Paul Merton The Series (Channel 4, 1991-1993)
As I have said before, the improvised comedy game Whose Line Is It Anyway became a big success to the point that many of the contributors were given their own spin-off series, including S And M with Tony Slattery and Mike McShane (that I reviewed a while back). Someone else who made a big impact on the show was Paul Merton, who went on to further success in the long-running Have I Got News For You where he came across as the very definition of a deadpan comic, and he was soon given a sketch show of his own.
He had been around for a while before this though. Since 1989 he has been a regular panellist on Just A Minute, and also in that year he was among the cast of …etc, a late-night satirical sketch show that seemingly went out live, and the cast also included Tony Slattery, Morwenna Banks off Absolutely, and Pete McCarthy and Rebecca Stevens off sitcoms They Came From Somewhere Else and Mornin’ Sarge.
I am interested in seeing more of this, but as it was a TVS production (and presumably only shown in that region), I’m probably rather unlikely to. Apart from a very short clip featuring in TVS’s farewell show Goodbye To All That, there is no trace of it online, and as the original tapes are now probably lost in a skip in Disneyworld or something, it won’t be seen on TV again. Now let’s get back to reviewing this show.
This was a chance for Paul to expand on his surreal style and offer his rather bizarre observations on life in various sketches. One of the most regular is where Paul is at a railway station newspaper kiosk. There is the occasional customer, but he mostly passes the time with some strange stories, that are usually concluded with “innit marvellous” (which can be considered to be the show’s catchphrase).
Although this was all rather enjoyable, when watching it back now it’s hard not to spend more time looking at the old chocolate wrapper designs, and by the end I really fancied a Twix. There weren’t any other regular characters beyond this, just plenty of odd ideas. Once example I remember is when someone has a fuzzy TV picture, and they have to move the aerial. When they finally get a decent picture, the camera zooms out and we see that the room has now gone all fuzzy.
Plenty of other people appeared, including Nick Hancock (who along with Paul would go on to host Room 101), his then-wife Caroline Quentin, Hugh Dennis, Paul Whitehouse, and some early TV appearances for Ben Miller. There were also plenty of random references to dolphins, well this is what the viewers wanted. They don’t make them like this any more, it was exactly the kind of quirky show that Channel 4’s schedule used to be full of at one point.
There were 12 episodes in two series (the last one was re-titled Paul Merton The Second Series). Some episodes were released on VHS, but unfortunately it hasn’t turned up on DVD. There have also been several repeat runs on the Paramount Comedy Channel. After this, Paul went on to further things, including an advertising campaign for Imperial Leather, and his flop ITV series. This show definitely featured him at his best.