MEDiA: Count Arthur Strong & Alan Partridge

Count Arthur
The one and only Count Arthur Strong.

Time to celebrate two of my current heroes and role-models…

Two of the best comic creations of the last 20-30 years are, in my opinion, Anal Dirgeprat, er… sorry, Alan Partridge, and Count Arthur Strong. Both might be described as doyennes of light entertainment and legends in their own lifetime.

Alan Partridge
Mooo! Alan Partridge, top notch banter.

Both capitalise on the excruciating, albeit in differing ways. Another common thread is grossly inflated self-image. But whereas Alan Partridge is crassly self-important and not as successful as he thinks he is or believes he should be, he does hold down regular entertainment industry work, and earns enough to feel smugly self-righteous in that Tory my-wealth-means-I-must-be-better-than-you kind of way.

Alan Partridge
At one with nature, in Norfolk.

Count Arthur, on the other hand – and I’m talking about Count Arthur as I know him, which is purely from his radio shows, one live show, and some snippets online (I hated the first TV series, and consequently haven’t seen the second or third; more on that momentarily) – is almost psychedelically delusional.

Ekeing out what seems to be a near poverty level existence in a Doncaster based hinterland of visits to the Shoulder of Mutton, Wilf’s, the Citizen’s Advice Brigade, the church hall/local Community Centre, etc, the Count survives on memories of his glory days.

And those memories of his years as a pro on the circuit in the Variety era include his turns as a ventriloquist, with mummified doll Tiny Tut, and Mr Memory, a be-turbaned medium channeling facts from the past. More recent glories, still many years ago, include bit parts in The Archers, All Creatures Wise & Wonderful, Poirot and Juliet Bravo, or appearing as an extra in Bridge Up The River Kwai, and so on.

Since then his career has consisted of occasional accidental appearances on the BBBC, or his own farcical local Doncaster productions for one or two bemused punters at St Aidan’s…

Count Arthur
Memory Man. Truly extraordinary occult powers!

So despite his TV show being axed before Count Arthur’s went the same way, and despite the footwear-free Toblerone-fuelled pilgrimage to Scotland, Partridge has been and continues to be the more up to date and successful of these two media darlings.

Alan Partridge
Peephole Pringle meets the Cones.

Both also have books out, despite Bouncing Back being pulped by the truckload (and Robin Hood, The Doncaster Years seemingly out of print), all of which – whilst fun to read – work best as audiobooks read by the characters themselves. When Partridge delivers the line ‘Her contraptions are massive!’, as he recounts his birth in I, Partridge, it’s… well, it’s hard to put into words, but I love it.

Count Arthur
A classic.

I’ve got Count Arthur’s The Sound of Mucus DVD, from his most recent tour, to look forward to, as I happen to know Teresa’s getting it me for Christmas. Seeing him perform live in Cambridge was a great pleasure. I bought all the available radio shows on CD, plus his ‘memoirs’, at that gig. I should’ve met him, as he was signing after. But for some reason I didn’t.

Count Arthur
Count Arthur reads from Through It All…

I had heard that the BBBC were readmitting Alan P to TV-land sometime this year. But it’s nearly over, and there’s been nowt so far. I’ve had to survive and feed my Alan habit with repeatedly listening to his two audiobooks, I, Partridge, and Nomad, occasional doses of YouTube, where you can watch such things as Scissored Isle, and going back to the DVDs of the TV stuff.

Alan Partridge
Alan rocks some thumb-slappin’ air-bass.

The slightly more recent Mid-Morning Matters stuff is good’n’all, but feels like crumbs compared with the original BBC TV series. Interestingly Alan Partridge made the transition to cinema very successfully, in my view, whilst Count Arthur was bowdlerised and neutered in the transition to TV.

I like Father Ted, although nowhere near as much as I like the Count. But I can’t forgive Graham Linehan for what he did to Count Arthur in bringing it to BBC TV. Now that the Count Arthur TV series has been binned, I do hope he’ll be getting back to the radio series?

Alan Partridge
‘I’ve pierced my foot on a spike!’

Although they’re very different in many ways – Count Arthur the bluff northerner with a penchant for offal, Partridge the wussy fen-boy Toblerone addict – they share more than just a love of a foaming pint of British bitter. They’re both extremely articulate, and very fond of digression. But where Partridge is a sports casual clad pedant, the Count is a ’50s era trilby wearing double-knit clad surrealistic master of mashed up verbal meanderings.

Count Arthur
The Count and Tiny Tut. Extraordinary ventriloquism!

Both are arrogant, rude, self-obsessed, and yet utterly lovable, in a strange and perverse way. I think part of their charm lies in the vulnerability their cloaks of delusion are swathing them from. As if in some collective exorcism, we can banish disagreeable traits we are all possessed of into these comic creations, where repellent aspects of our common humanity become very funny, even charming.

2 Replies to “MEDiA: Count Arthur Strong & Alan Partridge”

  1. On the other hand, the introduction of the supporting characters gave Arthur a context and made him seem more loveable (I didn t really want him to be forthright, aggressive and obnoxious I think for this to work he needed to be more sympathetic). There was a strong story arc to each episode and to the series as a whole. I do agree with you that occasionally the scenes which didn t have Arthur in them were a bit flat, but overall I think it was paced well and Rory Kinnear was quite endearing as Michael. I liked the way he started off by feeling superior to Arthur, but fairly soon we realised that Michael s life was quite empty compared to Arthur, who had his little community of friends.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Fredek.

      Initially I hated the TV series. It was just too different to the BBBC Radio 4 programmes, and entirely for the worse, in my view. As I’ve watched theTV series a bit more, I’ve grown more tolerant of it.

      I think it’s ironic that they bought in dat Oirish fella from Father Ted, only to have him make Count Arthur less surreal. Given the madness of father Ted, I thought that was very disappointing. Likewise the expunging of Arthur’s alcohol related issues. Father Ted had Father Jack, to be sure!

      And not have the Shoulder of Mutton as a locale, or Wilf’s Quality Meats… unforgivable, in my view. There’s absolutely no sane or arguable reason why either of these threads needed removing, in my view. It’s Bowdlerisation gone mad, neutering in extremis.

      And I don’t think the Rory Kinnear character was nece-cess-cessa, ness… er, required, either. Everyone else in Arthur’s paralytic universe is by default the ‘straight-man’. They really didn’t need to add one who took away valuable screen time.

      It’s great to get another view. But I find my own position on the Arthur TV vs Radio debate unchanged. The radio shows are far superior. The comparison is: TV = alcohol free flat lager; radio a quadruple single malt… ‘A’nty Mary, had a canary…’ I rest my suitcase!

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