By Bruce Dessau

It is hard to believe that the smiling, casually-dressed man in front of me with an extravagant greying quiff turns into Count Arthur Strong on request - the fictional trilby-hatted variety performer from Doncaster.

Yet Steve Delaney has been playing him for over three decades, most famed for BBC Radio 4 shiw and then his sitcom on BBC1 and BBC2, all named after the original man himself.

It is not a big cast but it is not a solo show either. He is joined by long-time collaborator Terry Kilkelly as Malcom de Tinsell and Dave Plimmer, who features in Count Arthur Strong on BBC1 as Allan Leslie.

The Count is always centre stage when catastrophe comes calling. Not that he will ever accept responsibility. “It’s a defence mechanism. I think it’s a northern thing where if you make a mistake you blame something else – even an inanimate object.”

You might think then that there is a risk of the Count taking Steve over, but it has not happened yet.

“People are sometimes nervous about meeting me after the show. They think I might need time to unwind. But I’m happy to talk and have a glass of wine straight away,” he chuckles, between bites of a ham and pickle sandwich at home in Wells in Somerset. “I don’t have to warm up. I start doing it and I stop doing it. The 90 minute show feels like 15 minutes.”

The main thing Steve and the Count have in common, he claims, is their round-shouldered posture: “When I was at drama school in London my parents came to see me. I had a beard and a weird outfit on and was playing a torturer and I asked them if they spotted me and my mum said ‘I’d recognise those round shoulders anywhere’.”

Steve is excited about taking the Count on the road with an all-new show, The Sound of Mucus. The title is typical of this character’s oddball’s humour. Count Arthur has made a career out of getting his words mangled - he doesn’t do topical jokes or, as he would call it, “tropical” jokes.

The Count clearly thinks of himself as a Jack of all trades but is undeniably a master of absolutely none. Take him seriously at your peril. A previous show, Forgotten Egypt, was a misguided Egyptalogics lecture about the Pharaohs. One fan missed the point and started pointing out factual errors, not realising that the factual errors are an essential part of the performance.

So how would Steve describe the Count? He sips some tea to buy some thinking time. “The thing I like is the way he has mistimed things. He got into variety as it was breathing its last gasp. He is always missing things by a few beats. He is about 73 and irascible and deluded. I can tell you what I take exception at is when it is suggested he has dementia. Old guys are allowed to be fools.”

The Count’s anecdotes are peppered with references to old stars such as Vince Hill, Cliff Richard and Lulu, the kind of people Steve used to watch on television on a Saturday night.

Steve likes the fact that his performances are family-friendly and attract people from different generations. “There is nothing better than looking at an audience and seeing grandparents, parents and children together.”

His own 13-year-old son Alf is also a fan. In fact when Steve needed a cheeky child’s voice for his Radio 4 series he recorded Alf. “He used to listen to it all the time in bed so had all the timing right.”

The Alban Arena, Civic Centre, St Albans, AL1 3LD, Thursday, March 16, 8pm. Details: 01727 844488