ANYONE who’s encountered Count Arthur Strong on BBC TV or on his long-running Radio 4 show will know that, if there’s a chance of using the wrong word, he always does.
So, it’s no surprise that his latest touring show is called The Sound Of Mucus. It started out as a tribute to the classic Julie Andrews film of almost the same title – but went wrong of course …
Steve Delaney has been playing the deluded trilby-hatted variety performer from Doncaster for more than 30 years and recently he’s gone from cult to the mainstream with two acclaimed BBC series under his belt and a third due this spring.
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.
“Like all of Arthur’s shows The Sound Of Mucus is not the show he intends to give, but he thinks he is giving a pretty good account of himself,” explains Delaney. “It starts with the best of intentions and falls apart. That’s the essence of an Arthur live show.”
Without giving away any spoilers – “I like people arriving not knowing too much about it” –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 Sound Of Music 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 centrestage when catastrophe comes calling. Not that he will ever accept responsibility.
“It’s a defence mechanism,” says Delaney. “I think it’s a northern thing where if you make a mistake you blame something else – even an inanimate object.”
The Count is an amalgam, says Delaney, 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, and he says: “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 of all ages, as well as celebrity enthusiasts, including Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend.
Delaney likes the fact that his performances attract people from different generations, saying: “There’s nothing better than looking at an audience and seeing grandparents, parents and children together.”
Count Arthur Strong: The Sound Of Mucus tour arrives at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Wednesday 24 May, and at G Live in Guildford on Saturday 3 June.