Nicholas Parsons (1923-2020)
Nicholas Parsons has entertained viewers and listeners all over the world since starting his professional acting career in 1945. Almost 75 years later he was still broadcasting as the chairman of the staple BBC Radio 4 show Just A Minute, challenging panelists to speak for one minute on a given subject without hesitation, repetition, or deviation.
Nicholas’ career as an actor and presenter was defined by his charm, wit, and a great sense of fun which made him an endearing yet assertive presence on radio and television. He was a gentleman who exuded confidence and authority, using his years of experience as a straight man to take all jokes made at his expense and transform them into comedy gold.
In 1954, Nicholas married the actress Denise Bryer who had started working with Gerry Anderson on The Adventures of Twizzle. It was while Bryer was reading for a part in the upcoming cowboy series Four Feather Falls that Nicholas Parsons’ association with AP Films began. Gerry was still looking for the voice of the show’s star, Sheriff Tex Tucker, a straight-talking, straight-shooting lawman from the heart of the wild west. Nicholas, famous for being a well-spoken Englishman, surprised Gerry when he volunteered to voice Tex for the remainder of the reading, and transformed himself into the heroic American cowboy. Nicholas voiced the sheriff and a number of Four Feather Falls residents for 39 episodes.
Following the completion of Four Feather Falls, APF were taking whatever work they could to keep the doors open. Nicholas Parsons had recently received a contract to produce a second batch of commercials for Blue Cars Travel Agency and decided to team up with Gerry to tackle the job. The studio on Ipswich Road was made soundproof using egg-boxes. The adverts starred Parsons and Bryer and were titled, Germans, Gambler, and Martians.
Following the completion of the Gerry’s low-budget B-movie Crossroads to Crime, Nicholas Parsons left for Europe with members of the AP Films team including John Read and Bob Bell to produce an ad-mag for Blue Cars. This film, which now features on the Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson DVD, is a tremendously laid back viewing experience and features Nicholas having a splendid time in lots of glamorous locations, demonstrating how an English gentleman should approach a relaxed holiday on the continent. Despite appearances, the budget was tight and the crew were unhappy. Yet through it all Nicholas maintains a sense of charm and refinement on camera.
It was not until 2015 that Nicholas Parsons returned to voice a character in an Anderson production. He joined the cast of the Big Finish audio adaptation of Terrahawks playing the devious Nickle-plate Starsons, host of intergalactic game show The Sale of the Galaxy, and ex-husband of the evil alien android Zelda. You can listen to the first 15 minutes of the episode here
From his comedy partnership with Arthur Haynes, to a dramatic role in Doctor Who, Nicholas always found joy in his work and refused to retire, broadcasting his final episode of Just a Minute a few weeks before his 96th birthday. And as the Minute Waltz fades away for the final time, his soothing tones will surely be missed by generations of listeners around the world. Sheriff Tex Tucker may have hung up his guns, but the magic of Four Feather Falls will live on.
Written by Jack Knoll