TV review: Count Arthur Strong is too much of a radio institution to be condemned to the TV rubbish heap, surely?

 

Good radio comedy could not have sounded less funny on television, nor canned laughter more ironic. Something was surely lost in translation in the BBC's transposition of the Sony Radio Academy-award-winning show Count Arthur Strong into prime-time TV.

Did anyone muster a laugh when Steve Delaney's doddery old former variety star, Arthur Strong, opened his front door and said to hapless young Michael (Rory Kinnear): "You rang the bell. I've broken a plate because of you. That was dishwasher safe, that was"? Cue canned laughter. Or when he asked what Michael did for a living: "I'm an author," replied Michael, to which Arthur puzzled: "I thought your name was Michael… I'm Arthur." Cue more canned laughter. Also cue head-scratching from those at home who had a soft spot for the radio show's silly yet lovable humour, but failed to see the charm of these dull-witted scenes, attempting to pass for OAP slapstick.

It is sad – and perplexing – that it didn't work, given that it is written by Delaney and Father Ted creator Graham Linehan. Delaney originally created the character in the 1980s, resurrecting him for the Edinburgh Fringe in 1997 to much acclaim, and after that, for radio since 2004. Astonishingly, given its success in these other mediums, the most recent incarnation as a TV sitcom refused to spark into life: the greasy caff was filled with a man wearing a sandwich board, an old dear from Poland and some others who looked like extras from Last of the Summer Wine, while an angry café manager said "What the flip?" a lot at these old people's dribbling stupidities. The likeable Kinnear, playing the uptight son of Strong's ex-variety partner, went some way to redeem the whole thing with his straight-man act as a tormented soul.

Visually, it was so derivative that it seemed deliberate, as if the nostalgia of flock wallpaper, long-fringed lamps, and Strong's pencilled-on Hitler moustache could pass for good, funny entertaining. That said, Strong is too much of a radio institution to be condemned to the TV rubbish heap. Perhaps this opening episode just suffered a severe case of first-night nerves.

There were also heavy-duty nostalgia moustaches in the first of a two-part feature-length Australian drama, Howzat! Kerry Packer's War, mostly of the handlebar variety. This instalment was – to use a sporting cliché – a game of two halves: slow to start, and gearing up to a riveting finish. Much of the charisma lay in Lachy Hulme's fine performance as the indomitable Packer, a media mogul who revolutionised cricket by organising a breakaway series for TV. We saw Packer bring together his international band of renegade cricketers – 49 in all, including Tony Greig, Greg Chappell, Viv Richards and Dennis Lillee – as he prepared to stand up to the stuffy cricket boards around the world (the most controlling of which were the toffs at Lord's with their imperial desire to "divide and conquer" Packer's brigade).

Some archive footage of games and seminal interviews were blended in with the drama. As sporting history well documents, Packer changed the gentleman's sport for ever. But until he did, professional cricketers in this drama at least, were sometimes forced to supplement their incomes in the off-season with the dole or by working at a car-tyre firm. Packer promised them a handsome wage and took the matter all the way to the courts.

After a slow first half-hour of locker-room whisperings and scenes of Packer scaring his secretary, the drama raised its tone and tension, ending just as it looked as if Packer, having invested everything in the first world series on 24 November 1977, might just have failed in the endeavour. Of course, cricket fans know how it really panned out, but this drama, with its fine acting, its even finer attention to period detail and its slow-burn suspense did its damnedest to have us champing at the bit for the final part.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing