Frank Skinner on loving Merlin, never missing Doctor Who and hating The X Factor

"You may claim that Merlin and Doctor Who are children’s television but not I. To me, Merlin seemed to cover all the great themes of humanity..."

What can’t you miss?


Doctor Who. It struck me recently that I’ve been watching it for the majority of my life. I distinctly remember tuning in to the first episode when I was six – the oddness of it. Programmes were a lot odder when I was a kid; I think people could get away with it more because there weren’t many other channels to turn to.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Is Merlin a guilty pleasure? You may claim that Merlin and Doctor Who are children’s television but not I. To me, Merlin seemed to cover all the great themes of humanity. I only got into it this last series and then it was pulled. It was almost like I was the kiss of death.

What’s made you hesitate over the “off ” button?

I never watch cookery programmes but I do like Nigel Slater’s because it’s beautifully shot. He takes a back seat to the ingredients to the point where it resembles a Caravaggio painting: full of bowls of plump, glistening fruit.

What would you ban?

Music talent programmes. I can’t take any more and I don’t speak as an aloof outsider; I speak as someone who used to be obsessed with The X Factor. Now it fills me with self-loathing. Maybe I’m just getting old and have lost my sense of fun.

What would you bring back?

Merlin, as soon as possible! And that programme called Why Don’t You? that tried to get kids to do stuff. I put together an adult version, with a comedian called Laura Solon, encouraging people to try new hobbies; we went to various broadcasters but they didn’t like it. I like the idea of TV as an educator.

What makes you cry?

When my son was in the womb, we watched all those pregnancy programmes. Every birth I used to cry at. I always used to think, “I’m not going to this week” and then I would. They don’t show you any terrible tragedies because that would be unbearable but you still get fretful if anything goes even slightly wrong – like when the father-to-be forgot to bring the nightie.

Have you discovered CBeebies now that you’re a father?

We got him into Baby TV, which I’d barely call cartoons: it was basically blocks of colour moving across the screen. But then we read a report that said children under two shouldn’t look at any screen, and then only for 20 minutes a day. That frightened us so he’s now banned from watching anything.

Who controls the remote?

We actually argue about who controls it: I think my girlfriend controls it and she thinks I do. We used to watch art documentaries together but she’s gone off that, so I watch them on my own in some sort of elitist backwater. She likes Come Dine with Me, which seems to me to represent what’s gone wrong with British society.

Who was your first crush?

Honor Blackman in a leather catsuit in The Avengers. I remember I had a packet of Love Hearts and one had “Cathy” on it and I kept it for a year because her character was called Cathy Gale.

Who or what would you put in Room 101?

When people interview the Muppets as if they’re human beings. I find that very disturbing.

What’s next?

I Love My Country for BBC1, which is part panel show, part Generation Game. Micky Flanagan and I are the captains and Gabby Logan is the host. I’ve never done anything that mainstream before.

What are you most proud of?

Being president of the Samuel Johnson Society. I had to read an academic paper that I’d written about his work, wear a medal and put a wreath on his grave. I loved it.


1. EastEnders or Corrie? Corrie.

2. Radio 4 or Radio 2? Radio 2.

3. Borgen or Lewis? I wouldn’t watch either but under duress, Borgen. 

4. Mastermind or The Million Pound Drop? Mastermind.

5. Michael McIntyre or John Bishop? Michael McIntyre. 


Room 101 is on Fridays at 8:30pm on BBC1