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Parsons, Nicholas (1928-)

Presenter, Actor, Director, Producer

Main image of Parsons, Nicholas (1928-)

Tempting though it is to appropriate Arthur Haynes' provocative pronunciation of Nicholas Parsons' first name as 'Nickle-Arse', and condemn him to a semi-permanent subsidiary straight-man role, the fact is that Parsons' lengthy career is too easily taken for granted and one many entertainers would envy.

Born Christopher Nicholas Parsons in Grantham in 1923, he reluctantly studied engineering before starting on a career that would encompass stage, screen, radio and cabaret. Initially cast as a 'wet juvenile', he appeared in over 20 films, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s before work in radio and on television came to dominate his career.

His first series were The Eric Barker Half-Hour (BBC, 1951-53); Look at It This Way (BBC, 1955) and Associated-Rediffusion's Here and Now (ITV, 1955-56). Then the straight man took over, firstly with Haynes (The Arthur Haynes Show, ITV, 1957-66), and later with Benny Hill (The Benny Hill Show, ITV, 1969-89). He found time to voice Tex Tucker in Gerry Anderson's Four Feather Falls puppet series (ITV, 1960).

Many will recall the drum roll and announcement "From Norwich - its the quiz of the week" that introduced Sale of the Century (ITV, 1971-83), exemplifying his other main work, on radio and television, as a quiz-master/panel game host, a role which he has reprised often, including two television versions (ITV, 1994-95; BBC, 1999) of his venerable radio show Just a Minute, which he has hosted since its 1967 inception.

Parsons' image, as a natty dresser for whom the cravat has never been out of style, has often been reflected in his characters: when he wasn't mixing smarm with charm, he seemed born to play country vicars - as he did in Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89), Cluedo (ITV, 1990-93) and Agatha Christie Marple (ITV, 2004-) - and he has used these traits in TV commercials. Yet he has also become associated with performers of a more recent vintage, working with the Comic Strip crew ('Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door', Channel 4, tx. 5/3/1988) and at the Edinburgh fringe, reinventing himself for a new audience.

He has directed and produced films. More recently he has been seen on television tribute shows recalling those he has worked with, as immaculate as ever.

David Sharp

Parsons, Nicholas, The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1994)

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Alligator Named Daisy, An (1955)Alligator Named Daisy, An (1955)

All-star farce starring Donald Sinden, Diana Dors and an alligator

Thumbnail image of Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959)Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959)

Classic Foreign Office satire with Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas

Thumbnail image of Simon and Laura (1955)Simon and Laura (1955)

Soap opera satire: a real-life couple plays a happier version of themselves

Thumbnail image of Four Feather Falls (1960)Four Feather Falls (1960)

String puppet series with cowboy Tex and his talking horse and dog

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