Count Arthur Strong returns to Norwich with more showbiz delusions and malapropisms
- Credit: Archant
Count Arthur Strong, the comedy character of Steve Delaney, prone to delusions of grandeur, selective memory loss and the blurting out of malapropisms is back on TV screens and in Norwich with his latest tour.
It is hard to believe that the smiling, casually-dressed man with an extravagant greying quiff is also Count Arthur Strong, the deluded trilby-hatted variety performer from Doncaster.
Yet Steve Delaney has been playing his comedy character alter-ego for over three decades. In recent years he has gone from cult to the mainstream with two acclaimed BBC1 series under his belt and a third that starts on May 19.
The TV series, co-written with Norwich-based Graham Linehan, the man behind Father Ted and the stage adaptation of The Ladykillers, followed his award-winning Radio 4 series.
The premise of both is that fictional Arthur is a faded star from the golden days of variety, prone to delusions of grandeur, selective memory loss and the blurting out of malapropisms. He was never as famous as he thinks he was — but this doesn't stop him delving into stories from his 'showbiz career'.
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Coinciding with his return of out TV screens, the comedian is also embarking on a huge UK tour that brings him Norwich and King's Lynn this month.
You might think after all these years living his comedy double-life that there is a risk of the character taking Delaney over, but it has not happened yet.
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'People are sometimes nervous about meeting me after the show. They think I might need time to unwind. But I'm happy to talk and have a glass of wine straight away,' he chuckles. 'I don't have to warm up. I start doing it and I stop doing it. The 90 minute show feels like 15 minutes.'
The main thing Delaney and Strong have in common, he claims, is their round-shouldered posture: 'When I was at drama school in London my parents came to see me. I had a beard and a weird outfit on and was playing a torturer and I asked them if they spotted me and my mum said 'I'd recognise those round shoulders anywhere'.'
Delaney is excited about taking the Count back on the road with an all-new show, The Sound of Mucus. The title is typical of this character's oddball's humour. Count Arthur has made a career out of getting his words mangled. He doesn't do topical jokes. Or, as he would call it, 'tropical' jokes. Things soon go wrong with hilarious consequences.
'Like all of Arthur's shows its not the show he intends to give, but he thinks he is giving a pretty good account of himself. It starts with the best of intentions and falls apart. That's the essence of an Arthur live show.'
He does not want to give away any spoilers — 'I like people arriving not knowing too much about it' — though he will be supported on stage by Terry Kilkelly as Malcolm de Tinsel from Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show, and Dave Plimmer who features in the TV show as Allan Leslie.
And as the title suggests, it finds him attempting to revive the classic Julie Andrews musical. He plays, among other things, the Mother Superior and there is a version of Sixteen Going On Seventeen. Although, Delaney concedes, things go so badly that we never actually see the main characters. It is all done with love for the original though: 'It's the only film I remember my father going to see. Everything I do with Arthur has to be from a starting point of affection.'
The Count clearly thinks of himself as a Jack of all trades but is undeniably a master of absolutely none. 'He always ends up making a fool of himself and being pompous fiddling while Rome burns,' explains his alter ego. Take him seriously at your peril. A previous show, Forgotten Egypt, was a misguided 'Egyptalogics' lecture about the Pharaohs. One fan missed the point and started pointing out factual errors, not realising that the factual errors are an essential part of the performance.
Where does the Count come from, apart from Doncaster? He is an amalgam, says Delaney, a youthful 62, of various people, including one of his eccentric neighbours when he was growing up in the Leeds suburb of Harehills.
The Count's anecdotes are peppered with references to old stars such as Vince Hill, Cliff Richard and Lulu, the kind of people Delaney used to watch on television on a Saturday night. Delaney/Strong recently got the chance to record a version of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet Something Stupid with sixties icon Anita Harris: 'I remember her from the telly when I was just old enough to appreciate her legs. She always got a mention in shows so to end up recording with her was wonderful.'
His tour includes a date at the prestigious London Palladium, but it will not be his first time treading those legendary boards. This Christmas he appeared there in pantomime, playing not a Count but a Baron – Baron Hardup in Cinderella alongside Paul O'Grady, Nigel Havers and Julian Clary. It was an odd experience though.
The cast was so big that he did not have a huge amount of time onstage and spent a lot of each performance sitting in his dressing room waiting for his cue.
'It felt like an old variety show and I was fourth on bill. In a way I prefer to be in my own bubble, driving myself to gigs. I couldn't wait to be back doing my own show.'
• Count Arthur Strong: The Sound of Mucus, Norwich Theatre Royal, May 21, 7.30pm, £22.50-£7, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
• He will also be at King's Lynn Corn Exchange on June 14, 8pm, £21.50, 01553 764864, www.kingslynncornexchange.co.uk