TELEVISION Paul Merton in... (ITV)
Jasper Rees propounds the novel theory that comedy is, in fact, the new opera
Saturday 27 January 1996
Now Paul Merton in Galton and Simpson's..., has come along to test this theory. The project, in which Merton plays the parts originally written for Tony Hancock, proposes comedy as the new opera, with a fixed repertoire of classic libretti and arias.
Merton has already given the BBC his idiosyncratic PhD on vintage comedy, so this would appear to be the next logical step: a archeological dig for yesteryear's laughs, with Merton as chief shoveller. He is both well and ill equipped for the task. He knows the material backwards, but sometimes he might get more laughs if he said it backwards. Despite positioning himself as a keeper of the flame, he's also television's most accomplished improv comedian. Never very good at making other people's lines his own, almost all his best work is done without a script.
In other words, his generous instincts are not in doubt, but his ability to act is. He has a measure of Hancock's uppity menace but, with a volume control that goes no lower than nine, none of his pathos. It could easily be claimed that this is irrelevant, but if comedy even by writers as brilliant as Ray Galton and Alan Simpson is to have a shelf life, it needs to erase the memory of its premiere. Because he died before the days when every programme was kept for posterity, there is a bit of case to be made for modernising Hancock. In principle, though, it looks a heretical undertaking.
The first Half Hour for revival was Twelve Angry Men, in which Merton played the chief foreman who tries to persuade the jury of a plainly guilty criminal's innocence. The script itself is still in goodish nick ("Does Magna Carta mean anything to you? Did she die in vain?"), and the professional stereotypes on the fringes have not appreciably aged in 30 years. The only regrettable sections have been inserted to give it an updating tweak. References to Rumpole and public-utility fatcats are harmless enough, but the OJ Simpson joke was there simply for texture; an equivalently limp line wouldn't have sullied the text first time round.
Dead Funny, incidentally, quotes the last lines Galton and Simpson ever wrote for Hancock, in which he moans that after he's gone all he can expect is "a few daffodils in a jamjar". This venture will make his memory ever fonder. As for Galton and Simpson, it makes them the butt of their own joke.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
Pottermore: JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story featuring 'greying' 33-year-old wizard
JK Rowling to publish new Harry Potter story online for Halloween
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt stars in visceral and brutally ugly drama that reminds us war is hell
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
Poppy Appeal 2014: This is why I won't be wearing a red poppy this year