‘My wife thinks I’m turning into Arthur’
by Brian Donaldson
Count Arthur Strong has been a big part of Steve Delaney’s life since the 1980s. While at drama college in his 20s, Delaney was far removed in years from the curmudgeonly, pencil-moustached vaudevillian-esque thesp whose sense of who he thinks he is and who he actually is sparks off much of his comedy. A hit on stages and in your radio from the early 2000s (the Count has since upgraded from small rooms at the Edinburgh Fringe to spaces like Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre), his creation began to move towards the small screen when Delaney received an email from a fan with an impressive TV CV.
‘Initially he just contacted me saying how much he enjoyed the radio show, which I thought was brilliant,’ recalls Delaney of the first time he and Graham Linehan (creator of Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd) hooked up. ‘So, we met to talk about Arthur, decided we’d like to work with each other and took it from there. People have said the BBC put us together, but that’s not the case at all: we got together and started work on scripts before anyone else got involved.’
That working relationship is now on its third series of the TV show which has taken Arthur and his creaky, overarching, malapropism-laden monologues and dropped them into an ensemble sitcom, largely set in a café. If having one of the top sitcom writers in the country as your right-hand man is deemed a coup, then being able to hire one of the finest actors in the land is a similar badge of honour.
‘That was on a level with Graham approaching me when Rory [Kinnear] came in to audition. He came in very early and we all looked at each other when he’d gone with and said, “well, we really hope he does it”.’ And as the hapless would-be author Michael, Kinnear (star of Black Mirror’s ‘The National Anthem’, veteran of many a Shakespearean stage role and Bond movie), has certainly raised his comedy game: the elongated visual gag which ends the opening episode in this new series certainly brings out another side of his acting armoury.
Now that Delaney is steadily catching up on Arthur’s age, is there a moment when he might think that it’s time to cut himself off from the crabby count? ‘Originally, I was a young man being an old bloke, but now, well, my wife would have a different idea: she thinks I’m turning into Arthur anyway,’ muses Delaney. ‘I think Arthur can go on considerably longer and I’m nowhere near the point where I’m sick of him. He has become what I do. It answered a question I’ve been asking myself for many years: what did I train to be an actor to do? What’s hammered into you at drama college is versatility but the reason I’ve become successful is because I haven’t been versatile at all: I’ve been focussed on small elements of one character.’