With the feel of an evening of broadcasting dedicated to one person rather than a DVD set, The Paul Merton Collection is a double disc collection bringing together some highlights from one of Britain’s most popular, and off-the-wall, comedians.
Things kick off with the best part of an hour of Have I Got News For You. Some of it hasn’t made a DVD collection before (although a lot of it, inevitably, has), and there are some terrific moments contained within the compilation. Here, we see Merton’s stint at hosting the show, as well as the one occasion where he went on Ian Hislop’s team, before taking a series-long sabbatical from the programme. Other highlights include the time he sat next to a television broadcasting a live link of former spy David Shaylor (which he promptly turned off), the infamous Tub Of Lard episode, and the occasion where he borrowed a mobile phone mid-show to check out a fact with West Midlands police. You’ll also find clips of episodes with a pretend Elton John, the time when Peter Mandelson’s sexuality wasn’t allowed to be discussed on the BBC, and the episode after Angus Deayton had found himself plastered on the front of the News Of The World. You will laugh a lot.
It’s a whistle-stop tour through perhaps the show he’s best known for, and it’s interspersed by occasional links from the man himself. It’s unsurprisingly, though, the most familiar-feeling material on the DVD, although it’s still very, very funny. And I could watch him telling Anne Robinson to leave her name at the door on loop, personally.
Next, there’s 35 minutes from his stint on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Merton was a regular performer in the first few series of the show, and while I’m a fan of the show, the material here feels more hit and miss than usual. That said, there are still moments of comedy gold here, but it’s not where the gold on the disc is to be found. His deadpan delivery does suit some of the improvisations particularly well though, of course.
More interesting is a trio of television interviews that Merton has done that have been retrieved from the archives. There’s a 90s natter on Clive Anderson Talks Back first up, although there’s not much meat in the conversation, once the sparring between host and interviewee is over. More interesting are the pair of appearances on Parkinson, especially the second, taken at the point after Angus Deayton had been removed as host of Have I Got News For You (“we stabbed him in the front”). Parkinson, by this stage, was never going to ask particularly contentious questions, but these are better interviews than you’d expect, and welcome inclusions on the disc.
Switching over to disc two, the absolute highlight here – and of the package as a whole – is the 105 minutes from the archives of Paul Merton: The Series. Broadcast in the early 90s on Channel Four, this is a fairly surreal, and very funny sketch show, that had been impossible to track down on DVD until now. There’s plenty to enjoy here, the highlights of which are Merton’s monologues from behind the counter of a kiosk, although he also brings his deadpan, off-the-wall genius to plenty of other day-to-day scenarios. It makes the purchase of the set worthwhile in its own right, and we can only hope that someone decides to release the show in its entirety at some point in the future.
But we’re not finished. There’s nearly an hour and half of Room 101 material here, too, topped and tailed by his first episode hosting the show (with previous host Nick Hancock in the guest’s chair), and his last, where Ian Hislop tries to consign Paul Merton himself down the chute.
In-between are some Room 101 classics, even though they’re more about the guests than the host himself. So we get Anne Robinson rallying against the Welsh, Stephen Fry trying to put late-night review shows in and Johnny Vegas confessing to spending up to 20 hours at a time in Internet chat rooms. If we had to pick a favourite clip, then Ron Atkinson trying to consign Renee & Renato’s Save Your Love to Room 101, only for Renee himself to put out of the chute, would be our pick.
The set is then concluded with two versions of Merton’s short film, The Suicidal Dog, which he co-wrote and directed He talks about this in the aforementioned Parkinson interviews, and it’s interesting to watch. Well directed, dry and witty (a small dog lying on the tracks in front of a miniature train is extremely funny), it’s a pity he’s never got to the point of producing a full screenplay, as he also hints at when talking to Parky. Incidentally, if you’re choosing which version to plump for, the silent take on the film is our favourite (and, we suspect, Mr Merton’s).
The Paul Merton Collection is a strong and varied traipse through some of the man’s comedy highlights. The omission of at least one of his Galton & Simpson episodes is a real pity, and it would have been more complete if some of his radio work could have been included too. Furthermore, there’s no real extra material here, short of the brief introductions and interludes that Merton inputs, dressed in historical garb. That too is a shame. But for your £25, and it’s not tricky to get it discounted substantially, The Paul Merton Collection offers the best part of six hours of the man’s work, and on a laughs-per-pound ratio, there are few releases this year that’ll match it.
The Set The Extras