Graham Linehan is an Irish comedy writer and director, as well as actor and comedian, and creator of highly popular series’ ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The IT Crowd’. After an early career as a journalist for the Irish music magazine ‘Hot Press’, Graham began collaborating with writer Arthur Mathews on many high profile comedy sketch shows including ‘Alas Smith and Jones’, ‘Harry Enfield and Chums’, and the Ted and Ralph characters in ‘The Fast Show’.
It was Linehan and Matthews’ creation of ‘Father Ted’ in 1995 that brought their greatest success of their early years. The programme won countless awards, including two BAFTA TV Awards for ‘Best Comedy’, and is today regarded as one of the greatest British sitcoms ever produced. Linehan and Matthews then wrote the first series of the sketch show ‘Big Train’, which Graham also directed.
Linehan has since written for other shows, including ‘Brass Eye’. 2000 saw his next success with his co-creation of ‘Black Books’ with Dylan Moran, and he also co-directed many episodes with Nick Wood. In 2003 Graham directed the pilot episode of ‘Little Britain’.
Linehan created, wrote and directed the 2006 Channel 4 sitcom ‘The IT Crowd’, starring Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade, which went on to win multiple awards including the BAFTA TV Award for ‘Best Situation Comedy’ in 2009, ‘Best TV Sitcom’ at the British Comedy Awards in 2009, and ‘Best Script for Television’ at the Irish Film and Television Awards.
What attracted you to get involved in Count Arthur Strong?
I first saw Arthur in his ‘Forgotten Egypt’ show and I was just blown away. Steve totally inhabited the character and you could tell there was a massive intelligence behind it. He allowed these hilariously awkward pauses and trusted the audience to keep up. I like working with people who respect the intelligence of their audience.
Were you a fan of the Radio 4 show?
I was but we knew we had to change it for TV. It had to be more rounded, more realistic, and we had to make some definite decisions about how Arthur would fit into the real world. This meant moving away from some of the larger-than-life relationships created in the radio show and trying to ground it a bit more. I would tell our audiences that it was a reboot, which still seems to me the best way of describing it.
How was it writing with Steve Delaney who’s been playing the character for so long?
Great! You’d say a line as one of the other characters and Steve would come back with the perfect Arthur response. Steve’s very quiet and thoughtful, so the first part of the process was very serious, with us assembling all the various storylines and worrying whether we were on the right track, but then when we were on the second or third draft it was a lot more fun. Arthur would be in the room a lot more, so we were laughing a lot.
What trait, above all, do you most admire in Arthur?
In our original treatment, we described him as thinking of everyone else in the café as “a bunch of no-hopers”, but as we wrote it, we realised that Arthur cares a lot for these people and didn’t feel that way at all. His humanity, his decency started coming out. So that’s what I admire most about him. He’s quite near the bottom of the heap and he still has time for people.
How does Count Arthur Strong compare to other shows you have worked on?
It was very, very easy compared to everything else I’ve done. Steve is an incredibly hard worker, and he trusted me and my producer to take care of things behind the camera, so I could relax knowing he (and the rest of our brilliant cast) had everything in hand in front of it. It was a breeze.
Is there more pressure that comes with adapting a much-loved show with a cult following or do you see it as an opportunity to share the character with a wider audience?
I just didn’t want to let Steve down. He’s been touring out of his car for fifteen years and it would be nice if this resulted in, at the very least, a nicer car.
How do you hope BBC Two viewers will react to the character of Count Arthur?
I hope they come to love him as I do.
How difficult was it to get inside the mind of Count Arthur?
Very easy, with Steve sitting there, breaking into character from time to time. Also, I’m a big fan of misunderstanding in comedy so it was a good match from the start. The two teas confusion (episode one)…we were so excited as we saw things like that escalate. It was joyful, at times.
What were your main inspirations when writing the situations Count Arthur finds himself in?
We were always on the lookout for things Arthur could get wrong. Any possibility of a misunderstanding, we’d jump on it.