Count Arthur Strong, began on BBC Two last night but that wasn't the first time the character of Arthur Strong came to be.
Far from it, Count Arthur Strong, in a similar way to how Little Britain came to be, started life as a BBC Radio 4 comedy in 2005 and 44 episodes later and with help from Graham Linehan (Father Ted, The IT Crowd), Count Arthur Strong was brought to the small screen. Don't let that put you off though, this is very much for old and new fans alike.
Likewise, this show is not just about Count Arthur Strong, sure he's the main focus for the series and rightly so, but there are other characters too who weren't around for the radio series.
The entire series begins with Rory Kinnear's character Michael, who goes in search of more information about his father, comedian Max Baker, as he's been asked to write a book about his father. I really enjoyed Rory in this, I think his character brings a lot to the show and I'm looking forward to seeing how his relationship with Arthur plays out.
We are introduced to Arthur Strong, through Michael who goes looking for Arthur to hear stories about his father. Arthur is played brilliantly by Steve Delaney, and by 'played brilliantly' I mean that the character feels fully rounded, well performed, and it's clear that the character has been around for a while and Delaney has had time to get comfortable with the role. Arthur Strong was Max Baker's comedy partner and when inviting Arthur to his memorial service, Michael begins to realise what he's got himself into and slowly hopes he hadn't.
As far as opening episodes go it ticked all the boxes, in that it was funny, introduced us to each of the characters and set up a comedy world you want to be part of and ultimately tune back into week after week. I totally got it, the characters, the dynamics, the way in which the episode was structured.
And that I think has a lot to do with Graham Linehan who was brought in to make the transition to the small screen. Coming from a background of hit comedies like Father Ted and The IT Crowd he seemed to be the only guy for the job. So who are the characters that set up comic situation for Arthur and Michael? Well, there's Bulent, who is the owner of 'Bulents' the café in which most of the first episode is based in, played by Chris Ryman. Bulent is great and along with Michael are great additions to the show who work well with Arthur and allow him to come out of his shell.
For example in the first episode there's confusion throughout the episode about Bulent's new two teas offer, which of course isn't a new offer at all but there's no telling Arthur that as he only hears what he wants to, and when he wants to. And when he does listen he often mishears, for example Michael telling him that he's an author quickly becomes a sketch about Michael being called Arthur.
Other characters include Eggy, played by Dave Plimmer who comes into the show owing Arthur a pound and leaves with a potentially lethal foot spa. There's also Katia (Ruth Posner), a polish lady sat in the café most if the episode until we see her at Max's memorial service sniffing around for soup. Also why wait for the final episode of a sitcom for a celebrity cameo, when you can get one in the very episode.
That's exactly what they've done in Count Arthur Strong as they've secured a cameo by somewhat of a comedy legend Barry Cryer, who in this leads the memorial service for Max Baker. Sure some may say it's cliche, predictable and old-fashioned. If you're one of those people and haven't seen Ben Elton's The Wright Way yet, then go away and watch that (sorry, we've all had to at one pont), because that does feel old, cliched and incredibly predictable, whereas this doesn't, I don't think anyway.
There's a difference between having that old school sitcom feel and being rubbish, and having that same old school feel but actually being quite good. The main examples I have of this aside from CountArthur Strong is Miranda and Mrs Brown's Boys, which whether you like it or not were two of the biggest television sitcoms of the past year and definitely gave off that old-school sitcom feel.
There are elements of both in this actually, Arthur falling over after switching the lights ON is reminiscent of Miranda's many trips and Katia's leg falling off wont look out of place in Mrs Brown's Boys; I feel that some critics may slate Count Arthur Strong, others will love it and again it comes back down to that thing that comedy is subjective and your cup of tea may not be anyone else's. I for one am looking forward to the rest of the series to see what else Arthur Strong gets up to. It may not be a highbrow Comedy like The Thick Of It or Twenty Twelve and for that some people may further nose up at it rather than give it a chance to grow and ultimately get funnier.
Also, for those of you who keep banging on about how the only way this show would get laughs is thigh a laughter track (*cough* The Metro *cough*), the real answer is NO. There is no laughter tram as the whole thing was filmed in front of a live studio audience, who, believe it or not... Laughed... For real!