Comedian, writer, actor and television presenter, famous for his quick wit and improvisational skills.
Paul Merton gained his earliest professional credits under his birth name (Paul Martin), including an appearance as a yokel in Time, an episode of The Young Ones in 1984. On joining Equity he found that the name Paul Martin was already taken, so he renamed himself after Merton, the district of London where he grew up. He has been a member of the London improv group The Comedy Store Players since 1985. Merton performed in Paul Merton’s Improv Chums at Pleasance as part of Edinburgh Comedy Festival in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
His breakthrough as a television performer came in 1988 as a result of the improvised comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which moved to TV from BBC Radio 4, although he had previously appeared on Saturday Live, performing stand-up comedy. He remained on Whose Line until 1993. Have I Got News for You started in 1990, and two series of his own sketch show, Paul Merton: The Series, followed soon after.
The two series of Paul Merton: The Series offered an inspired mixture of surreal stories and ingenious sight gags. Very much in the spirit of Spike Milligan’s Q, it was inventive without resorting to coarse language and violent slapstick.
Merton is one of the recurring stars from the 4 ITV Pantos. His best role came in 1999, where Merton starred alongside Ronnie Corbett as one of the ugly sisters in ITV’s Christmas pantomime of Cinderella. His other co-stars were Julian Clary, Samantha Janus, Ben Miller, Harry Hill, Frank Skinner and Alexander Armstrong.
Merton has accumulated multiple awards and honours. After seven BAFTA Award nominations for “Best Entertainment Performance”, he finally won the award in 2003.
Also in 2007 he presented a four-part travel documentary, Paul Merton in China, which was broadcast on Five from 21 May 2007. His second travel series, Paul Merton in India was transmitted from 8 October 2008 on the same channel. A third series, Paul Merton in Europe began broadcasting on the 11th January 2010, again on Five.
In the late 1980s, Merton appeared on BBC Radio 4’s The Big Fun Show and appeared regularly on Just a Minute.
Besides his work on Just a Minute, Merton was a semi-regular guest on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue from 1991 to 1998. Between 1993 and 1995, Merton was among the regular cast members on the Radio 4 improvisational comedy series The Masterson Inheritance. In 2000 he presented Two Priests and a Nun Go into a Pub, in which he interviewed British and Irish comedians who had (like Merton himself) been brought up as members of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2009, Merton started a Radio 4 series in which he reads Spike Milligan’s war memoirs in an audio-book fashion.
Paul Merton has also provided voice over talent for Energy Efficiency, Which?, Visit London, Premier Foods, Phones 4 U, and a series a successful TV commercials, also starring Stephen Fry and Brian Blessed, for insurance company Direct Line.