Critical Condition: Paul Merton’s Secret Stations

Paul Merton’s Secret Stations (Prime, 7.30 Mondays)

“I don’t generally have much time for the celebrity travelogue, as a genre. Comedian gets on train and discovers there’s a world outside the capital. But I do have plenty of time for Paul Merton, and for the out of the way, and the absurd … well, an hour at least … That’s how it goes, Paul pootling around, stopping off (after a word with the ticket collector, of course), then raising a sardonic eyebrow at what he sees there, before enthusiastically sticking out a hand for the next train through. Quite gentle then, but rather nice. I may even join him again.” — The Guardian.

“Some secrets can be so modest as to seem barely worth telling. That certainly appeared to be the spirit behind Paul Merton’s Secret Stations in which the likeable comedian tootled about on trains exploring one of the truly minor byways of the British railway system – the request stop … None of this was side-splittingly rollicking or original. But that suited the mood of the programme, while Merton’s reliably eccentric worldview made for good company. This series may never make destination viewing, but there are undoubted pleasures to be had from putting one’s hand out and stopping here awhile.” — The Telegraph.

“There are 152 of these tiny request stations – sometimes just a platform in the back of beyond – and they equate to 6 per cent of all our railway stations. Some were built to serve local industries, some for stately homes – and St Keyne Wishing Well Halt in Cornwall, most bizarrely of all, serves a magical fairy well. For comedian Paul Merton, whose dad was a London Underground train driver, these stations exert a fascination. ‘I love railways,’ he says. ‘Uncovering the secrets behind these humble request stops, all the places that aren’t in any travel brochures … you have to get yourself on a train!'” — Daily Mail.

“His best encounter was at Ferryside in West Wales, where he met Dixe Wills, whose book Tiny Stations is all about the places Paul is visiting. And Dixe summed it up perfectly, talking about the romance of these lonely stops, the mystery surrounding the solitary strangers who use them and the empty landscape tempting to you to explore. Much as I like Paul Merton, I wondered if he should have taken the train home at that point and let the expert carry on.” — Daily Express.

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