I absolutely love Count Arthur Strong. I discovered him on Radio 4 when I was doing my PhD – a wonderful distraction from the months of coding and analysis – and I’ve been a loyal fan ever since. During his Command Performance in 2012, I thought there wasn’t a wasted word or movement in the stage show, and the Count has since come to life on our screens and so the visual cues and facial expressions are even more honed. The Count’s most recent tour – Somebody Up There Licks Me – has had excellent reviews, so I won’t repeat the sentiment here, except to say that the reviews are well deserved. Instead, I’m going to try and push you towards his earlier work – the genius that is his radio performances.
Radio is a great medium for visualising the chaos he leaves in his wake. Sit back and listen to the Count’s blood pressure rise at the slightest question, comment or conversation that he can’t quite grasp, his twisted logic and blundering conversations, his claims to fame (Juliet Bravo and ‘that vet programme All Things Bright and Beautiful’), his links with stars like Danny La Rue, Anita Harris and Edward Woodwardwardward, to name a few.
Sit curled up with your cocoa as you’re introduced to his long suffering friends – Wilf the butcher (who unwittingly hosts a book reading for him in his shop), Geoffrey the church hall caretaker (forced to engage with the many, many auditions and revues organised by the Count), Gerry the cafe owner (never has taking a breakfast order been so stressful) and Sue the regular at the Shoulder of Mutton (will she ever be able to have a quiet drink?).
Bartering, queuing and conversations with customer services departments are the staple of his annoyance with everyday life. Then there are the inexplicably frequent events to which he is invited, woven together with a thread of delusion and self-importance that is the hallmark of the Count.
From the smallest of errands at post offices and libraries, through to appointments at hospitals and opticians, and grand days out, there is not a moment of everyday life that doesn’t descend into farce and borderline horror. The range of ‘incidents’ span a cookery show on cable TV (Ready Steady Dinner with a cabbage, package of ginger nuts, half a bottle of vodka, packet of odour-eaters and chewing gum), a murder mystery evening (comedy gold), a book reading (a ‘cricketly acclaimed’ book), ‘Piddler on the roof’ (the title says it all I think), and various speeches at universities and WI events (after a wee tipple of course). The best moment for me was when he thought a full Brazilian was a type of breakfast (‘I know that’s real cos someone on the estate’s had one of those’). Priceless.