Through It All I've Always Laughed by Count Arthur Strong | Book review by Steve Bennett © BBC/Fremantle Productions

Through It All I've Always Laughed by Count Arthur Strong

Book review by Steve Bennett

It seems they give autobiographies to just about anyone these days. Ageing thespian Count Arthur Strong’s professional CV extends to little more than a walk-on part in Juliet Bravo and hosting an award-winning cookery programme on Doncaster Cable Vision. The award, incidentally, was for best cookery programme on Doncaster Cable Vision.

Yet although small, his professional career is certainly long, since he first appeared on stage as a baby. So what anecdotes he must have from his decades in showbusiness, meeting Rodney Bewes, The Krankies AND Barry Cryer.... What anecdotes, indeed? Since he can barely remember what he came upstairs for, let alone what happened in 1960-something, his stories are unreliable to say the least.

Nonetheless those good people at ‘Faber and Faber and Faber’ have lent the easily-bewildered old ham a typewriter and asked him to commit what passes for his memories to paper. Though the budget, unfortunately, doesn’t stretch to an editor to tidy up the prose.

The result is that Through It All I’ve Always Laughed is, a verbatim outpouring, raw and direct from the Count’s mind. As you read, his croaky voice emanates from every un-spellchecked paragraph, presuming you are already familiar with his work. Newcomers may be left as baffled as the author.

Sometimes the keys get stuck on Caps Lock, sometimes he abandons stories before they get going (he has several attempts at starting the paragraph describing where he was the day President Kennedy was shot), and handwritten notes fill the margins, either commenting on the prose or just scribbling down a shopping list. He never does seem to get round to getting those stamps...

Although the book is based on his supposedly ‘scrupulously dated and detailed diaries’, chronology is for pedants, and he gets brilliantly confused with the past and present. For example, the review of his first stage appearance, which he quotes allegedly verbatim, describes him as ‘a non-stop Tour de France... this reviewer is in no doubt he might go on to be as big as someone like Michael Macintyre in the future’.

And in case you think the critic couldn’t possibly have foreseen the rise of a certain floppy-haired comedian, the Count has a tart answer for you, as he so often does. ‘Of course the Michael Macintyre of today hadn’t been born yet. And anyway, if you read it properly I said someone LIKE him. It’s pure coincidence...’ I’d put [sic] after the misspelling of McIntyre’s name, but you can’t do that EVERY time you quote an error in one of Count Arthur’s extracts...

From those early days we go on to learn learn how he honed his craft with army concert parties in Egypt, where he also descirbes the tomb of ‘King Nephewcanezza’, and his rise through stage, screen and being on Just A Minute that one time – as well as explaining just how he came to be a Count in the first place; and the very reasonably-priced courses he offers to other would-be actors who want to follow in his footsteps.

As well as the personal narrative, the Count shows off his other talents, with sample chapters of other works he’s hoping to get commissioned – such as the kids’ tome Fluffy The Tortoiseshell Cat, the TV detective series Calling Inspector Maynard or the board game that’s absolutely nothing like Monopoly at all, so back off lawyers – as well as some of the correspondence he’s received that means so much to him, from the Queen’s personal missive direct from Beckingham Palace to the letter conceding the significant consumer victory he won against Marks and Spencer over the ratios of the constituent ingredients of their nut assortment.

The tone of the book is closer to the impatient, malapropism-prone Arthur of Radio 4 fame – getting brilliantly, pathetically irate at others, either specific or general, when his own mind fails him – than the slightly more straightforwardly foolish cove as seen on BBC Two. But if you’re familiar with either depiction, this volume (the first of many, the Count hopes) makes for a funny read – sometimes hilariously so. The passage where he considers vegetarian sausages to be a suitable vegetable accompaniment to his pork version, for example, is a classic example of his endearingly flawed logic that could have you chuckling out loud.

• Through It All I’ve Always Laughed has been published by Faber & Faber. Click here to buy from Amazon for £16.99.

Published: 2 Jan 2014

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