Author Archives: Arthur

Count Arthur Strong, showbizness legend, raconteur and former variety star, is set to take to the Palladium stage for the 2016 Christmas season. Arthur is to star as Baron Hardup in Cinderella as Panto makes a return to the London Palladium for the first time in three decades. Cast PhotoThis is Arthur’s first ever panto and he joins a 32 strong cast including Paul O’Grady as The Wicked Stepmother, Julian Clary as Dandini, Lee Mead as Prince Charming, Paul Zerdin as Buttons and Nigel Havers as Lord Chamberlain. Natasha J Barnes will play Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother will be Amanda Holden (or is that the other way round?) and the Ugly Sisters will be Suzie Chard and Wendy Somerville.

Cinderella will run at the London Palladium for five weeks only over the Festive season from Friday 9 December 2016 to Sunday 15 January 2017, with press night on Wednesday 14 December 2016.

The London Palladium has always featured heavily in Count Arthur’s recollections of the heyday of Variety. In 2006 he even set his sights on putting his life to music on variety’s most famous stage in Count Arthur Strong The Musical?, something he may well yet achieve.

Having launched the comedy character in 1997, Steve Delaney has turned his ‘riotously funny’ creation from Edinburgh cult hit into a cornerstone of BBC comedy. Over fifty episodes of Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! have been produced for BBC Radio 4 and the third series of his eponymous TV sitcom returns to BBC1 this autumn.

Click here to visit the Palladium site and buy tickets

Count Arthur back on Radio 4 for Christmas Day

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Once again, Count Arthur will be dropping in to share his own Christmas experience with the nation’s listeners on BBC Radio 4.

This special performance, with all the Radio Show! regulars, will be broadcast on Christmas Day at 11.30AM.

Count Arthur Strong TV series airs in Australia

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One of the highest-rating television networks in Australia, Nine Network (commonly known as Channel Nine or simply Nine), has started to air the first series of Count Arthur’s TV show.

The first episode was shown on 16th August.

For more information please go to the 9 website

BBC TV announce commission of Series Three

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BBC One today announced the commission of a third series of comedy Count Arthur Strong.

The BAFTA nominated and critically acclaimed series launched on BBC Two in 2013.  Series two heralded a move to its new home on BBC One where it broadcast at the beginning of this year.

In the seven new episodes, Arthur still pursues his dreams of stardom no matter how much chaos he causes along the way, with Michael (played by Rory Kinnear) doing his best to limit the damage to the world around them and his own sanity.

Graham Linehan comments:  “Very happy to hear that Arthur, Michael and the gang will have more adventures. And we’ve got some crackers lined up for this series….”

Steve Delaney added: “I’m thrilled, delighted and humbled that BBC One have requested another series of Count Arthur Strong. Where do I sign? Quick, before they change their minds!”

Shane Allen, Controller, Comedy Commission for BBC said: “How could we resist bringing back this character comedy masterclass which blends the joyfully daft with skilfully inventive plotting. Series two really hit its stride and the move to BBC One has brought the audience response we were hoping for. It’s a privilege to be working with these writing and performing talents at the top of their game.”

Jon Rolph, Managing Director of Retort, and Executive Producer commented: “It’s a joy and a privilege to be irresistibly drawn into Arthur’s world, and we’re delighted that the BBC One audience think so too.”

Executive Producer Richard Daws, Komedia: “It appears Count Arthur is edging ever closer to becoming the national treasure he has always imagined he was.”

Production and transmission will be in 2016.

Live Review: The Guardian April 2015

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The deluded Doncastrian just gets funnier
4/5 stars

Hexagon, Reading
by Brian Logan
Monday 20 April 2015 14.54 BST

“I didn’t get wherever I am by not knowing where I am,” says Count Arthur Strong. In fact, the Count’s confusion has propelled him – somewhat unexpectedly – to BBC1 sitcom success. Breakout telly stardom doesn’t always benefit a comedian’s live act, but this new tour sees Steve Delaney’s blithering alter ego on very fine form indeed.

Away from the TV show’s trad trappings, this is pure Count Arthur: a deluded, dyspeptic, malapropping ex-thesp from Doncaster, desperate to keep up appearances – and Cholmondley-Warner diction – as all around him crumbles.

It was painful, bordering on dadaist, when Delaney launched the character 20 years ago. It’s still tinged with agony, but I don’t remember seeing a more entertaining – funnier, more quotable, more packed with bulletproof set pieces – Count Arthur show.

Its delectable moments are too many to mention, but include the Count lay-preaching with a sermon on Alan, Evelyn and their pet snake in the garden of Edam (“where the cheese comes from”) – which he splices, much to his own bewilderment, with Little Red Riding Hood.

There’s his short play about the Beatles – his pronunciation of the word “Macca” is literally a show-stopper – and a beautifully inept stab at ventriloquism, with his doll Sulky Monkey, in ignorance of the most basic principles of how ventriloquism is supposed to work.

Frequently, the excellent writing and Delaney’s total-submersion performance (ably supported by Terry Kilkelly and Dave Plimmer) elevate proceedings to a comic state of grace, as the Count battles with his brain, his insecurities and his co-stars and staggers up ever more strangulated conceptual byways. On finding himself sneezing: “If this turns into a full bowl of cashews,” he splutters, “it could chiropodise the whole show. With my feet.” Chasing these stray connections, vaulting the chasms of logic that yawn in the Count’s wake, left me light-headed with delight.

Live Review: Bristol Hippodrome April 2015

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REVIEW: Count Arthur Strong, Bristol Hippodrome, 5/5 by Mike Norton
The Bristol Post: April 20, 2015

Let me, as Arthur might put it, lay all my playing cards facing up on the dining room table. I used to be a big fan of Count Arthur Strong. By which I mean Radio-Show Arthur.

Radio-Show Arthur began his life on Radio 4 in 2005 after the character’s creator, writer and performer Steve Delaney made a considerable name for himself on the comedy circuit.

Radio-Show Arthur was an unrelentingly selfish, self-obsessed, malapropian and utterly dysfunctional washed-up variety performer and sixties TV extra who ruined every unlikely performance opportunity he was given. The cult series saw him blunder through and destroy a radio play, a game show a lecture and even a panto (to name but a few).

It was comedy genius – but not to everyone’s taste. I once saw Delaney play Arthur at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and, while half the audience was laughing uncontrollably, plenty of other people were walking out shaking their heads.

Radio-Show Arthur was such a success (for some) that Delaney was given a BBC TV series in 2013. But the creation of TV-Show Arthur was, for me, when things started to go slightly wrong. Changes were made. A big-name comedy writer – Graham Linehan – was brought in to work with Delaney. New characters were introduced. Rory Kinnear was added as a foil to Arthur – in fact, he was annoyingly given as much, if not more, airtime. There was even a love interest (for Rory, not Arthur). But the Arthur that many of us loved was watered down – less obnoxious, less damaged and, as a consequence, less funny.

I completely understand why it was done. This was a mainstream version of the character for a mainstream TV audience. And it wasn’t all bad, there were flashes of brilliance when the old Arthur was hinted at. But TV-Show Arthur just wasn’t as funny as Radio-Show Arthur.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to the Hippodrome last night to see Arthur’s latest stage show (“Somebody Up There Licks Me”, the title of which is apparently still the subject of a legal dispute with a printer in Doncaster). The fact that Arthur could fill the theatre was undoubtedly thanks to his new-found TV fame. But would the character be insipid TV-Show Arthur?

The answer was an emphatic no. From the moment Delaney staggered on stage shouting at the sound man to “turn off the music off” I knew were were in for a treat. And we really were. What we got was 90 fantastically funny minutes of classic, Radio-Show Count Arthur Strong – pretentious angry, confused, half-drunk, opportunistic, forgetful, chaotic, selfish, accusative and incompetent. But always delusional about his ability and reputation.

It was so uncompromising that I have no idea what anyone in the audience who had seen just the TV series made of it. But I and many people around me were in danger of bursting a blood vessel.

There were so many great moments. The tribute to Rex Harrison – who Arthur quickly started calling “Rex Harris” and eventually a budgie called Billy. The visit to the “Wilds of Borneo” – a diabolical ventriloquism act with a mangy and conveniently untalkative oran-u-tan called Sulky Monkey. And the lay-preacher sermon that turned the story of Adam and Eve in to the story of Alan and Evelyn, in the garden of Edam (“which, by the way, is a very good sandwich cheese”).

Every scene was underpinned by an extraordinary performance by Delaney. It was partly physical – as he panted around the stage awkwardly, dragging one leg – and partly an amazing feat of mental agility. Arthur’s psychological and verbal confusion is clearly nothing of the sort. It’s all about Delaney’s faultless delivery and timing. And everything going wrong chaotically for Arthur ironically relied on Delaney never putting a foot wrong.

Which he didn’t. His performance was flawless right down to Arthur’s final line (“Now sod off!”).

Welcome back, Radio-Show Arthur. We’ve missed you.

Interview: Bristol Post April 2015

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By Tara Pardo: April 17, 2015

Count Arthur Strong has been referred to as comedy Marmite, but personally I’ve never understood how anyone could dislike Marmite, and I feel the same about Steve Delaney’s deliciously pompous, yet befuddled comic creation.

Not since Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge has there been such a fully formed masterpiece of a sitcom character, one that’s so convincing you can imagine what he might say if he were looking over your shoulder during your everyday life.

Count Arthur is a former variety star from Doncaster with delusions that he is a showbusiness legend. He gets easily confused and even more easily sidetracked, leading to surreal interludes and spluttering malapropisms (made all the more funny when putting on his pompous posh voice and talking down to those around him).

Of course, Arthur didn’t begin life as a sitcom character when he was born more than 30 years ago.

Steve Delaney says: “I started messing about with Arthur for the first time many years ago now, for an exercise at drama college, and then I left it alone. I sort of forgot about it for about ten years while I was finding work as an actor. I just remembered it as a sketch that quite a lot of people laughed at. Through that period I did sometimes find myself thinking about him and how he would react in certain situations. So eventually, when I decided I was ready to do something with the character, he kind of popped out and I’d been developing him unbeknown to myself in my sub-conscious.”

Steve explains: “I’ve grown into him. If I look back at some of the early stuff I did on the telly with Arthur, ten or 12 years ago, he does look like a younger man trying to be an older man and now that doesn’t happen! It didn’t feel like it at the time, but I look at it now and I think ‘God, I’m doing something strange with my chin’. Now he’s much more mannered and kind of knowing.”

When Count Arthur first hit the comedy stage, touring clubs and appearing at the Edinburgh Festival over several years, he had “cult comedy” status. He effortlessly moved on to Radio 4, where he has had seven series, and in 2009 won the Sony Radio Academy Award for comedy. In 2013 the first TV series of Count Arthur Strong aired on BBC2, followed by a second series on BBC1 earlier this year, co-written by Father Ted and IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan.

Steve says: “I’ve never felt that I’ve had to change Arthur. When I got the radio series I didn’t think I was going to have to make him different because it’s on the radio. Essentially, he’s always the same bloke, despite people saying he’s slightly more genial on the television. For me, the core of the character is always the same. I do have an instinct for how Arthur will react in any situation. The thing that interests me about Arthur is that he is quite a surreal character. There are lots of surreal flights of fancy and I enjoy him talking and ending up somewhere, not really realising how he got there.”

“It was great fun moving on to TV; it was always an ambition with Arthur. The first series was great in that respect because it was all new, there was a certain freedom because we were finding a lot of stuff out as we went along. For the second series we were trying to top the first series, so that became a bit more like serious work, but it was fantastic. It’s great working with Graham Linehan, who is very sensitive and attuned to Arthur; it’s a perfect pairing for me really. He’s one of the very few people that I’ve allowed to actually write a bit of dialogue for Arthur. We discuss and work together so much that one of us will have an idea and then once we’ve spent a day on it nobody knows who had the idea, nobody knows where bits of the story came from because it’s just an awful lot of discussion and an awful lot of laughing, which is fabulous. It’s a wonderful way to work.”

So now Count Arthur is back out on tour, has the audience changed?

“Yes,” says Steve, “and it happened through the radio series too; we started getting more of a family audience along. On this tour, we’ve been getting three generations of the same family in. It’s not something that I considered at the outset, but it’s exactly what Arthur should be aiming for. I like hearing that people have just come across it on TV and become interested in the character through more recent work. And The Hippodrome in Bristol is a lovely old theatre and it’s one of those kinds of theatres I always think Arthur should be playing at.”

Arthur Spire FM Interview

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Arthur was interviewed by Spire FM’s Pat Sissons on 17th April ahead of his appearance at Salisbury’s City Hall.. Click to listen to the interview.

Live Review: Brighton Argus March 2015

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First published Monday 30 March 2015 by Barrie Jerram

Count Arthur, alter ego of comedian Steve Delaney, is an acquired taste and one, luckily, that I acquired recently via his successful television series.

The Count, a one-time music hall artist attempting a come-back, performs a variety show that is befouled through a legal injunction resulting from a printer’s error in the show’s title and other misfortunes.

Arthur’s world, often out of touch with reality, has flights of fancy that take on a hilarious surrealism that recalls the pioneering work of The Goons and Spike Milligan. This together with misunderstandings and atrocious malapropisms make up his comic appeal.

His variety show includes a tribute to Rex Harris (sic) and a selection of songs from his hit films Dr Doolally and My Furry Lady. Other acts include a ventriloquist doll who refuses to speak and an outrageous send-up of the Beatles – the Fat Four.

The highlight for me was when Arthur, as a part-time lay preacher, delivered a sermon on Genesis with Alan and Evelyn in the Garden of Edam together with their pet snake. His account of exorcising John Bishop was a hoot.

An evening of inspired lunacy with Delaney receiving excellent support from stooges Terry Kilkelly and Dave Plimmer.

Interview: Brighton Argus March 2015

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You Can Count On Arthur

First published Friday 27 March 2015

This year saw Count Arthur Strong move firmly into the mainstream as his second television series made its BBC One debut. Ahead of two shows in Sussex the Count’s creator and alter ego Steve Delaney tells Duncan Hall about the move from radio to television, and the role Brighton’s Komedia played in developing the character.

“Brighton is a spiritual home for Arthur,” says Steve Delaney from his Somerset home, midway through national tour Somebody Up There Licks Me.

“In terms of the live shows it was where I found my first big audience of people that got it – and there has always been a link with Komedia.”

Delaney met Komedia’s co-founder David Lavender in 1995, when he was part of a Hank Williams-inspired show at Edinburgh.

“Oddly it all fell into place when I met David,” says Delaney, who created the character of former variety star Count Arthur Strong while at drama school in the 1980s.

“It was before I started doing Arthur, but David became a staunch supporter of the character – he was quite taken with him.”

Arthur had begun life as a drama school exercise about circuses.

The Count started out as a former strongman, taking his name from an off licence flyer Delaney picked up in Wood Green. A few years later Delaney was encouraged to dust the character off by an old friend from theatre school.

“Komedia Entertainment bankrolled my 2002 Forgotten Egypt show on the Edinburgh Fringe,” says Delaney, who was the first act taken on by Richard Daws’ management arm of the venue.

“It was my breakthrough show – I started selling out the studio space at the Gilded Balloon. It was hugely novel for me after many years of thinking how to get more people to see the show. It was when I started to do Arthur for a living.”

Prior to that Delaney had earned a living as a carpenter – using the proceeds from his day job to fund short runs at London theatre spaces such as the King’s Head in Crouch End and the Canal Cafe in Little Venice, or to go to the Edinburgh Fringe.

“I could have been a successful carpenter,” he laughs now. “It subsidised me doing Arthur. It was a great way of doing it at my own pace – it didn’t feel like I had to rush on with it. The fact I wasn’t hugely successful immediately didn’t perturb me. I didn’t worry if a large part of the audience didn’t really get it or find it funny.”

His writing method for Arthur has remained largely unchanged from those days – with Delaney admitting he’s never sure whether he has got a good show until he’s in front of a live audience.

“It’s on instinct really,” he says. “When I was touring by myself I would have a script with cues on it to give to the venue technicians – I could see them looking at the script thinking ‘What is this?’. It doesn’t read funny – it’s the way it comes out of Arthur which makes it funny. I’m not interested in the notion of sitting down and mapping everything out – I’m more into doing it. It was the same when I was a carpenter – I would rather work with a bit of wood in my hand than plan everything. It’s just my nature as an individual. I haven’t a clue about the best way of doing things – I don’t ask too many questions!”

Delaney’s choice of Egypt as subject matter for his breakthrough show – with Arthur setting himself up as an Egyptologist – fed into the comedy of misunderstanding which is central to the character.

Arthur is the sort of man who can interpret an offhand question as a revolutionary new addition to a cafe menu (“two teas at once?”), force a broken foot spa onto random visitors or become obsessed with the idea of eating human eggs through his own bizarrely random thought processes.

“Egypt was an opportunity to mispronounce every single name he tried to say,” says Delaney. “It was also something quite a lot of people know a little bit about. It’s important when Arthur goes off and gets the facts wrong.”

Following the success of the live shows – which even earned him an inaugural Argus Angel when Arthur came to the 2007 Brighton Fringe – Delaney was offered the chance to write his own radio show.

Starting in 2005, the show ran for seven series and several specials on BBC Radio 4, including last year’s Christmas episode.

It has become both a cult favourite and an award-winner, earning a Gold Sony Radio Academy Award For Comedy in 2009. Many of the episodes in the early series were recorded live at Komedia’s theatre venue in Gardner Street.

“I was very finicky about writing the first draft for each radio show,” says Delaney, who worked with Brighton’s Graham Duff as script editor.

“Graham would email back notes, and the second draft would be pretty much it until the day of the recording where everyone would throw in their own ideas as they were reading it through.”

On the radio show Arthur was joined by his young protégé Malcolm Titter, played by long-time live sidekick and current touring buddy Terry Kilkelly, as well as a cast of characters played by Brighton’s own Joanna Neary, Dave Mounfield and Alastair Kerr alongside household names Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc and Barry Cryer.

Delaney admits it would have been difficult to transfer the radio world of Arthur onto television.

“It would have given us an awful lot of problems,” he says. “The actors are playing several parts each – and many are not the right age for the parts they are playing. I think people would have an image in their head what they look like from the radio series – I do get people telling me I’m not Arthur!”

When it came to creating the television series Delaney adopted a different approach from Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! – collaborating with Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan.

“We have been working together from start to finish,” he says. “The difficult bits are really the structure and storyline – the easier bits are the dialogue. We laugh the most when we start the second draft and most of the structural problems are sorted out. Graham pontificates about structure – but the series has really benefited from his insistence we work that way. It gives us lots of layers and spiralling storylines.”

The first television series was broadcast on BBC Two in 2013, but when Delaney and Linehan started on the project almost five years before it was in a very different format – as a gameshow.

“We felt it might be a bit of a stretch to introduce Arthur in a sitcom, with readymade characters,” says Delaney. “It might have been a struggle for people to know who he was and how he conducted himself. We wanted to follow the Alan Partridge model [where Steve Coogan’s alter ego was introduced as a woeful chat show host on Knowing Me Knowing You], with the sitcom as the next stage.”

But making a pilot for the BBC the writers found the format of Count Arthur Strong’s Entertainment Game tough to work with.

“It wasn’t quite right – we needed three couples each week who would have to be actors,” says Delaney.

“They would have to look like contestants, otherwise it would be seen as a spoof and wouldn’t work. We weren’t sure if we wanted to continue to do it, and fortunately the BBC said they wanted to find out more about Arthur as a character.”

So the pair were commissioned to write a sitcom script, having already spent more than 18 months writing the pilot show.

Aside from his companions the Arthur which is documented on television is quite different from his radio and stage counterpart. The most obvious difference is the binge drinking has gone, but he is also a softer character – more confused than prone to fly into rages.

The location of the show also changed from around Doncaster to Greater London.

“We weren’t tied to having him living up north,” says Delaney.

“We liked the idea of him being a fish out of water – in a place where he ended up living after his last acting work. Arthur sounds as northern as they come, but he claims to be a Cockney in his memoir [Through It All I’ve Always Laughed, which was released in 2013]. He says he was born in London but evacuated to Doncaster during the war. I really liked the notion that Arthur tells people he is a Cockney.”

The central conceit of Count Arthur Strong on television revolves around Rory Kinnear’s Michael Baker, the son of Arthur’s old variety partner.

Michael contacts Arthur to help him research a vicious tell-all biography about his father, who he feels neglected him all his life. In his own dotty and confusing way Arthur helps Michael see the real man his father was.

“It was very important to be a little more sophisticated in our approach to television,” says Delaney.

“We couldn’t just put the radio show on television and have Arthur doing monologue after monologue with everyone else waiting for him to stop talking. My television memories are of Steptoe And Son and Hancock, which worked when there was pathos. When you watched them you could see them yearning to get out of their family situation and circular life. I loved that notion that you could feel for something empathetically, but by laughing a lot. It’s more complicated and more theatrical in a way – pathos in comedy was important for me and it works very well on television. We wanted to make something with heart.”

Perhaps the most obvious moment of pathos happened midway through the first series.

Towards the end of an hilarious hospital episode -which had seen Arthur somehow mistaken for a doctor and getting another chance to deliver a unique reading of a line he first spoke in Emergency Ward 10 – his biggest fan Katya passed away unexpectedly.

The event drew all the disparate characters together in Bulent’s Cafe, and perfectly set up the critically acclaimed second series, which saw Arthur’s viewing figures double.

“Both Graham and I had cafes which meant something to us,” says Delaney on deciding to make Bulent’s Cafe the centre of Arthur’s world. For six years I lived next door to a cafe run by a Turkish guy – although he was really nice, not fierce like Bulent. We would do each other favours – if he needed anything fixing I would do it for a free breakfast. The characters that would go in there were nutty people – I added little bits to Arthur from them. In the second series we left the cafe quite a few times, but we kept coming back to it at the start and the end of episodes. It set up the characters of [cafe regulars] John The Watch and Eggy quite well.”

Joining Delaney and Kilkelly on tour is Dave Plimmer. He plays the confused Eggy in the television series, who is waging a one-man war on the egg industry armed solely with a sandwich board.

“When we first started writing the series we weren’t sure about Eggy,” says Delaney. “He was originally a younger person, but that jarred with me. It made him seem a little sad compared to the funnier and warmer characters. When we gave the character to Dave for the first episode of the first series we liked the way he looked and asked him to stay for the rest of the series. During the live show he makes an entrance and normally gets a wonderfully warm round of applause, but in Scotland they went bonkers, chanting ‘Eggy, Eggy!’. The series is about so much more than just Arthur.”

Count Arthur Strong the television series also marked the sitcom debut of established tragedian Rory Kinnear, finally following in his late father comic Roy’s footsteps. “There was a bit of a moment for him when we went into the live studio,” says Delaney. “He remembered being in the audience watching his dad. Rory is one of the finest young actors of his generation – he can pick and choose what he wants to do. I’m happy he enjoys doing the series. He’s great to work with. There was a moment in rehearsals for the first series when I was working with him and Lindsay Duncan where I wondered how I ended up working with people of that calibre!”

As for the future Delaney is waiting to hear from the BBC if a third Count Arthur Strong series is on the cards.

“We are fairly confident,” he says. “We’re very proud of the work we have done on it, but you can never second guess the BBC.”

For now there is the live tour, the possibility of a further Christmas special on the radio, and another book project.

“I like the idea of Arthur trying to write a fairy tale like a Roald Dahl type author,” says Delaney. “It would be like a mish mash of every fairy tale you had ever heard. The great thing is, since the television series we are getting family audiences coming to see the live shows. I never thought about that when I started doing Arthur in comedy clubs. People of all ages like seeing an elderly man act disgracefully or blame other people for things he has obviously done.”