Nicholas Parsons is one of our great British institutions. Actor, broadcaster, raconteur and for the past 45 years presenter and chairman of BBC Radio 4’s iconic, long-running radio series Just A Minute, where panellists must talk for sixty seconds on a given subject, without repetition, hesitation or deviation.
Now a sprightly 80-something he keeps very busy broadcasting, presenting, performing on stage and television - and starring in his own one-man-show, Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour which has been a hit for the past few years at the Edinburgh Festival.
Here he proves that age is no barrier by sharing 6 things he has been pleased to have done since he turned 70.
The Most Daring...
I have always loved water skiing and when I was much younger, I became quite proficient at the sport, even taught my son Justin how to water ski when he was a boy. It was a great sport to enjoy together.
A handful of years ago I was visiting him in Brunei where he was working at the time – he is an interior designer – and he sprang a very pleasant surprise. He’d hired a sports boat and suggested we go water skiing together again.
It was a challenge at my age, and took me a while to get up and running, but after a little tempting I managed to stand up on the skis in the water, leaned back and away we went.
It was one of the most breathtaking and exhilarating things I have ever done. And at my age it made it so much more of an achievement. A fantastic rush of adrenalin – but one I enjoyed immensely.
The Most Unusual...
Back in 1998 I was starring on the West End stage as ‘The Narrator’ in Richard O’Brien’s cult musical, The Rocky Horror Show. The show subsequently enjoyed a further London season before touring extensively in 2000 and 2001.
As ‘The Narrator’ I was formally dressed for most of the show... that is until the finale when I appeared on stage in an outrageous cross-dressing scene, dressed in fishnet tights, suspenders, high heels – the works. High camp at its best – it was my idea – and the audience absolutely loved it.
We got a great reaction every night. Now resplendent in my finale costume, it showed off my legs to their very best advantage so I was told – and many times during the run members of the audience came up and told me what nice legs I had, which was something of an inverted compliment because they never commented on my actual stage performance.
The proudest moment came in 2004 when I was awarded the OBE for services to entertainment and broadcasting.
It's a wonderful achievement and very humbling to be honoured by your country. I have worked hard all my life, but I have enjoyed every moment. It has been a great labour of love for me and to be recognised in this way with such an accolade was fantastic.
It was the proudest day of my life receiving the award from The Queen at Buckingham Palace.
The Most Rewarding...
Working on Just A Minute is certainly the most rewarding thing I have done. It's my favourite job. It is professionally most demanding, but tremendous fun.
It started in 1967, but today I believe it is funnier than it ever has been. The regular players have sharpened their skills and techniques of playing the game and, with the rapport and interplay between us all, we're sometimes surprised how the show can generate even more audience reaction and laughter.
It's such a joy to be able to do something that is so challenging and demanding. As host and Chairman I have to make instant decisions, generate fun, control the show and listen to every word spoken and remember, so I can judge if a challenge is correct - especially if it is for repetition.
There's no preparation, no scripting, no technical backup. Recorded before a live audience it is like living dangerously every minute the show goes on and you get a tremendous adrenalin rush. I was amazed to learn that I have taken part in well over 700 recordings including shows in India.
Recently I was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement accolade at the Sony Radio Awards, so I must be doing something right having been with the show without repetition, hesitation or deviation for nearly 50 years..
I have always loved cricket. Through the Lords Taverners I have been able to indulge my passion for the game and help to do some good as well for charity.
Over the years I have been its President, and on the board of Trustees. I have also played in many charity matches which I love immensely.
However on one occasion, I very nearly ended up in hospital. In a charity match I would always rather bat against a professional bowler than a keen club cricketer. The latter, who probably plays in front of handful of spectators at club events, is often extremely keen to get you out and then boast to his friends afterwards how he claimed the scalp of Nicholas Parsons.
An experienced professional bowler is much more easy-going - he knows that he can probably bowl you out if determined enough, but also realises that the spectators have come to see the celebrities raise money for charity.
On one occasion, I faced a bowler out to make a name for himself. He came thundering down off a lengthy run-up and hurled a beamer straight towards my head. If I hadn’t seen it early enough and ducked – it could have taken my head off.
The bowler was terribly sorry and apologised immediately, but the damage could so easily have been done. It was silly of me really, because the next day I was opening in the West End in The Rocky Horror Show – I’d had my own rocky horror show that afternoon and I could have missed the entire run.
It’s funny, but when you sign to do a West End Show, part of the contract for insurance purposes makes you sign a disclaimer saying you won’t indulge in dangerous sports – and the form lists many. Cricket isn’t one of them!
The most enlightening...
Several years ago I wrote and presented a show of BBC Radio 4 called Thanks For The Memory. In it we explored every aspect of memory, and illustrated what an important part it plays in our lives - whatever our profession - and how vital is to keep it active and alert.
I interviewed a whole raft of professional people who relied on their memory for their professional existence: actors, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers.
Each one impressed upon me that we must all use and stimulate our brains all the time by keeping engaged and there are numerous ways we can do this.
We must never become lazy and ignore it. Being active mentally can certainly keep us active physically and keep us young in mind and body.