A fan of TV comedy star Paul Merton had news for him at his Off The Shelf book festival talk - pointing out he had turned up in odd socks, writes Graham Walker.
The Have I Got News For You star, promoting autobiography Only When I Laugh, chuckled along with the sold out Crucible audience during a Q&A at The Star sponsored event.
“I thought nobody would notice. My wife didn’t check me when I left the house”, said Merton, aged 57, know also for his colourful shirts and Radio 4’s Just A Minute.
In an entertaining 75-minute chat, with broadcaster Paul Allen. he spoke with warmth, candour and wit about his working-class Fulham childhood, stardom and how comedy friends helped him cope with the tragic death of his second wife.
He told how he was inspired by comedy from an early age, from trips to see circus clowns and listening to British comedy greats like Max Miller and Ken Dodd.
Bruce Forsyth, William Shatner and Mexborough’s Brian Blessed are so far his three favourite Have I Got New For You celebrity hosts, he revealed.
“It’s hard to beat that trio. They are the ones that stand out,” he said.
“You can hear Brian coming while he’s still 25-miles away. He’s a wonderfgul actor who plays it up a little bit now.
He said co-star Ian Hislop didn’t know who to react to Bruce Forsyth.
“When Bruce was on Ian was distraight, he really didn’t klnow what was going on. When Bruce started playing Play Your Iraqi Cards Right, with photos of wanted men and a price on their head, saying higher or lower, Ian said at one point, ‘I don’t think this programme can get much lower.”
Merton added: “You have some people you never believe you’re going to be on television programme with, like William Shatner - Captain Kirk. A great actor - he was reading the autocue and talking about Nick Clegg like he knew who he was.
“At one point he came off the script and said Ilfracombe, the seaside place, was riddled with prostitution. I was looking at the autocue and there was no mention of it there.
“And this sparked off a bit of Twitter debate between him and the head of the tourist board, refuting his suggestion and he came back with, ‘I think you’ll find it is’.”
Off Just A Minute’s 91-year-old game show host Nicholas Parsons, he described him as a “lovely man”, who he expected to go on entertaining for years to come.
He told fans: “I was a kid into comedy from an early age.
“My memory for jokes is extraordinare. People say I’ve a good memory but I’ve nothign to compare it with so I suppose I have.
“I’d tell jokes to kids at school but after a while you realise you have to create your own jokes, rather than repeating everyone elses.
“On my seventh birthday standing in the school dinner queue, telling jokes, I remember thinking ‘they’re laughing now but next year they will be eight, so my jokes will have got to be better, and I’ll have to keep on improving,
“That is quite unusual, yes. But you have to keep improving, especially a lot of stuff I do which is improvising.
“You have to be really concentrating and listen to what is said, constantly on the ball. When I do Have I Got News For You I do it like it’s my first time and I want to make a good impression.”
* The Star backed Off The Shelf festival runs until November 1, with additional events already under way. This year it boasts an incredible 240 events.
For a list of all events and more visit the festival’s official web site, at www.offtheshelf.org.uk or call the events office for a guide book on 0114 273 440.
If you are unable to attend events, book sellers Rhyme and Reason, who will have stalls at the live events, can organise signed copies of books - call 0114 266 1950 or email email@example.com.