Nicholas Parsons has died, thirty years after he really ought to have retired. Perhaps the best we can hope for now is that the BBC will take Just a Minute out into the backyard and put it out of its misery.
There should be a statute of limitations on shows and formats. And careers in the media. Radio 4 offerings that are well past their use-by date include the aforementioned Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, The News Quiz, The Now Show, Dead Ringers, The Archers. Sacred cows, all. Too big to fail? The indispensable ones should always be eliminated first.
On telly, we should shoot the following into the sun: Have I Got News For You, QI, EastEnders, Casualty, X Factor, Strictly, Death in Paradise, and, in all likelihood, Doctor Who. They can all join The Black and White Minstrel Show, The Rolf Harris Show, and Jim’ll Fix It in television hell.
Am I just being a mean spirited old curmudgeon? Of course. But also: this is an institutional problem. When presenters like the Dimblebys stick around for fucking ever, politics seems stuck, zombified, and change seems impossible. Radio 4 worries about replenishers (8 year old article) and then sticks with Just a Minute and it’s presenter for, ahem, fifty-two years. Fifty-two years during which they have wrung every last platelet out of that particular stone.
People don’t retire in the media, which means that the young blood, fresh talent, people with new ideas, get stuck down the bottom end scrabbling around for scraps. And people like Parsons, as harmless as they might be, become institutions. Fine, he was mostly harmless, but he was also a sexist old sod, who treated women contributors totally differently on his show. For 52 fucking years. And so that kind of ear pollution gets institutionalised as well.
Even worse, this problem extends, as I said above, into the realm of politics, where people like the Dimbles and fucking Humphrys become part of the furniture and are then given a platform for their reactionary views. Just a few days ago that fuckwit, thought he’d stick his oar in about equal pay, and although he’s retired, for some reason (his endless career in the media) people pay attention to him.
One of the greatest institutions in politics is the handover. The removal vans at Number 10. The inauguration of a new President. These are moments when the incumbent, however reluctantly, gives way, and democracy is seen being done.
So it matters, really matters, that people in the media should move aside. Show cancelled, format changed, old wood cleared out with a gentle flamethrower or two. People should retire. And, on a related point, they should join a pension scheme so they wouldn’t feel the need to work 30 years beyond a reasonable retirement age.