Paul Merton in Galton & Simpson’s The Missing Page


Paul’s latest book from the library, Lady Don’t Fall Backwards, has him gripped all the way to the final page.  Or it would have done if it was actually there.  The last page is missing, which leaves both Paul and his wife Caroline (Caroline Quentin) desperate to know whodunnit ….

Another Hancock evergreen gets the 1990s remake treatment.  Most of the topical references are naturally updated (although it’s pleasing that Paul, just like Tony, admits to having read Biggles Flies East twenty seven times).

Patrick Barlow is good as the long-suffering librarian who crosses swords with Paul whilst it’s also nice to see James Bree as one of the shushing members of the library.  It’s noticeable that the section where Tony mimed the plot of another of his favourite books was excised.  Maybe this due to timing issues (these episodes, since they were broadcast on ITV, only ran for twenty five minutes as opposed to the thirty minutes of most of the originals) or it could have been that Merton decided he’d never be able to top Hancock’s performance.

The most obvious change, of course, was replacing Sid with Caroline.  Merton and Quentin were married at the time, so it wasn’t surprising that an episode was crafted which showed them as a couple.  She’s aggressive (becoming apoplectic when shushed in the library) and sarcastic – it’s easy to believe that both Merton and Quentin had a hand in crafting their on-screen relationship (which possibly mirrored real-life).  For me, she’s rather one note – I would have preferred Sam Kelly to carry on with the Sid role, as he did in Twelve Angry Men.

Jim Sweeney, an old colleague of Merton’s from the Comedy Store Players, has another small role (this time as the last man to read the book, who’s still upset that he doesn’t know whodunnit!).  Previously he’d walked on as one of the two policeman at the end of The Radio Ham.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this one, and it certainly zips along nicely, but as with The Radio Ham it feels slightly redundant.  When the original is so good, there’s little reason for it to exist.  And updating it to the mid nineties does rather stretch credibility to breaking point.  The information super highway might not have been as wide then as it is now, but the Internet was certainly in existence, so why not use it?  And some of the logical flaws inherent in the original are carried over.  If Paul has read every book in the library countless times, why does he have no knowledge of Lady Don’t Fall Backwards?

A diverting enough twenty five minutes, but it can never hope to eclipse the original.

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