Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour

Nicholas Parsons, suave anchor-man of BBC radio’s classic ‘Just a Minute’, is delivering his tried and tested ‘Happy Hour’ at 5.10 pm daily at The Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August.  His opening promise is that the audience will leave in a happier frame of mind than on arrival.  It’s a promise he redeems, and with boundless laughter to spare.

The audience, it must be said, is adoring and although few in it can equal Parsons’ longevity, a few run him close.  This is a show which appeals to a particular sense of humour in which language is a plaything, humour is gentle and nostalgia runs deep.

The format is three guests in each show.  The guests change daily.  Nicholas Parsons’ skilled management of them does not.  Prior to the arrival of the first guest however he engages with the audience on a one-to-one level. He elicits a few personal details, laughs gently with the interviewee and presents her or him with a packet of Smarties.  (Don’t sit in the front row unless you’re willing to engage with him.  He charms the shyest of audience members into at least a few words.)

His first guest was Alfie Moore, a former Police Constable from Scunthorpe and star of ‘The Laughter Police’ told a few amazing tales and offered insights from his years on the beat.  These tales of the sad, the bad and lost were from the dark side of human experience.

The second guests, Barbershopera, a quarter of barber shop musicians (appearing daily at 11.05 pm and also at The Pleasance Courtyard) are producing ‘The Three Musketeers, an a cappella romp with a female d’Artagnan.   Their four-part harmonies and light humour fitted effortlessly into the Parsons formula.

His last guest was the star turn of the afternoon.  Pam Ayres, with her occasionally self-deprecating, always insightful and perceptive and very amusing verse, held the audience and Nicholas Parsons in the palm of her hand.  “I can write better than I speak,” she stated at the outset but on this performance that hardly seemed the case.

She spoke of her recent autobiography, The Necessary Aptitude: A Memoir, and recalled the less complex world of her childhood.  Her recitation of ‘The Embarrassing Experience with the Parrot’ captured precisely that embarrassment which comes from public error and the desire of the embarrassed to wreak a very personal vengeance on the source of their troubles.  Ayres and Parsons were a well-matched pair.  They over-ran their allotted time and the audience were delighted.

The show carries a warning of ‘minor bad language’.  It is minor but his word-smith’s skills, his joie de vivre and the patent pleasure he takes in putting his audience in a happy frame of mind, all guarantee that this slightly more risqué Parsons than on ‘Just a Minute’ is beyond upsetting any but the most appalling prude.  He presents as the epitome of theatrical smart: a generally conservative ensemble of blue jacket, cravat, open-necked pale blue shirt, grey slacks and highly polished black shoes.  The symbol of his professional confidence, and perhaps the sartorial equivalent of his minor bad language, is that he completes this outfit with bright red socks.  That’s Parsons: theatrically smart, highly polished and professionally confident.

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