The Complete Radioworks Of Count Arthur Strong
Fans of Count Arthur Strong should want for nothing from this comprehensive 26-CD collection featuring almost every 'ermm' of the muddled-minded thespian's radio work.
That's all seven series of the Radio 4 show, which ran from 2005 to 2012, the 2007 Christmas Special plus previously unreleased pilots – all packaged in an attractive tin box. 'Warning: Contains CDs not biscuits, do not attempt to eat,' reads a disclaimer from the Count, possibly based on personal experience.
In fact, the only thing not included in the box is the 2014 Christmas special, which aired on Boxing Day (and which can be heard in iPlayer here until the end of the month.)
It's unlikely you'll take the plunge with a £79 box set if you're not already aware of the work of Steve Delaney's ageing alter-ego. The borderline doolally footnote of light entertainment history is stupidly entertaining, with a failing memory that proves no barrier to stubbornness, pomposity and delusions of significance – all classic comedy traits when heightened by his absolute lack of self-awareness.
His radio incarnation is subtly different from the TV version, who makes a welcome return to BBC One next Tuesday. The malapropisms and mangled syntax are the same, but while the screen Count relies on visual gags – one of TV co-writer Graham Linehan's fortés – and the relationship with Rory Kinnear's straightman, on radio the emphasis is on the eccentric duffer's battles with his own failing mind. The intimacy of audio suits the creation more than the broader canvas of TV, too, and allows the idiocy of the language to shine brighter, away from visual distractions.
The pilots in this collection offer a fascinating insight into the character's development. There are some routines from his live shows, such as his take on the Pack Of Cards song or his hilariously valiant battle with the plural of 'colossus', that have endured in various forms.
But the test show from 2004, Arthur's Britain, proves very misguided. It's a travelogue in which the old buffoon visits the Keswick Pencil Museum and a 1950s museum in Wales. But the one place Count Arthur doesn't belong is the real world, despite his frequent name-dropping references to genuine showbiz figures, and he was soon sensibly restored to the confines of fiction.
Also included is a radio show recorded at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe and an early appearance on the 6 Music show of his long-time champion Mark Radcliffe, rather hampered by the inclusion of a lengthy build-up. But these are all side-dishes to the main feast of the radio episodes that did make it to air – and on those you can stuff yourself silly.
Published: 2 Jan 2015