TV Review: The Guardian May 2017This entry was posted in Press on .
May 20, 2017 by Tim Dowling
I’ll confess that the first time I encountered Count Arthur Strong (BBC1), I didn’t get it. I caught the second half of an episode of his Radio 4 show while driving, and thought I was listening to a live broadcast going genuinely wrong. It took me a while, but eventually I wised up. Or, it might be more fair to say, I gave in.
Now back for a third TV series, Steve Delaney’s befuddled music hall comedian is ensconced in Bulent’s Cafe, where trouble comes to him. Last night Michael (Rory Kinnear), the writer son of the Count’s old comedy partner, was trying to prevent Arthur from meeting his new agent and her wife, but this very precaution led, predictably, to chaos. Arthur inadvertently convinced the wife that their new house was haunted, and ended up agreeing to perform an exorcism.
There was a time when people said Count Arthur wouldn’t work on TV; in fact, he’s such a visual comic presence that it’s now clear a lot was lost on the radio. With his deadly combination of false erudition and confusion, the Count often talks himself into difficulty, but in this case a vow of silence caused all the trouble. The funniest moment may have been his twitching panic when the agent’s wife mistook his reticence as a sign that malevolent spirits were abroad.
He still talks plenty of nonsense, of course, some of it inspired. “My auntie Doreen thought she saw a leprechaun,” he said. “But it was just a pair of underpants near a swing.” It’s throwaway silliness, yet it conjures up a whole backstory in a sentence.
As with the other two, this series is co-written by Delaney and Graham Linehan, and there are overtones of Father Ted in an expertly plotted visual gag involving some ventriloquist’s dummies, executed with the necessary solemnity by Kinnear. But it’s Arthur’s amiable dopiness that makes it work, and carries it over the occasional misfire. Ultimately, resistance is futile.