Nicholas Parsons

 Nicholas Parsons at the Forest Arts Centre, New Milton, exactly a week after his 96th birthday. Photo by Hattie Miles

Nicholas Parsons: Forest Arts Centre, New Milton 18th October, 2019.

 How often do you get to hear a 96-year-old man talking about how good he looks in a basque, fishnet stockings and high heels? Veteran actor, broadcaster and presenter Nicholas Parsons’ wonderfully engaging evening of anecdotes drew on an astonishing 75 years in show business and was full of fascinating facts and unexpected revelations.

The fishnets story was from his time as The Narrator in the Rocky Horror Show in the 1990s. He was genuinely amazed at how good his legs looked in tantalising lingerie. "I had no idea. We men don’t tend to spend a lot of time looking at our legs,” he explained.  

There was much more, with stories of his childhood in the 1920s and 30s, his life as a teenager during wartime and the engineering apprenticeship in Glasgow's tough Clydeside dockyards that he took to please his parents who were suspicious of his desire to work on the stage. They were convinced that showbusiness was populated by deviants, degenerates and alcoholics.

Once he’d qualified as an engineer, Nicholas - best known these days as the long time presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute - decided to go into the theatre anyway.

It’s an astonishing story which finds him, a week after his 96th birthday, still working, despite an accident in the summer that put him in hospital for five weeks.

Looking frail, and performing from a chair, he held the audience in rapt  attention describing in impressive detail his showbiz life. He’s a great storyteller and though his legs are currently a little weak, his voice is strong, his delivery his spot on and there is clearly nothing wrong with his memory. He’s even a dab hand at impressions. 

Nicholas Parsons’ remarkable showbiz life has taken him from weekly rep to pioneering TV comedy with Arthur Haynes and Benny Hill to the long running quiz show Sale of the Century. There have been West End plays, films and musicals along the way and of course the much loved Just a Minute radio show.

Nicholas revealed that he originally thought the panel game which challenges celebrity contestants  to speak on a randomly chosen subject for one minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition was going to be a disaster. What's more he considered himself totally unsuited to be its chairman. It looks as though he was wrong. He has been doing the job for nearly 53 years now. 

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2019