The Comedy Vault – The Mrs Merton Show.

The Mrs Merton Show (BBC2, 1995, BBC1, 1996-1998)/Mrs Merton And Malcolm (BBC1, 1999)

Following on from The Kumars At No. 42, this is another comedy chat show. The character of Mrs Merton (no relation to Paul) was created and played by the late Caroline Aherne (who was credited as Caroline Hook during her brief marriage to musician Peter Hook), and first appeared on TV in the early-90s. And by the mid-90s, Aherne had become famous after contributing to the first series of The Fast Show.

Then her character was given a show on BBC2. Mrs Merton is a pensioner who comes across as rather reserved at first, but then comes out with some unexpectedly bizarre or rude questions. All of her guests were celebrities, some of them willingly played along (yes, Paul Daniels and all that), while rather oddly some of them didn’t seem to realise that she was a fictional character and they couldn’t believe how crude this old lady was being.

She would often be joined by a studio audience of pensioners, and they would be encouraged to have a “heated debate” about various topics, and occasionally her son Malcolm (Craig Cash) would appear too. This did well enough with viewers to be promoted to BBC1 after a couple of series (and Mrs Merton was even making the cover of Radio Times by this point).

This led to there being a few specials made in America. But by the fifth and final series, it was decided that the idea had worn a little thin, but Mrs Merton had long since by this point become one of the most popular TV comedy characters of this era, and there has been a DVD release. But she would be seen one last time (let’s not think about those British Gas adverts for now though).

This time the format was a sitcom. In 1999, Mrs Merton And Malcolm launched on BBC1, and this was where we saw their life at home in the north west of England. The only other regular cast member is neighbour Arthur (played by Brian Murphy, who recently had his 90th birthday), who often visits. This did have a rather old-fashioned and downbeat feel though, and wasn’t a big success.

However, this ended up being completely overshadowed by the first series of sitcom The Royle Family (also written by and starring Aherne and Cash), which had been shown a few months earlier, to the point that this has just about been totally forgotten by comparison. There hasn’t been a repeat run in recent years though, and the character of Mrs Merton was retired after this.

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