Star Interview: Nicholas Parsons

There are a lot of surprising facts to discover about the national treasure that is Nicholas Parsons.

He may well be known for his 46-year long association with Radio 4’s rapid speech show Just A Minute, but he has also struggled to control a stutter.

Nicholas Parsons

Nicholas Parsons

He may well be recognised as a high-profile actor and TV presenter, but the 89-year-old started out as an engineer in Clydebank, near Glasgow, where he spent five years working for a maker of marine pumps.

And just some of the stories from his long career in showbusiness will be told when he takes to the stage at The Lighthouse Theatre in Kettering on Sunday at 6pm as part of his tour, An Evening With Nicholas Parsons.

He said: “It is a comedy show. I try to make people laugh and tell people stories from my life. I have had a varied professional life and struggled to get into showbusiness. I worked as an engineer to please my family and everyone is amused by that; I did five years and I survived. It is probably one of the few things I’m truly proud of. It was a tough environment.”

He continued: “I spent some time in Rep, playing one part in the day and a different one at night and things go wrong in theatre. I worked at the Windmill Theatre and that was tough, but it is all grist to the mill.”

As the son of a GP and a nurse, showbusiness was not the automatic choice for Nicholas.

“When I was born it was traditional to go into the trade of the family. Most people who went into the entertainment industry were people who came from that environment. It was unthinkable that someone with my background of doctors should want to go into this. My mother thought they were all debauched and depraved.

“I was determined that (acting) was what I wanted to do and I was encouraged when a child, but once I was in my teens, my parents were horrified. As I was good with my hands, they steered me into engineering.”

Thankfully for the world of showbusiness, his engineering career did not last long. He eventually became a professional actor, playing many supporting roles in British films during the 1950s and 1960s.

But it is perhaps as a presenter of shows such as Just A Minute and the hit TV quiz show Sale of the Century that he is best known.

As the chairman of Just A Minute, Nicholas still faces the task of keeping panels of contestants in line as they attempt to talk for 60 seconds on a subject without deviating, repeating or hesitating. His involvement with the show started as far back as 1967 when he presented the pilot.

He said: “A lot of the best ideas are very simple and are just about having fun.

“I let the panellists get out of order, you have to be aware of the entertainment value.

“If they go off course, it is a laugh. If we have had too much of something, I rein them in again. It is not about controlling them, we have fun and that is part of it.”

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