Interview: Count Arthur Strong

It is hard to believe that the smiling, casually-dressed man in front of me with an extravagant greying quiff is also Count Arthur Strong, the deluded trilby-hatted variety performer from Doncaster. Yet Steve Delaney has been playing Strong for over three decades. In recent years he has gone from cult to the mainstream with two acclaimed BBC series under his belt and a third due this Spring. He is also about to embark on a huge UK tour.

You might think then that there is a risk of the Count taking Delaney over, but it has not happened yet. “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 between bites of a ham and pickle sandwich at home in Wells in Somerset. “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 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.” But, 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.”

It is not a big cast but it is not a solo show either. He is joined by long-time collaborator Terry Kilkelly as Malcom de Tinsell and Dave Plimmer, who features in Count Arthur Strong on BBC1 as Allan Leslie. But the Count is always centre stage when catastrophe comes calling. Not that he will ever accept responsibility. “It’s a defence mechanism. I think it’s a northern thing where if you make a mistake you blame something else – even an inanimate object.”

interview continues here.

Picture by Andy Hollingworth.

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