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Count Arthur Strong: somebody up there really does lick him!

Count Arthur Strong: somebody up there really does lick him! 1 2

[prev] …make up their minds whether they’re going to give me any work or not!’ That’s when I stopped acting and went into comedy, and Arthur answered that question: why do I want to be an actor? It was the performance I had in me, as ridiculously twee as that sounds. I don’t think these days I could do anything else, if someone offered me an acting job!

The radio shows were written largely by you working alone…
Yes, I always wrote the first draft of the radio show episodes alone, did a quick second draft then sent it to Graham Duff, our script editor, then he’d throw in some suggestions and a few more jokes, send it back to me, and I’d do a third draft based on his notes. But it was a solo act.

So how did you come to feel comfortable finally sharing Arthur with Graham Linehan (writer of Father Ted, Black Books, The IT Crowd, and now co-writer of Count Arthur Strong’s TV incarnation)?
Graham heard and liked Arthur on the radio, then came to see a live show. After that he got in touch and we began emailing, eventually working together on a pilot. He has a fantastic and unique comedy brain, but he also has a unique view of Arthur, which he picked up almost immediately after first hearing him on the radio – he knew quite lot about Arthur instinctively: he understands what he’s like and how he speaks. When some people have tried to write for Arthur it sounds as though they are paraphrasing something that I’ve written, but that’s not the case with Graham – finest comedy brain in the country, if you ask me!

Of course the other person you now share Arthur with is Rory Kinnear (Steve’s co-star in the TV series). How has that been?
I absolutely love working with Rory! I was talking about Graham having the best comedy brain in the country, and I think Rory is the best actor in the country at the minute! I remember very clearly when we were auditioning for Michael (Rory’s character), after Rory walked out, we just looked at each other and said: ‘I hope he really does want to do this!’ because he was blistering!

Tell me a bit about the DNA of Arthur. He has a heritage that stretches back to George Formby and beyond, to music hall…
Yes, I grew up through the 60s and I remember all the acts that turned up on TV that would also have been doing the rounds on the variety circuit and who were transitioning into television, like Arthur Haynes and Dickie Valentine. I grew up in a house where the television was always on, regardless of whether or not the programme was one you wanted to watch, I suppose as much due to the novelty value as anything else due to the kind of working class street I lived on. It was how I decided I wanted to be an actor, because the TV was always on and I wanted to be in the things I was watching.

Arthur’s an amalgam of lots of odd people who were knocking about when I was a kid, adults who behaved eccentrically. I often look to comic books, too: there’s a character in The Beezer called Colonel Blink, a short-sighted guy who lives with his aunt who he mistakes for a lamppost and that kind of thing; and Winsor McCay, a comic book artist who did a strip for the New York Times in the early 1900s and produced beautiful work and very funny ideas – I often go to him for inspiration.

One person I don’t go to for inspiration is Harry Worth – it’s very often quoted that I’m just like him. But I always found him slightly frustrating as a kid, and despite a lot of people thinking I’ve based Arthur on him, purely because I look a bit like him, I haven’t!

Although Arthur is an old man, the performance you give is extremely physical: you’re constantly moving – it actually looks exhausting…
That’s a kind of instinct. There’s so much of Arthur I didn’t map out, because I don’t really think you can sit down and say: ‘So, I’m going to do this “old bloke” act, and he’s going to talk like this, and have that foible and that foible.’ All those things happened because I had a notion about him and spent time with him in front of audience. If I did something that worked it would be there the next time – it was never an academic exercise, doing Arthur.

The hardest task, physically, is actually when we do the radio shows. I am dressed as Arthur and I do all the recordings as Arthur in front of a live audience, but I have to stay relatively still in front of a microphone, so my legs ache like hell after a radio recording! But, on tour, I do look forward to seeing where his wanderings about on stage will take me!

What’s lined up for you and Arthur after this tour is over?
I’ve been very lucky in the last seven or eight years in that I’ve had work lined up for a year or so ahead. My year is taken up completely with Arthur. What’s happening next is perhaps another TV series – the commissioners will make their minds up at the end of this month – but I never count my chickens. We did seven years on the radio and each one of those was commissioned year-on-year; we never took it for granted we’d keep on going. I had to stop the radio show because of the television commitments.

There’s a special for BBC Radio 4, which will be nice to do, to keep my hand in with radio! As much as I like collaborating with people, my preset in life in life is to work alone, so I do enjoy coming back to that, for a radio special or maybe a book, perhaps another volume of autobiography. I can imagine Arthur writing a children’s book, too! I like the idea that Arthur would think of himself as being like Roald Dahl!

Count Arthur Strong – Somebody Up There Licks Me!
The Key Theatre, Embankment Road, Peterborough
Thursday 12 March, 8 pm

Box office: 01733 207239

Count Arthur Strong: somebody up there really does lick him! 1 2

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