The Comedy Vault – Paul Merton In Galton And Simpson’s…

Paul Merton In Galton And Simpson’s… (ITV, 1996-1997)

I feel that it’s time for another entry in my “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms?” series, and this is perhaps one of the most notorious. In the early-90s, Paul Merton became a big name on TV, thanks to his deadpan and quick-witted contributions on Channel 4’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? and BBC2’s Have I Got News For You. Indeed, he made such an impact that in 1991 he was given his own comedy sketch show by Channel 4 (and I plan to review that soon too).

In the mid-90s, Merton collaborated with Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the writers who were behind some of the most popular comedy shows of their era, including Hancock’s Half-Hour and Steptoe And Son. They wanted to bring some of their scripts that by this point were about three or four decades old to a new audience, and they felt that Merton was the right man for the job. vlcsnap-00297

However, there were a few flaws with this idea that just about every TV critic at the time pointed out, although I’ll get to that. Stories that were reenacted included “Twelve Angry Men”, where Paul is on a jury, “The Radio Ham”, where Paul tries to speak to people around the world and then picks up a mayday call, “The Missing Page”, where Paul goes to extreme lengths to discover what happened at the end of a book he borrowed from a library, and “The Bedsitter”, where Paul spends a night alone at home and tries to pass the time. vlcsnap-00335

Now, the first problem with all of this was that the show was constantly described as “Paul Merton Tries To Be Tony Hancock And Incredibly Isn’t As Good At It” (there was also a memorable sketch in Little Britain that made this point). Two things though. Firstly, Merton was the first person to say that his acting ability wasn’t in the same league as Hancock’s (barely anybody’s is), and secondly, a lot of the scripts that were reused were not originally written for Hancock. vlcsnap-00054

The second problem was that Merton is much better at being an improviser, and watching him struggling to do scripted comedy acting alongside an impressive guest cast of established names including Patrick Barlow, Sam Kelly, Roger Lloyd Pack, Geoffrey Whitehead, and in one edition his then wife Caroline Quentin, was rather disappointing. However, it did return for a second series, again to a rather mixed response. vlcsnap-00299

15 editions were made of Paul Merton In Galton And Simpson’s…, six of which were originally Hancock scripts. Both series have been released on DVD by Network, but they don’t contain any extras. Merton did say that however it turned out he was proud to have worked with two great comedy writers, but it was an experiment that ITV wouldn’t try again.

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