Mer­ton is on the right track with new se­ries

Macclesfield Express - - TVWEEK -

All aboard! We’re off on our trav­els with a much-loved co­me­dian. Work­ing out when Paul Mer­ton is be­ing se­ri­ous can be a funny busi­ness – af­ter all, his dead­li­est mo­ments of wit are of­ten de­liv­ered com­pletely dead­pan. On Have I Got News For You, it’s his sear­ing re­marks that of­ten hit the spot far more than Ian His­lop’s ram­bling rants. So thank good­ness that he de­cided to give up his day job as an ad­min clerk at Toot­ing Em­ploy­ment Of­fice to give com­edy his full at­ten­tion. That was in the 1980s, and he hasn’t looked back since, slowly ris­ing to be­come one of the UK’s best-loved and most sought-af­ter co­me­di­ans. “It got to a point when I knew I had to give it a real shot,” he says. “I gave my­self five years to suc­ceed. I didn’t want to be one of th­ese peo­ple who at the age of 60 says, ‘I could have done it once, but I never re­ally tried’. I thought, ‘I don’t re­ally know if I’m go­ing to be any good at it or not, but at least I’ll spend a few years hav­ing a go. And if I don’t get any­where, then I’ll just stop’.” Mer­ton had a spell on im­pro­vi­sa­tion show Whose Line Is It Any­way? which gave him an early in­sight into work­ing on TV, although he didn’t al­ways find the ex­pe­ri­ence en­joy­able – par­tic­u­larly ap­pear­ing along­side high­brow per­former John Ses­sions. “I never knew what he was on about,” ad­mits Mer­ton now. “He would do some­thing in the style of Wil­liam Faulkner. So I’d do some­thing de­lib­er­ately pro­saic in the style of the Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion man­ual. I just thought, ‘well no­body knows who Wil­liam Faulkner is. Or if they do, they’re not laugh­ing very loudly’.” Even­tu­ally, af­ter plenty of hard work, Mer­ton be­came a house­hold name but the road to star­dom hasn’t al­ways been smooth. Around eight years into his com­edy ca­reer, his ten­dency to be a worka­holic got too much for him, re­sult­ing in a spell in the Maud­s­ley Hospi­tal. Th­ese days he claims to be happy – and that his down­beat TV ap­pear­ances are largely a front. “I re­alised that peo­ple thought I was a lot more funny when I seemed to be as mis­er­able as sin,” he says. The co­me­dian cer­tainly ap­pears to be as happy as Larry dur­ing his Paul Mer­ton’s Se­cret Sta­tions (Sun­day, Chan­nel 4, 8pm). Hav­ing fronted three trav­el­ogues for Chan­nel 5, he’s off on a merry jaunt again, this time ex­plor­ing some of Bri­tain’s least-used and small­est rail­way sta­tions in a se­ries in­spired by Dixe Wills’ book Tiny Sta­tions.

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