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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 14:22 GMT
Messiter's game show magic
Ian Messiter (bottom left) with Freud, Nimmo, Parsons and Williams

The BBC radio game show Just A Minute! has run for three decades - but the story of how its creator Ian Messiter, who has died at the age of 79, brought the idea to the air is equally epic.

Messiter, who was born in Dudley, Worcestershire, received the inspiration for the BBC Radio verbal dexterity quiz while still at school.

Messiter worked for BBC legend Alistair Cooke
Gazing out the window at Sherborne school during a class, Messiter was brought back to reality by a bellow from his master, Percival Parry Jones.

"Messiter! Repeat what I have been saying for the last minute, without hesitation or repetition," said the fearsome teacher.

Entertainment value of listening to someone talk about a random subject for 60 seconds was not lost on the schoolboy - although Messiter's own efforts failed to satisfy his tutor.

After a short stint in the army and another as a conjuror, Messiter eventually found his way to the BBC.

Just A Minute! host Nicholas Parsons weathered a verbal storm
As a lowly programme assistant, he worked with many of the corporation's top wartime stars, including Alistair Cooke and ITMA comic Tommy Handley.

Rising to the post of producer, Messiter invented the game show One Minute, Please. Kenneth Horne, Valerie Hobson and Yvonne Arnaud all appeared as guest contestants.

He also wrote a number of plays for the BBC before leaving for South Africa. Mr Drake's Duck was later made into a film starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Away from Britain he refined the format of his quiz idea - adding a rule against deviating from a given subject to those of his old teacher's.

At a commercial radio station in Johannesburg, Just A Minute! as we know it today was first broadcast.

Carry On star Kenneth Williams made the show his own
Contestants were asked to talk on a given topic for 60 seconds, gaining points by challenging their rivals from departing from the rules or by being the person still speaking at the end of the minute.

On returning to Britain, Messiter found the BBC reluctant to air the show themselves.

In the first deal of its kind, the concept was sold to a US TV company. The BBC took the royalties because the idea had been conceived while Messiter was under contract.

The British public were finally treated to the show's delights in 1968. Nicholas Parsons was appointed as the long-suffering host, hounded by the verbal barbs of panellists including Derek Nimmo, Clement Freud and the show's undoubted star Kenneth Williams.

Today's man: Stephen Fry doesn't deviate, hesitate or repeat
During its run the show hosted the cream of British comedy talent. Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Beryl Reid, Barry Took and Brian Johnston all delighted the packed-out studio audiences.

In recent years the show's popularity has been revived with the regular input of stars such as Julian Clary, Stephen Fry, Tony Slattery and Paul Merton.

Just A Minute! continues to attract an audience of two million listeners.
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