability to be a chairman, create laughs, and to act as a straight man to the comedians who participate.

He provided the non-singing voice of Tex Tucker in the children's TV puppet series Four Feather Falls at the suggestion of his then wife, actress and voiceover artiste Denise Bryer, who was in the show. During the late '60s he created and presented a satirical programme on Radio Four called Listen to This Space, which by the standards of its time was very avant garde, and he received the Radio Personality of the Year Award for his work on this programme in 1967. In the '50s and '60s he appeared in many supporting roles in British films.

Also, in the late 1960s, he portrayed "David Courtney" on the short-lived American sitcom The Ugliest Girl in Town.

In 1988 he appeared as himself in The Comic Strip Presents episode "Mr Jolly Lives Next Door", in which he had the misfortune to encounter two incompetent escort agency directors (Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in their usual cheerfully violent, dipsomaniac personas) followed by the psychopathic and misnamed Mr Jolly himself (played by Peter Cook).

In 1989 he featured in the long-running BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who as the doomed Northumberland vicar Reverend Wainwright in the Seventh Doctor serial The Curse of Fenric. Parsons later provided a commentary for the DVD release of the serial. Another guest role in 1989 was in The New Statesman, where he played the host of a daytime quiz show. In 1990, he appeared as the Mayor in the BBC's series for children Bodger & Badger.

In the early 1990s, he hosted a short lived panel game called "Laughlines" which was broadcast by SKY TV rival BSB on the Galaxy entertainment channel.

In 1993 he appeared in the final fourth series of the UK TV show Cluedo as Reverend Green.

Parsons took the lead role of the narrator in the 1994 21st anniversary revival of the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show and repeated the role at the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End, further starring in the revival the following year. He then toured with the production intermittently in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

In 2010, he made a brief appearance as Father Gorman in Marple: The Pale Horse

In April 2005 he was the guest presenter on the BBC comedy news show Have I Got News for You.

Parsons also appeared on Celebrity Mastermind, broadcast on BBC1 in December 2007 and over the last decade has guested on many other television shows as a speaker and an entertainer.

Parsons wrote an autobiography entitled The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy, which was published in 1984,[9] and he produced a book of memoirs in 2010 called Nicholas Parsons: With Just a Touch of Hesitation, Repetition and Deviation.

In October 2011, the BBC announced that to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Just a Minute, the show would transfer to television for a ten-part early evening series, with Parsons as host and regular panellist Paul Merton confirmed as a guest. The show was broadcast on BBC 2 from 26 March to 6 April 2012.

For the past 12 years, he has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival presenting his comedy chat show at the Cabaret Bar at the Pleasance. He returns in 2013 for his 13th year, to the same venue. He provided voiceovers for the Android mobile game Mole Miner.

Roles outside entertainment[edit]

From 1988 to 1991, Parsons served as Rector of the University of St Andrews. In 2005, he became for a short period honorary Chairman of the International Quizzing Association (IQA), a body that organises the World and European Quizzing Championships. He is a leading member of the Grand Order of Water Rats charity, a patron of the British Stammering Association, and was a Pro Dono Ambassador[citation needed]. He was the president of the charity the Lord's Taverners from 1998 to 1999.

Parsons is a lifelong Liberal, having supported the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats.[10] He was invited to stand as a Liberal Party candidate for Yeovil in the 1970s, but he turned down the opportunity in order to remain in the entertainment industry.[11]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Parsons was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2004 New Year Honours for services to drama and broadcasting.[12][13] He was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for charitable services, especially to children's charities.[14][15]

Having served as rector of the University of St Andrews from 1988 to 1991, he was awarded an honorary LLD by the university in 1991.[16][17] He was also awarded an honorary DA by the University of Lincoln in 2007.[18]

He held the Guinness World Record for the longest after-dinner speech (11 hours for charity) until it was reclaimed by former holder Gyles Brandreth.[19]

Publications[edit]

  • Parsons, N., 1994. The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 978-0297812395
  • Parsons, N., 2011. Nicholas Parsons: With Just a Touch of Hesitation, Repetition and Deviation: My Life in Comedy, Mainstream Publishing, ISBN 978-1845967123

Selected filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Edward Lear". Great Lives. 13 May 2008. BBC Radio 4. http://bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00b7bd1. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. ^ Hardy, Frances (18 February 2013). "The human encyclopedia who's been on 28 TV quizzes". Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b The Daily Telegraph, 24 Sep 2013, page 11
  4. ^ a b "Desert Island Discs with Nicholas Parsons". Desert Island Discs. 9 November 2007. BBC. Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/desertislanddiscs_20071104.shtml.
  5. ^ "Drysdale & Co". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Ed Doolan Interviews...". Ed Doolan Interviews. 25 October 2008. BBC. Radio 7. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00dlry1.
  7. ^ "Nicholas Parsons". BBC. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  8. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 353. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  9. ^ The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy (Weidenfeld & Nicholson). ISBN 978-0-297-81239-5
  10. ^ "Nicholas Parsons on the Lib Dems". BBC News. 11 September 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "Early Years". Nicholas Parsons Official Website. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Host Parsons' delight at honour". BBC News. 31 December 2003. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  13. ^ "Early years continued". Nicholas Parsons (official website). Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60728. p. 9. 31 December 2013.
  15. ^ "BBC News - New Year Honours: Ten famous faces". Bbc.co.uk. 2013-12-30. Retrieved 2014-03-17. 
  16. ^ "Honorary graduates 1921–2012". Universit of St Andrews. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  17. ^ "Nicholas Parsons, OBE". Debretts. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  18. ^ "Honoraries". University of Lincoln. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  19. ^ Meeke, Kieran (27 October 2009). "Nicholas Parsons (profile)". Metro. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Stanley Adams
Rector of the University of St Andrews
1988–1991
Succeeded by
Nicky Campbell