Paul Merton in Galton & Simpson’s I Tell You It’s Burt Reynolds


A family holiday in Spain is blighted for several reasons.  Firstly the weather is appalling and secondly they find themselves having to entertain an incredibly annoying neighbour (Paul).  He’s popped by just as they’re settling down to watch a film and Paul, uninvited, joins them.  When Paul is convinced that the bit-part actor standing behind John Wayne is Burt Reynolds, despite all their protests to the contrary, he won’t let it lie.  Instead, he goes to extremes in order to prove he’s right and they’re all wrong ….

I Tell You It’s Burt Reynolds was originally broadcast in 1977 as part of The Galton & Simpson Playhouse, with Leonard Rossiter playing the insufferable know-it-all.  I took a look at it here.

Changing the location to Spain was a slightly pointless move which doesn’t really add anything to the story (it’s an entirely studio-bound piece, taking place in one room).  Since he’d already played Nicholas Craig, Nigel Planer is perfectly cast as Gavin, a “resting” actor whilst there’s another part for Jim Sweeney, one of Merton’s fellow Comedy Store Players.  Sweeney plays Steve, Maria McErlane is his wife Jill whilst Jean Haywood has some nice comic lines as the grandmother (complete with a whistling hearing-aid).

This is another case where the remake doesn’t really add a great deal to the original.  As with Hancock, Rossiter’s shoes were large ones to fill and Merton never really captures the same sense of mounting hysteria that Rossiter excelled at.  But although he lacks Rossiter’s manic intensity, Merton still manages to make his character a profoundly irritating one – simply by the dogged way he is calmly prepared to contradict the others.

No reversal daunts him.  Burt isn’t listed in the TV Times, well not all the actors were, were they?  He doesn’t feature on the end credits, still not a problem.  There’s only one way to solve this once and for all, and that’s to phone Hollywood and speak to Burt direct.  Amazingly he gets through, but he’s not at all pleased when Burt denies he was in the film.  Of course, Paul can’t accept that and has to beg to differ ….

The ending’s rather flat.  The credits roll and the argument continues with Burt (as in the original).  The difference is that Rossiter was apoplectic by this point, whilst Paul is merely a little put out – and because he doesn’t sound too bothered the studio audience only responds with a few half-hearted titters, so we don’t close with a pleasing crescendo.

I Tell You It’s Burt Reynolds is a fairly thin piece that’s totally dependant on the lead actor.  Leonard Rossiter was able to take it by the scruff of the neck and wring every last comic drop out of it but Paul Merton’s style wasn’t really suited to the same sort of full-throttle attack.  Amusing but inessential.

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