Interview: Count Arthur Strong: Page 2 of 2

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.

So how would Delaney describe the Count? He sips some tea to buy some thinking time. “I’d phone someone up, I’ve got no idea! The thing I like is the way he has mistimed things. He got into variety as it was breathing its last gasp. He is always missing things by a few beats. He is about 73 and irascible and deluded. I can tell you what I take exception at is when it is suggested he has dementia. Old guys are allowed to be fools.”

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.”

The Count clearly touches a nerve in the nation's light entertainment psyche. The sitcom is watched by millions and celebrity enthusiasts include Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend. Delaney likes the fact that his performances are family-friendly and attract people from different generations. “There is nothing better than looking at an audience and seeing grandparents, parents and children together.” His own 13-year-old son Alf is also a fan. In fact when Delaney needed a cheeky child’s voice for his Radio 4 series he recorded Alf. “He used to listen to it all the time in bed so had all the timing right.”

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. “I’d been offered panto before but this was the perfect character.”

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.” And that is exactly what he will be doing now. No wonder he has a smile on his face.

Count Arthur Strong: The Sound Of Mucus is on tour until June 23. Details here

Count Arthur Strong is on BBC1, 8.30pm, Fridays, from May 19.

 

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