Paul Merton is best known for the dry humour he brings to Have I Got News For You, but his talent as a tour guide to a hidden side of China has now caught the eye and earned him a nomination for a prestigious television award for the 11th time in his career.
His channel Five show Paul Merton In China is up for a television Bafta for best factual series, pitted against Bruce Parry's BBC2 series Tribe, Channel 4's Meet The Natives and BBC1's The Tower: A Tale of Two Cities.
In the series, Merton presented a quirky view of China, abandoning a visit to the Great Wall in favour of meeting a man who makes robots as a hobby, staying in the tallest hotel in the world in Shanghai despite a fear of heights, and trying but failing to eat dog – a Chinese speciality.
All Merton's previous nominations for a Bafta have been for his performances on Have I Got News For You, the topical news comedy show on which he has been a panelist since 1990, apart from a short break in 1996. In 2003, he won a Bafta for best entertainment performance for his part in the BBC satirical quiz, beating the show's former host Angus Deayton to the prize. Deayton had been dropped from the show the previous autumn after sex and drugs allegations in the News of the World.
Have I Got News For You also received its ninth nomination for best entertainment programme – the 24th nomination overall for the show and its performers, the most for any single programme.
John Willis, the chairman of the Bafta television committee, said of the nomination: "It shows Paul Merton's versatility. It was a travel series, but with humour and humanity and clearly worked very well with the audience. It showed he had the range to move out of the Have I Got News For You studio."
In the best actress category, Dame Judi Dench received her 12th television Bafta nomination for her role in the BBC1 costume drama Cranford. She is pitted against Eileen Atkins, who played her on-screen sister in the series, as well as Gina McKee, for BBC1's The Street.
Cranford, which is also up for best drama serial, received three nominations overall – the most of any programme or series. Mr Willis said: "One of the things the BBC always does brilliantly is costume drama, but Cranford was also quite modern; about the coming of the railways and changing society."
Channel 4 received 23 nominations – the most for any single channel. "Channel 4 has had a troubled year, starting with Celebrity Big Brother and uncertainty over its long term funding, but it shows you that Channel 4 has still got a public service DNA," said Mr Willis.
He also hailed the number of newcomers featuring alongside the A-list stars in the nominations, including Andrew Garfield (best actor for his part in the Channel 4 drama Boy A), Tom Hardy (best actor for his performance in BBC2's Stuart: A Life Backwards) and James Corden, (best comedy performance for his role in the BBC3 sitcom Gavin and Stacey).
The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony at the London Palladium on 20 April, to be screened on BBC1.
The 2008 nominees
Andrew Garfield, Boy A
Tom Hardy, Stuart: A Life Backwards
Matthew Macfadyen, Secret Life
Antony Sher, Primo
Eileen Atkins, Cranford
Judi Dench, Cranford
Gina McKee, The Street
Kierston Wareing, It's A Free World
Simon Amstell, Never Mind The Buzzcocks
Alan Carr and Justin Lee Collins, The Friday Night Project
Stephen Fry, QI
Harry Hill, Harry Hill's TV Burp
Peter Capaldi, The Thick of It
James Corden, Gavin and Stacey
Stephen Merchant, Extras Christmas Special
David Mitchell, Peep Show
Coming Down The Mountain
The Mark Of Cain
The Trial of Tony Blair
Meet The Natives
Paul Merton in China
The Tower: A Tale of Two Cities
Britain's Got Talent
Harry Hill's TV Burp
Have I Got News For You
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