Oh Brother!. Brother Dominic (Derek Nimmo). Copyright: BBC.

Why Just a Minute hides a far more ruthless reality

Just A Minute has become one of the nation's most beloved radio shows -- but it began as a classroom humiliation, inflicted on daydreamers by a history teacher at Sherborne School in the Thirties.

Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail, 1st December 2017

"I don't want a christening yet. I've already lost you to him." Thus Olivia Colman, with just that phrase, sets the entire tone for Rev, as she has quietly done for each of the past two series. By turns giggly, mournful, drunk, charming, ballsily defiant and utterly conflicted, she encapsulates pretty much this secular nation's attitude to 21st-century Christianity, which could be summed up in the title of a fine Douglas Adams novel (writing not about God but Earth itself): Mostly Harmless.

A triumphant return but, for a comedy, it's pretty strong gravy when you think about it, as you should. The fact that God is man's finest confection detracts not one whit from "his" essential confected goodness, and the palaces of myth serve, by and large, to do great good. Except when they get in the way of real life, or bore, or nag: and that's why Colman does such a tremendous job, refracting our every niggle with organised religion through the simple premise of being married to, and more pertinently in love with, a rev. So we share her increasing frustration at the fact that hubby, the Rev Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), has to open his door not just to waifs and strays but to borderline psychopaths: troubling enough when they were just the two, but the arrival of baby Katie is a delight that is slowly, delightfully, doing their nuts in.

It is also, I should have mentioned this, extremely funny. I don't think that Hollander or his co-writer James Wood have put much more than a tootsie wrong since the first series, but their writing in this latest outing becomes ever more deft, daring, even confrontational. The scene in which Mick, the splendidly grubby dreadlocked Jimmy Akingbola (carrying the most foetidly evil one-armed doll) offers to babysit, with the well-intentioned cackle: "You take your lady out for a nice night an' when you comes back, ta-da! She still alive!" mesmerised: and also spoke of poverty, race relations, child abuse and 10 other things which don't get a better outing in an entire hour of the increasing fractious Question Time. Adam/Tom's facial reaction to this charming offer was a brief masterclass in English politesse. And at his heart is not so much a crisis of faith but the full and faithful knowledge that God does not exist other than to provide the wages.

As far away from Derek Nimmo in All Gas and Gaiters, in generational terms, as it's possible to get, and hyperspace-removed from the Vicar of Dibley, as in it's funny: not only but very. And so wise. Perhaps I'm reading too much into what is, after all, a half-hour of light entertainment on a Monday night, but when I saw Adam/Tom - I cherish the believability of the character so much, they're interchangeable - standing in some yakhole of a playground pulling on an e-cigarette, he simply felt like every small man mulling over big thoughts, as opposed to every big man thinking small thoughts, ever. I don't have too much choice in the matter, but I know which one I'd rather be.

Euan Ferguson, The Observer, 29th March 2014

A welcome return to St Saviour's In The Marshes finds Adam and Alex proud parents to a baby daughter, though administrative vultures continue to circle the vicarage. Despite the weariness that parenthood brings - and Mick's offer of a babysitting service ("Baby still alive when you return" guarantee and all) - a visit from the area dean leads Adam into proclaiming a joint initiative alongside his inscrutable imam counterpart to save a local playground. Every bit as charmingly winsome as ever, with nary a droplet of Derek Nimmo in sight.

Mark Jones, The Guardian, 24th March 2014

As the lovably hapless Tom Hollander shone his way though the comedic murk of Rev, it was hard to escape the feeling that this gentle sitcom was merely The Vicar of Dibley in reverse. Where that show had Dawn French playing an inner-city cleric transposed to a country setting, this new series saw a rural reverend trying to make the best of his east London posting.

Aimed, perhaps, at those who loved Dibley but found Father Ted too sweary, Hollander had the good grace to remove his dog collar before uttering the "F" word and the show, for all its try-hard 21st-century references and excellent supporting cast, came across as old-fashioned as Derek Nimmo's All Gas and Gaiters. A programme, it must be noted, that hit screens in the same year that John Lennon declared the Beatles "more popular than Jesus".

Simmy Richman, The Independent, 4th July 2010

When Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews created Father Ted in 1995, they breathed new life into the stereotype of the comedy vicar, a character that for too long had been suffocated by the tyrannical stranglehold of Derek Nimmo. Unfortunately Richard Curtis simultaneously came up with The Vicar of Dibley, a programme as twee and mediocre as any number of Nimmo's cassock-based comedies.

Perhaps realising that the realm of the ecclesiastical sitcom hasn't been successfully exploited in a while, acclaimed comic actor Tom Hollander has co-created Rev, in which he plays a harassed vicar at a struggling inner city London church.

Sadly, despite the talent involved - the cast also includes Alexander Armstrong, Finding Eric's Steve Evets, Peep Show's Olivia Colman and comedian Miles Jupp - this low-key comedy is a disappointment. The blame must lie with writer James Wood, who also wrote the similarly underwhelming media satire Freezing, in which Hollander's ferocious comic performance was the sole highlight.

The jokes in Rev are sparse, weak and principally based around the supposedly amusing conceit of a vicar acting in ways you wouldn't expect. So, the Reverend Adam Smallbone, played with amiable anxiety by the always watchable Hollander, smokes, drinks, swears and enjoys sex with his wife.

So, I imagine, do a lot of modern priests - indeed, a group of them are credited as technical advisors - but that doesn't mean the concept is funny in itself. Father Ted admittedly employed similar material, albeit far more inventively than Wood does.

The opening episode takes underpowered swipes at middle-class pretentions and hypocrisies when Smallbone faces a moral dilemma over the sudden rise in church attendance due to a glowing Ofsted report on a local church school. But the episode just dawdles along and not even Hollander's bumbling charm can save it. Rev, like many sitcoms before, may improve as it goes on, but there's precious little here to encourage you to find out.

Paul Whitelaw, The Scotsman, 28th June 2010

Tom Hollander makes a bid here to join Derek Nimmo and Dawn French in the small but cosy pantheon of sitcom vicars. He plays the Reverend Adam Smallbone, a well-meaning, unshaven, east London clergyman who smokes, drinks enthusiastically and does the splits at parties, but is sweetly ineffectual in the face of the problems he faces. They include a domineering archdeacon and a rash of pushy parents hoping to get their children into "his" C of E school, whose headmistress Smallbone clearly fancies. It's a gentle, ragged sort of comedy, short on belly laughs but with enough character-led jokes to offer hope for good things to come. Alexander Armstrong brings his expert comic timing to the role of a bluff MP who is one of the "On your knees, avoid the fees" crowd. The wonderful Olivia Colman seems (so far) slightly wasted in the role of the vicar's wife, but given time, and given Hollander's rumpled charm in the lead, it could be a quiet winner.

David Butcher, Radio Times, 28th June 2010

Any ad-libbed, improvised show requires a special skill from the players, and in a professional sense they are living dangerously. There was an occasion in Just a Minute when the subject was snapshots. Kenneth Williams was unhappy about one of my decisions, which went against him on this subject, and he began to harass me. Peter Jones and Derek Nimmo joined in, which added to the pressure. In an effort to bring them to order, I said: "I'm sorry Kenneth, you were deviating from snapshots, you were well away from snapshots. It is with Peter, snopshots, er snipshots, er snopshits . . . snop . . . snaps." The audience roared with laughter. I added: "I'm not going to repeat the subject. I think you know it . . . and I think I may have finished my career in radio."

QI, however much it tries to be subtly different, is part of a glorious tradition. When radio first presented panel shows they cast them from those with a proven intellectual background. This mold was broken in the early 1960s, when Jimmy Edwards devised a programme for the Home Service, with himself as chairman, called Does the Team Think?. The panellists were all well-known comedians, Tommy Trinder, Cyril Fletcher and others, who proved that comics were just as intelligent as academics, and usually much funnier.

QI is a direct descendant. And when you have Stephen Fry, and contestants such as Alan Davies, Hugh Laurie and Danny Baker, and a producer of the calibre of John Lloyd, the BBC must be on to a winner.

Nicholas Parsons, The Times, 6th September 2003