January 7, 2015 by Suzanne Camfield
When making a second series of a television comedy show, there is always a chance of having ‘difficult second album’ issues. With Count Arthur Strong, which is due to return to our screens in January, I am pleased to say that doesn’t appear to be an issue, much to my delight as a big fan of the first series.
Count Arthur Strong began its life on Radio 4, featuring Steve Delaney as Count Arthur Strong, a variety performer who, although thinks he is very talented, is not actually very good at performing. The character was created by Steve Delaney, based on people he has known from his childhood, and ran successfully on the radio from 2005 until 2012.
Count Arthur Strong moved away from radio to the realms of television, with a comedy genius picked up along the way, in the form of Graham Linehan. The television version of Count Arthur Strong has the mark of Graham Linehan all over it, from the visual gags, the strong plots in each episode, and the live audience. There are hints of his former work in Father Ted and The IT Crowd, and also hints of Fawlty Towers in Count Arthur Strong, noticeably in series two.
Steve Delaney has created a wonderful character, whilst Graham Linehan has helped build upon with the new setting and the variety of secondary characters, making the transition from radio to television work very well. As both Delaney and Linehan write the script, with Linehan directing and Delaney performing as Arthur, this is certainly a successful 50/50 collaboration.
Although the character has been around for years and the radio show was an established hit, it was still a gamble bringing Count Arthur Strong to the screen. Some of the radio fans appear to have been unhappy with the transition. I have never heard any Count Arthur Strong on the radio, so I don’t know how different the radio show is to television series, but I know that seeing Count Arthur Strong has made me want to seek out the radio episodes. I am sure it has had the same effect on other fans of the television series.
Although the show certainly has Count Arthur Strong at the centre of it all, the character of Michael Baker, the son of Arthur’s former showbiz partner Max Baker, cannot be overlooked as a mere secondary character. Played brilliantly by Rory Kinnear (son of Roy), a Shakespearian actor who we often see it dramatic roles. Who can forget the brilliant and terrifying first episode of Black Mirror? This is a great role for Kinnear to show his comedic abilities, and gives us a great platform for a character to interact with Arthur. Both characters bounce off each other, as does Arthur with the other regular characters in the show, which brings out the humour and makes the series laugh out loud funny.
Having a regular haunt, in the form of Bulent’s Cafe, is another staple of Linehan comedies. This gives Arthur free reign for his unintentional chaos, with the characters surrounding him, and also gives the show a slight retro feel to it. Count Arthur Strong in some ways looks as if it could be a sitcom from the 1970s.
Series two does not disappoint, and fans of the first series will enjoy this as much, if not more, than what they have already seen. With seven episodes, the plots are still as tight and still as funny as what we have already seen. Episodes two and four are particularly strong, with Arthur interacting with characters who are not regulars, putting his comic abilities at the centre of the episode.
Certain critiques of the show have said that the humour is too simple, but I don’t think this is the case. It is clear that Delaney and Linehan have put a lot of work into their writing, to make the scripts work well in showcasing Arthur in a variety of situations, in making the episodes flow smoothly and in adding a great amount of sadness in addition to humour. The final episode is certainly the most moving of series two, proving that a comedy can have just as much heart as humour within in. The ability to make your audience feel great sadness and suddenly jump to humour very quickly is not an easy one to do.
With big laughs and old-school humour, the transition of Count Arthur Strong from radio to television appears to have been a success. I hope series two will introduce many new fans to Count Arthur Strong. BBC, series three please!