TV Review: Count Arthur Strong – tears in your eyes funny

The Beano-esque misadventures of Count Arthur Strong are a silly, blithering joy – and starting to look like a comedy classic.

I’ve been trying to stop myself from writing about Count Arthur Strong. You see, it’s funny (or not, depending on your point of view) in a way that’s hard to describe without people looking at you with blank pity. It uses traditional sitcom devices that make Mrs Brown’s Boys look like American Gods. And er, the main character is an old man in a hat.

No, don’t wander off, let me explain. It’s about a befuddled, clapped-out performer (Count Arthur, played, or rather inhabited, by Steve Delaney) who gets his words mixed up and practically lives in a greasy spoon run by an irate Turkish man called Bulent and his beautiful sister Sinem.

He has a mate called Eggy and another called John the Watch, who looks like a snooker ball in a tan leather bomber jacket. Arthur’s straight man sidekick, Michael, is an uptight, anxious writer played by Rory Kinnear. They do absolutely arse all apart from get into elaborate scrapes that wouldn’t seem out of place in The Beano.

Nope, nothing about it sounds good. I can see you’re holding up a brightly coloured LED sign saying ‘sounds awful’. Your fingers are twitching on the page/mouse, and I don’t blame you, I really don’t. Count Arthur is an oddball.

The character is a Radio 4 comedy stalwart, and Delaney is an impressive live performer who can create borderline hysteria using tongue twisters and malapropisms – no mean feat in the 21st century, when you need interactive light shows and Drake to get bums on seats.

On TV, though, it never seemed to work. However, now in its third series and co-written by Delaney and Graham Linehan – whose Father Ted-shaped fingerprints are very happily all over it – it’s starting to look like a comedy classic.

Last week’s episode, The Soupover, was as good as Hancock’s Half Hour. Count Arthur and his weird friends were having a soupover. “Everybody brings a selection of soup and we put our pyjamas on and watch the racing,” Arthur explains. “So it’s like a sleepover but with soup?” asks Michael. “No, no, you don’t sleep over.” says Arthur, in disgust. “It’s in the middle of the day.”

They do absolutely arse all apart from get into elaborate scrapes that wouldn’t seem out of place in The Beano.

It all degenerates into farce, as if it could go anywhere else. They watch an ancient VHS of the same five minutes of racing on repeat, then Count Arthur samples the soup. “Hmm… the leek suggests Suffolk and its environs,” he says. “Hmm, am I right in thinking that these mushrooms are from… Lidl’s?”

I don’t know why any of this is funny. But my God, it is. Tears in your eyes funny. And when it’s not so funny, it’s comforting: buttered crumpets next to a two-bar electric fire comforting. The whole thing is a silly, blithering joy. Not everyone will like it but Count me in.

Count Arthur Strong airs Fridays at 8.30pm on BBC One