Paul, visiting the police station to report a flying saucer, agrees to do his civic duty and take part in an identity parade. The only problem is that three independent witnesses become convinced he’s the guilty man ….
The Wrong Man was the sole series two script to be adapted from a Hancock episode (series four, episode ten, broadcast on the 6th of March 1959). Because no recording of it exists, it would have been new to the majority of the audience and therefore, unlike the ones tacked in the first series, wouldn’t be overshadowed by a familiar original.
A significant amount of retooling was done, so it’s interesting to read the HHH script to see exactly what changes were made. Sid’s character was totally deleted (although some of his later dialogue was given to one of the other members of the identity parade who joins up with Paul in an attempt to prove his innocence). The original features a lengthy opening scene with Tony and Sid at home, playing various games. Following Snakes & Ladders, Sid suggests they try a card game but Tony, wary of Sid’s cheating ways, isn’t sure (unless it’s something like Snap or Happy Families). The arrival of a policeman, asking if they’d attend an identity parade, then moves the story onto the more familiar ground we see in this adaptation.
The Merton version opens with Paul arriving at the police station by himself. He’s come to report a flying saucer to the desk officer (Roger Lloyd Pack). The policeman asks if it came from outer space. “No, from next door’s kitchen window. Closely followed by a teapot, a saucepan and a wok. This has got to stop. Every time they have a row I get bombarded. I possess more of their wedding presents than they do.”
This two-handed scene takes up most of the first five minutes, with Lloyd Pack deadpanning delightfully. Along the way there’s time to slip in various digs at the underfunded nature of the modern police force (the security camera has been stolen, although it doesn’t really matter as the monitors were pinched the previous week).
Upon entering the identity parade, Paul spots a menacing looking character. He’s convinced that it’s the criminal, but instead it turns out to be the Inspector (Nicky Henson). Henson’s the latest quality actor to grace the series and wisely he decides not to milk the comedy, playing it straight instead. I’m not entirely sure why he’s dressed like he’s stepped out of 1940’s Film Noir though (raincoat, hat, etc).
The line-up has a bizarre mix of people, who are all different ages, heights and weights. This is never commented upon, but the oddness is plain to see. Lurking amongst the disparate characters are the familiar features of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. A lovely little in-joke.
Once the first witness has identified Paul unhesitatingly it’s plain how things will play out. We know there’s two more witnesses, and whilst Paul is convinced they’ll clear his name, the wiser viewer knows that the opposite is bound to happen. Part of the comedy here comes from the anticipation, with the viewers being a few steps ahead of Paul and the others.
That they’re all convinced he’s guilty makes no sense at all, especially when the real criminal – who naturally enough looks nothing like Paul, is captured at the end. Credibility is stretched to breaking point after it seems that wherever Paul goes in an attempt to clear his name (such as the cinema to find a witness who’ll provide him with an alibi) someone will pop up to accuse him of yet another crime he wasn’t involved in.
This makes it hard to take the episode that seriously, but since there aren’t too many opportunities to see remakes of the missing episodes of HHH (even if this one has undergone major changes) it’s still a more than interesting curio.
2 thoughts on “Paul Merton in Galton & Simpson’s The Wrong Man”
An off-air audio recording of the 1959 Hancock original survives – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGk_L9WHL84&t=8s
Didn’t know the audio of this one existed, thanks for the heads up, I’ll have a listen later.