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Along with 'Whose Line' co-star Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton landed his own show on Channel 4 in the early '90's. It was a deliberate throwback to the madcap sketch shows of the '60's, such as 'At Last The 1948 Show' and 'Marty'. Merton would take a situation, such as a father telling his daughter she's adopted, turned it inside out ( he tells her she isn't ), and by piling absurdity on absurdity, created an explosion of inspired comic lunacy. The sketches were linked by surreal monologues such as 'there's a time tunnel at the back of my fridge', delivered from a railway station tobacconist's. The show miraculously avoided lavatorial humour and brought back something that had been missing from television for some time - visual comedy. His 'Old Ladies' Grand Prix' wouldn't have have looked out of place in 'The Goodies' or 'Monty Python'. Sadly, it didn't enjoy the success it deserved, and apart from reruns from 'The Paramount Comedy Channel' has more or less been forgotten. As Paul would say: "Work that one out!".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After regular appearances on 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', both Paul
Merton and Josie Lawrence were give their own shows for Channel 4 in
1991. Josie's show was a mixture of stand-up and sketch humour
imaginatively titled 'Josie'. Due to unspectacular viewing figures, it
was taken off-air after only six episodes. Paul's show, 'Paul Merton:
The Series', was more successful, running to two series.
Each episode contained bizarre visual sketches linked by surreal monologues which were delivered by Merton from a railway station's newsagent kiosk. Merton's deadpan delivery was hilarious, almost done in a similar vein to Dave Allen from his wonderful BBC series 'Dave Allen At Large'. My favourite sketch featured Merton questioning a customer at the kiosk in regards to why he is buying cigarette papers when he has already purchased a packet of filter cigarettes. The man, obviously a drug addict, nervously explains that he likes to relax by tearing up cigarettes and putting the tobacco from them into a cigarette paper and smoking it. ''If you're going to go to all that bother, you would be as well rolling yourself a joint!'' says Paul. Also very funny was a sketch, again at the kiosk, in which Paul short changes a dolphin - ''He's just given me a twenty pound note and I've just given him change of a fiver. And people say dolphins are intelligent!''.
Many familiar faces appeared alongside Merton including Felicity Montagu, Brian Pettifer, Cheryl Hall, Gina McKee and Paul's then wife Caroline Quentin. John Irwin, who also appeared, wrote the show in collaboration with Merton.
After 'The Series' ended, Merton's next regular comedy series was ITV's ill-fated 'Paul Merton In Galton & Simpson's'. More recently, he has been seen on the BBC's 'Have I Got News For You'. At present, 'The Series' is not out on DVD and apart from a solitary repeat on the now defunct Paramount comedy channel a few years back, has pretty much vanished off the face of the earth. As Paul himself would say - ''Ain't it marvellous!''.
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