Never heard of veteran vaudeville star Count Arthur Strong? Don’t feel bad. He was never exactly a household name in his native U.K. Also? He doesn’t exist.
Count Arthur Strong is in fact the creation of British comedian Steve Delaney who over the past decade has played the character in seven seasons of the BBC radio sitcom Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! and is now reprising the role on the small screen with the sitcom Count Arthur Strong, which premieres on Hulu today.
We caught up with Delaney to talk about the past, present, and future of Count Arthur Strong.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Who exactly is Count Arthur Strong?
STEVE DELANEY: It’s difficult for me to come up with an explanation of exactly what he’s like. When I first started doing the character and I was asked this question I used to phone people I knew and say, “What is he like? Can you tell me so I can tell someone?” Very simply put, he’s a kind of delusional, theatrical has-been that never really was. With the wonderful sense of timing that he has, he got into [vaudeville] just as it was gasping its last breath and he’s been kind of chasing it ever since.
How did you come up with the character?
Well, I trained as actor and one term we were supposed to be doing circuses. I came up with a character that was a certain manifestation of Arthur, just to get out of doing tightrope-walking or pretending to juggle or something like that – because it was all dumb show essentially. Everybody laughed a lot. That rang a bell in my head.
I put him away for years while I was seeking work as an actor. But he was always in my mind. He became my second take on everything. If I was in situation I often used to wonder what Arthur’s take would be. In the late ‘90s, an old tutor from drama college suggested, “Why don’t you do something with that character?” We booked a venue and that was the beginning of it all. I literally packed acting in the next day. I spoke to my agent and said, “Look, I think it’s time to call that a day, I want to concentrate on something else.”
What was your agent’s reaction?
The show costars Rory Kinnear (Skyfall, Black Mirror) who, with all due respect to yourself, is a proper dramatic actor who has played Hamlet onstage at London’s National Theatre. How did you convince him to enter Arthur’s crazy world?
We asked him to come in and read and he did, miraculously. [Laughs] And he read bloody brilliantly. He left the room and we just looked at each other and said, “I hope he’ll do it.” Which rather spoiled it for everyone else we had to see that day.
Do you think some viewers will think Count Arthur is a real person—or is at least played by someone roughly his age?
I don’t know. I know fans of the radio show used to come to live shows and they used to say, “Oh no, no, no. That’s not what Arthur looks like,” after the show. And I’d say, “Well, it is. Because I’m Arthur.”
The TV show is directed and co-written by Graham Linehan whose credits include creating the sitcom The IT Crowd. How did he get involved?
He got in touch when the first radio series was going out to say he was a fan. A year or so later, he emailed and said, “I’ll just come straight out with it, I’d like to help in any way I can to get Count Arthur on the television.” Which was for me a wonderful thing to hear.
What’s the future for Arthur?
We’re writing series 2 now. I had a book come out just before Christmas (Through It All I’ve Always Laughed: The Memoirs of Count Arthur Strong) and I’m hoping to write some more. For me, it felt like the television series was the start of something, not something that was halfway through. It really seems like I’m starting out again.
You can see a clip from the premiere of Count Arthur Strong below.