Count Arthur Strong, comedy genius

Count Arthur Strong, comedy character played by Steve Delaney

Count Arthur Strong, comedy character played by Steve Delaney - Credit: Archant

Count Arthur Strong, The Sound of Mucus, at Ipswich Corn Exchange, Saturday, April 29

They don't make them like that any more, do they? Comedy greats like Morecambe and Wise and Tommy Cooper, who began their careers on Britain's variety stages – except, they do, because Steve Delaney has made one, he has created the veteran variety performer, doyen of light entertainment, Count Arthur Strong.

Count Arthur, a seventy-something with a trademark trilby and pencil moustache, is a man of contradictions. He is rude and cantankerous, unkind to his assistant and stage manager, but someone strangely likeable. His comedy derives from the fact that he is utterly oblivious to his total lack of talent. Nothing that goes wrong is ever his own fault or down to his own shortcomings. His mangling of his opening number Lovely Day (which had me in tears) is blamed entirely on the length of the sustained note.

In his memoirs, Through It All I've Always Laughed, Count Arthur pays tribute to his parents 'wherever they went'. Well, I don't know where they went, either, but I would hazard a guess they were Harry Worth and Hilda Baker – from one Arthur inherited his bumbling incompetence and the other his hilarious malapropisms.

Count Arthur Strong has had huge success, initially on the comedy circuit and later on radio and television – BBC1 is set to broadcast a third series of his sitcom this year – culminating in his role as Baron Hardup in the star-studded Palladium pantomime, Cinderella, last Christmas.


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It is not difficult to see why. He is not only very funny, but his comedy, with its marked lack of expletives, has cross-generational appeal. His latest live show, sub-titled The Sound of Mucus, has a tribute to the 1960s film musical, which Count Arthur claims he has always wanted to be in, and much of the second half is devoted to his hapless re-enactment of highlights such as 'Sixteen Going on Seventeen' (Count Arthur in lederhosen – 'I'm the one in the Nazi youth!').

Some of the material was a little hit and miss, understandable perhaps, in a 90-minute show, but it is the word-play that I won't forget: the malapropisms like 'deep vein tombola', and the film misquotes, (terrible Michael Caine impression:) 'You were only supposed to blow Diana Dors up!'. Genius.

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• The Count will be appearing at the Theatre Royal Norwich on 21 May, and the King's Lynn Corn Exchange on 14 June.

JAMES HAYWARD

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