No one gets up in the morning and says, “I think I’m going to offend Nicholas Parsons today,” but somehow it’s happened.
We’re talking about his great love, the large collection of timepieces he has built up over a lifetime’s interest in horology. “I picture you surrounded by dusty clocks,” I say. “Draped with cobwebs.” Britain’s only 92-year-old quiz show host, acclaimed actor, author and raconteur, bridles.
“Cobwebs?” He replies stiffly, after an initial silence in which you could actually hear a clock tick. “Dust! My clocks are not dusty; they’re in excellent condition. And my wife would be horrified if she thought there were any cobwebs around the house!”
He sees an obvious link between his hobby and his professional skill. “Clocks are all about time,” he says, “and the essence of success in showbusiness is timing the delivery of the words and the lines.”
Is that why, at the age of 92, he is so consistently good? “I don’t think my age has got anything to do with it,” he says. “It’s my ability. You’re only as good as your last job. If I once slip up in anything I do, and they don’t want you again, or the public don’t come and attend, you are gone. You’re on the professional scrapheap.”
It’s my turn to splutter. The BBC putting Nicholas Parsons on the scrapheap? “They would find somebody else,” he says. “I’m being a bit sardonic, but the bottom line is it’s a tough business. Every time I go out to do Just a Minute, I am conscious I might never work again.”
If, in a bitter irony, the BBC did hand him his metaphorical gold watch, would retirement be spent oiling his remaining clocks? “No, you don’t oil them! The thing with a clock is, it will be all right if you don’t stop winding it up. You don’t need to put oil on. It will just keep going and going.”
A bit like you Nicholas? “I think that’s a good comparison,” he says. “I don’t need oiling to keep going.”
The Incredible Story of Marie Antoinette’s Watch is on 9pm tonight on BBC4