Chortle Article: Strong Stuff

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Strong stuff
Count Arthur creator Steve Delaney on his new BBC Two sitcom

After a seven hit radio series, and a successful cult career on the Edinburgh Fringe, Count Arthur Strong is coming to TV, with a BBC Two series due to start on Monday. Here his creator Steve Delaney, talks about his genesis and evolution – and what it was like working with IT Crowd and Father Ted writer Graham Linehan on the script

Arthur is based on many influences and people from my youth from the Sixties and on. Next-door neighbours, relatives, eccentric shopkeepers. There seemed to be a wealth of them around when I was growing up and, I didn’t know it at the time but, I was storing all of them up for later use.

I first performed a version of what was to become Count Arthur as an end-of-term act while at the Central School of Speech and Drama in the early Eighties. We’d spent a term working on aspects of ‘circuses’ and there were to be end-of-terms shows. I decided, rather than do the traditional thing and pretend to walk the tightrope or be a clown that I’d do a circus strongman, who sang and played the piano. The act ended with me having a tussle with Dracula and seeing who had the strongest teeth in Christendom. It was obviously Arthur.

I then put Arthur aside for a few years while I was seeking acting work and working as a carpenter, but within that period I was constantly wondering how Arthur would react to things that I would see happen. He was always my second take on situations.

Because I could generate an income as a carpenter, it meant that I could subsidise myself whilst I was developing Arthur and I could do so at my own pace which was very important to me. I eventually began to perform in some carefully chosen comedy clubs at the beginning of 1997. I developed material over the next few months, putting a show together to take to the Edinburgh Festival, the first of, I think, nine visits to Edinburgh.

Although audiences were thin at that first Edinburgh, my show generated a fair bit of interest and I ended up a few months later making a series of short films for the Paramount Comedy Channel. Other small TV appearances followed.

Each consequent visit to Edinburgh brought more support from audiences, and the shows up there turned Arthur into something of a cult figure.

Count Arthur is whatever people make of him, really. In a nutshell he’s an ex-variety ‘star’ who’s wonderfully mistimed career, beginning in the late Fifties, just as the variety circuit was gasping its last, has meant he’s always been chasing it.

He played tiny parts in Juliet Bravo and All Creatures Bright and Beautiful (whatever it’s called). He lives a life based on those minor triumphs, plus some other ones he may or may not have been in. How much more does one need to know? Watch the telly series!

He’s evolved quite a lot since those early days, I think. I’ve grown into him for one thing. My approach to Arthur was never what you’d call academic and he’s evolved over a good long period of time.

Each live show I’ve done, and I’m told that’s some 350 or so performances, I’ve found out a little bit more about him, and all these bits have added to the sum total. If I look back at early footage of Arthur, from when I started, he looks like the bones of something. He has to continue to develop; otherwise it’s all about reproducing and that’s not as much fun or as interesting.

I always had a TV sitcom in my mind. I love the good TV sitcoms, Steptoe and Son, Hancock, Fawlty Towers, and always thought Arthur would sit well in the right one.

It was different working with Graham Linehan, but different is good. I have worked alone and consistently as Arthur for a long time, and you get into routines and bad habits because you only have to think of yourself.

Working with someone else may take a bit of time, and it should. It should be a thorough process. But we had a great time working together and a lot of laughs. Really, Graham has such a good understanding of Arthur that there are a lot of things I don’t have to worry about any more. I trust him and his aims for the show totally and he knows that. That takes so much pressure off me. Plus, he is bloody good isn’t he!




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