TV preview: Count Arthur Strong

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Some cult comedy creations make the leap from clubs to TV with remarkable speed and ease, while others take a lot longer.

Of course radio has long been the perfect testing ground for many of our best-loved light entertainment shows, from Hancock’s Half Hour in the 1950s, to later hits such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The League of Gentlemen and Little Britain.

Sometimes there are shows and comic creations which take to TV like proverbial ducks to water, and others have a harder time.

In a perfect world John Shuttleworth’s sublime radio ramblings would be a regular fixture on BBC2, but so many of the characters work better off screen (and in the mind) than on.

That may also be the case with Steve Delaney’s eponymous creation, a former variety star from Doncaster who makes his regular TV debut this week in Count Arthur Strong (BBC2, 8.30pm).

He was created in the 1980s, and resurrected in 1997 for Delaney’s stand-up gigs, and turns at the Edinburgh Festival.

By Christmas day, 2005, and with a little guidance from DJ/producer Mark Radcliffe, Strong made his Radio 4 debut, which boosted his cult following.

By ‘cult’, we mean a handful of listeners tuned in and started chatting about him down the pub and online.

That was followed by six more series, and as interest in the comedy character grew, TV types started getting excited about transferring Strong’s radio presence to the small screen.

If the show had aired 12 months ago, there’s a chance co-star Rory Kinnear wouldn’t have raised much of an eyebrow, but his memorable turn as Tanner, M’s right hand man in $1billion Bond smash Skyfall is one of the elements which has boosted this show’s presence.

The other is the fact he’s the hot favourite to pick up the Tardis keys from Matt Smith at Christmas, but that’s another story for another time.

He plays Michael Baker, a writer researching his dad Max’s life, and Count Arthur Strong, his former sidekick, proves to be the best assistant he could hope for. But first he needs to explain that he’s not popped round to fix the broken footspa.

Given the fact Rory’s dad was comedy great Roy Kinnear, and his mum is Carmel Cryan (a veteran of comedy shows The Rag Trade and Steptoe and Son), tickling the ribs should come relatively easy.

For some, Kinnear (Jnr) is better known for his serious work, such as assorted highbrow stage plays and the odd TV drama, such as The Curse of Steptoe, and Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley.

Of course, he’s not here to generate many laughs; more to play the straight man to Strong’s comic eccentricities and with Father Ted’s Graham Linehan directing and co-writing the script with Delaney, you know there’s going to be plenty of eccentricity. Like all good sitcoms, it may need a series to bed in, so bear with it and it should work wonders.


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