SPEAKING PERSONALLY: Ralph Mellon

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THIS week, I am taking time out from championing something I’ve seen on television in the belief that the wider public should be aware of it.

I’m taking the radically different step of championing something I’ve heard on radio, in the belief that the wider public should be aware of it.

A huge love of mine is comedy and the history of the wireless, like TV, is studded with classic comedy shows.

And since it started in the mid-2000s, I’ve been enjoying what I think is consistently the best ‘new’ show in either medium.

If you are not already familiar, I would appeal, beseech, implore and, if necessary, plead with you to acquaint yourself with ‘Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show!’ on BBC Radio 4.

It’s created by and stars the wonderful Steve Delaney, who is not a superstar yet but surely can’t stay so under-appreciated for much longer.

Count Arthur is a faded, long-forgotten variety star and some-time actor – a self-styled ‘showbiz legend and raconteur’ – who believes he is still famous and instantly recognisable.

As a result, he is rather pompous towards others, to say the least.

He excels in wrong pronunciations, malapropisms and muddled memories, which are ruthlessly piled on top of each other to hilarious and clever comic effect.

Confusion and Arthur are never very far apart, as modern-day living is beyond him, but he always blames the other person, with some misguided chastising.

Delaney writes the scripts himself and deserves every accolade going for his skill at one of the most deft forms of comedy – toying successfully with the English language.

Everyone knows its ridiculous spellings and multiple word meanings defy most kinds of logic and make it ripe for comic mangling. But it needs a truly fine practitioner to make it funny.

One of the greatest ever exponents of this was, of all people, Benny Hill.

The exaggerated leering and speeded-up chases involving scantily-clad females may be what he’s most instantly recalled for (and, near the end of his days, unfairly maligned).

But many of his shows contained brilliantly inventive and savagely funny plays on words, vowels and consonants, delivered in solo speech or song.

And let’s not discount the famous ‘fork handles’ sketch, written under his pseudonym (and superbly co-performed) by Ronnie Barker, who was also a master at complicated comic monologues.

The key to Count Arthur’s brilliance is Steve Delaney’s ability to do it too.

Throw a bunch of similar-sounding words, or people with similar names, into the mix, stir imaginatively, and the result is a true comic feast.

It’s seventh series on Radio 4 is about to end – the final edition is on Tuesday evening – but there’s hopefully a lot more to come.

There’s at least one DVD and talk of a TV pilot but, with such sheer genius in its wordplay, I think radio is the best medium for Count Arthur.

And, although he’s an enemy of technology, he might appreciate the presence of podcasts, downloads, digital radios, CDs, i-Players and more for you to listen to his adventures. Please do.

Ralph Mellon writes in the East Fife Mail.