Category Archives: ‘Count Arthur Strong’

‘Count Arthur Strong’ (BBC2) Review

Steve Delaney’s much-loved comic creation, Count Arthur Strong, made his sitcom debut on Monday as the series of the same name, co-written by Graham Linehan and Delaney himself, began.

DISAPPOINTED’

I wrote an article about Count Arthur Strong last week and included information on the characters, as well as the ‘sit’ within the ‘com’. I watched trailers, clips of Steve Delaney’s previous Edinburgh shows and read interviews with Delaney and Linehan, in which it was mentioned that Arthur can boast fans such as Billy Connolly and Sir Paul McCartney. And yet, for some infuriating reason, I  just couldn’t get excited about the show.

In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t overhype it in my head, as I would have been even more disappointed than I actually was after watching it. Don’t get me wrong, Count Arthur Strong wasn’t terrible (we haven’t got another The Wright Way on our hands here) but I didn’t find it as funny as I was led to believe I would.

Linehan and Delaney seemed to rely on viewers already being familiar with the character of Arthur. I’m sure that a lot of people will have come to the show having already seen one of his hugely successful Edinburgh shows or listened to the award-winning Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! on Radio 4 but some, like myself, will not have seen much of Arthur – if any at all. As a result of the writers’ assumption that we all know and love Arthur, the character was left quite under-developed. Where was the delusional character who I had read about – the one who believes that he had once been, and continues to be, highly famous and extremely well-regarded in showbiz circles? In fact, only Michael Baker (played wonderfully by Rory Kinnear) was developed well: the other characters – Katya, Eggy and Sinem, for example – seemed to have been simply dropped into the episode and, while I understood their roles, their individual personalities weren’t given a chance to shine through.

KEEPING WITH TRADITION

Of course, Count Arthur Strong is just one of many throwbacks to the ‘traditional’ laughter-laden family sitcom. Some do it well (Mrs Brown’s Boys and Miranda are the examples which immediately spring to mind) while some don’t – the aforementioned The Wright Way is always my scapegoat for traditional trash. Like many, I think that back-to-basics sitcoms are fantastic! O’Carroll and Hart’s creations are, in my opinion, two of the best examples of sitcom in recent years. I must admit that,  despite giving it a poor review, I even enjoyed the final episode of ITV’s Vicious, and warmed to its unashamedly traditional characters and situations. The problem is, I’m just not sure Count Arthur Strong suits such a sitcom. I’m not suggesting he be used in a real-time series or ‘mockumentary’, but there’s something that doesn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid.

Then again, is it Linehan who is unsuitable for such a show – not Arthur? His sitcoms have always brilliantly blended the traditional with the contemporary. Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd – his three most notable creations – were all traditional in that they all had laughter tracks and featured stock characters. Take Ted, for example: you had the eponymous leader of, and voice of reason within, the Craggy Island clan; you had Dougal, the idiotic one; Jack, the rude, cantankerous one; and Mrs Doyle, the annoying one who means well. To reiterate, though, they all felt contemporary – especially The IT Crowd, the subject matter of which simply would have been neither relevant nor relatable a mere decade before. It is these types of shows which Linehan is best known and loved for. Count Arthur Strong, on the other hand, feels very safe in comparison – and I don’t just mean that it’s less profane. It just has nothing ‘new’ about it and appears to be trying to emulate its traditional contemporaries. It’s like slipping on a comfortable, once fashionable pair of shoes, only to discover that everyone else is now wearing them and yours are slightly scuffed.

 

I really hope that I am proved wrong about Count Arthur Strong and that it grows on me and becomes a hit. Actually, it looks like it’s already half way there – if this is one of the rare occasions that the reaction from the Twittersphere can be trusted. One user wrote, ‘#countarthurstrong Absolutely BRILLIANT. Laughed til [sic] tears rolled down my cheeks! Thank you @BBC2. Haven’t laughed like that for years!’ and another dubbed it ‘Classic British comedy in the making’. Then again, some people sided with me by calling it ‘a bit broad’ and speculating that the usually reliable Linehan’s involvement went only as far as ‘spell checking the script’.

I suppose you can’t please everyone, can you?

Images courtesy of BBC. © Fremantle Productions

Count Arthur Strong is on Mondays at 8:30pm on BBC2

What did you think of Count Arthur Strong? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

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Inside the World of ‘Count Arthur Strong’

Steve Delaney has collaborated with Father Ted and The IT Crowd creator, Graham Linehan, to bring his alter-ego Count Arthur Strong (star of the award-winning Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show!) to the world of television sitcom.

MEET ARTHUR

This isn’t Arthur’s first foray into fame, however, for he was once a much-loved and highly-regarded regular on the variety circuit. If Arthur is to be believed, he was – and is still – very famous, and his  next big showbiz opportunity is only a phone call away. Of course, everyone else knows him to be a deluded former star who now stumbles through life, getting into embarrassing situations as a result of his selective memoryArthur with Michael Baker loss and unfortunately frequent malapropisms.

Ignorance seems to be bliss for Arthur as he appears wholly unaware of the chaos that ensues whenever he is present.

About to enter into the world of the always eager-to-impress Arthur is Michael Baker, who has been asked to write the biography of his recently deceased father, and former performing partner of Arthur, Max Baker. What starts out as research for his book turns out to be a complete lifestyle change for Michael as he is unwillingly sucked into the world of Count Arthur Strong.

FROM BRAINCHILD TO CULT FIGURE

Co-writer and star of the show, Steve Delaney, came up with the character who would eventually turn into Count Arthur Strong when he studied at Central, in London. After a few years of mentally developing Arthur, he finally performed as him at the Edinburgh Festival in 1997. The character soon became a cult figure and, sixteen years and numerous live shows and radio series  later, the faded variety star can boast fans like Steve Coogan, Billy Connolly and even Sir Paul McCartney and is finally getting his first TV outing, in which he will share the screen with guests such as Lindsay Duncan and the legendary Barry Cryer,

Comedy stalwart Graham Linehan is also on-board as both co-writer and director. He claims that he was ‘blown away’ by Count Arthur Strong’s Forgotten Egypt (one of Delaney’s most successful Edinburgh shows) and loved adapting the character and situations from the radio show to TV. He says, ‘[The TV series] had to be more rounded, more realistic, and we had to make some definite decisions about how Arthur would fit into the real world. This meant moving away from some of the larger-than-life relationships created in the radio show and trying to ground it a bit more.’

Having watched the trailer for Count Arthur Strong and clips from the character’s live shows, I know that Steve Delaney is a great comic, and the fact that Graham Linehan has written and directed the series makes me even more sure that it will be a success.

‘ECCENTRIC NAMES’

Throughout the six episodes we will also meet the people who are involved in Arthur’s life. As well as Michael (played by Rory Kinnear, of James Bond fame), we will see Bulent and Sinem, a brother and sister team from Turkey who run the cafe – Arthur’s favourite haunt and very much at the heart of the series. They both have conflicting personalities: Bulent (Chris Ryman, Casualty) is bad- tempered and pessimistic while his sister (Zahra Ahmadi, EastEnders) is a tough cookie with a sharp mind, lighting up the cafe and forever standing up to her brother.

The cafe’s regulars comprise the remainder of the The enigmatic John the Watchprinciple cast: we have the eccentric names of John the Watch (pictured), Katya and Eggy. John is something of an enigma – he is seldom seen without his shades and people know very little about him. He is close to Arthur, but not as close as the soup-supping Katya, who is his biggest fan and often dubbed his ‘Polish Princess’. Finally, there’s Eggy – a reserved, philosophical egg fanatic (for reasons known only to himself). He has a strong distrust of reality and prefers to sit in the cafe with only his conspiracy theories (and eggs, of course) for company.

 

So there we are: that is a peek into the weird and wonderful world of Count Arthur Strong. Prepare for six weeks of madness and misunderstandings from no one’s favourite one man variety vehicle.

Count Arthur Strong begins Monday 8th July at 8:30pm on BBC2

 Images courtesy of BBC. © Fremantle Productions