The Count Not So Strong on TV

Hmm… Jury’s out on the tele version of Count Arthur Strong. The first episode suggests that his character has been toned down a bit to make him a little more sympathetic, but his malapropisms, sarcasm, curmudgeonliness, technophobia, scheming, delusions of grandeur, encroaching senility, tendency to randomly raise his voice in anger, blame others for his own mistakes, and latent alcoholism are the things which make him such a great character on the radio.

These elements were in short supply on the first episode on TV.

Odd, because Father Ted writer, Graham Linehan, has teamed up with Steve Delaney, who plays the Count and wrote the radio version so brilliantly.

Not sure why the TV version seems so timid. Perhaps there’s an unwillingness to try anything particularly ‘edgy’ on the TV version, at which someone may manage to take offence.

Perhaps the use of long monologues is frowned upon for a TV version, but a device where he just naturally talks to himself of perhaps ‘breaks the fourth wall’ could be employed. Mrs Brown does it, Miranda Hart does it, and Oliver Hardy pioneered it, so it’s hardly without precedent.

Personally, I was confused as to why the successful format and setting of the radio show was dropped. I suspect many who watched the TV version are long-standing listeners to the Radio 4 version, and, like me, were disappointed that characters such as Geoffrey, Wilf, Malcolm, and Sally were absent. Apparently, they’ve also moved the setting from the Count’s home of Doncaster to… (no prizes for guessing)… London. Is the BBC aware that there is life outside London and its token northern outpost, Manchester? Would the comedy not have worked set in Doncaster? Perhaps I’m jumping the gun and there’ll be an amusing plot involving London landmarks.

Maybe Linehan and Delaney don’t work so well as a team. Or, perhaps as a friend put it, quoting John Cleese, we’ve just lost the ability to appreciate silly comedy and this has had a negative effect on the scriptwriting.

I hope episode 2 ups its game a bit and the Count reverts to something more akin to his radio character, but I fear a ratings disaster and the demise of the show.

Sad, because it works brilliantly on radio. Even an almost direct transfer of the radio scripts to live action could have worked. Delaney deserves better for all the effort he’s put into the character.