Rant Of The Day THIS RANT 13/05/99

Rant Of The Day is where I get to mouth off about whatever I feel like for however long I like. Theoretically, I'll update my whinge/opinion piece every weekday; in practice, maybe not so often.

Mrs Merton unplugged

In the 1980s, I'd made up my mind and there was no turning back: the British made the best comedies in the world. This was the nation that brought us The Young Ones, The Goodies, Filthy Rich & Catflap, Red Dwarf, Fawlty Towers, Not The Nine O'Clock News and even Are You Being Served? There was no challenge to its supremacy from mild, family-friendly fare like The Cosby Show, was there?

Shows how much I know. In the 1990s, most of the shows I've become addicted to have been American: Friends, Seinfeld, Tracey Takes On, and of course South Park. So what happened?

I've always had a shrewd suspicion that one factor might be that the ABC isn't importing practically everything ever produced by the BBC, and a goodly proportion of ITV's output to boot. These days, they're much more selective. This can be a good thing -- I don't regret not seeing Slinger's Day, for instance -- but it has occasionally led me to suspect that some of the genuine classics are being held back along with the dross.

My central piece of evidence for this is the character of Mrs Merton, played to perfection by Caroline Aherne but entirely unknown to me until my recent trip to the UK (yep, I'm back on that one again). Mrs Merton is a middle-aged Northern lady who combines domestic sensibleness with occasional stinging attacks (a British Edna Everage would be a very rough approximation). It isn't easy to convey her unique humour in print; she really has to be seen to be believed.

Mrs Merton & Malcolm tracks the largely event-free life shared by Mrs Merton and her gormless son Arthur (played by co-writer Craig Cash). Brian Murphy (of George & Mildred fame) also pops in regularly as the insanely dull neighbour Arthur, a lifelong friend of the permanently incapacitated Mr Merton; "he's neither use nor ornament to me now," Mrs Merton confides to her sister Morag in one episode. Arthur is given to singing songs to the comatose Mr Merton (and he keeps his repertoire up, warbling the Verve's 'The Drugs Don't Work' in one episode).

My stepmother was a confirmed addict of Mrs Merton & Malcolm, the character's first sitcom venture, and so was I after one viewing. Unfortunately, the final episode was shown a week later, so my addiction wasn't easily sated. I purchased two 'Best Of' tapes from her earlier chat show, which saw Mrs Merton interviewing British celebrities with an evil wit. Sample question to Debbie McGee: "So, Debbie, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?" Nonetheless, I'm praying that the ABC will see fit to actually show the whole of Mrs Merton & Malcolm over here before too long.

MAILClick here to contact Gus

HORGo back to recent rants

GUSWORLDReturn to Gusworld Central