You might know him best as Officer Crabtree in 'Allo 'Allo. The one with the appalling French accent. He is the reason why some people still greet one another with a smiling “Good Moaning”. Now it might not seem much of a headline. I myself, am, indeed, “back at the Fringe”. As you might be yourself.
But Arthur Bostrum is returning to perform (more of this anon) at the Fringe for the first time since 1976. Nineteen seventy six. Most other performers at this year's Fringe were probably in a biologically binary condition in 1976: one half of them being an egg in Mum's ovary and the other half of them swimming around in Dad's scrotum.
Arthur, however, was President of the Durham University Sensible Thespians. And performing in Edinburgh.
Sorry, Durham University Sensible Thespians?
It was always known as DUST. We were the revue company at Durham University, founded in 1973, the year before I began at Durham. I ended up as President in my final year: 1976-77. Being in the revue company was the happiest experience at University.
What did you think of Edinburgh back then? Frankly, I was not aware that we even allowed the English in!
I first appeared on the Edinburgh Fringe in 1975. It was amazing. The excitement of appearing in two shows: one in the afternoon and one in late night. But the thrill too of seeing other shows in between the ones I was in. We saw Steven Berkoff’s East, which premiered at the Traverse Theatre that year. Still one of the top most astonishing pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen! Edinburgh itself was wonderful to explore: the bars and restaurants and cafes – and the great atmosphere in the Fringe Club. And baked potato shops everywhere!
What did you love about the 75/76 Fringes? Was there anyone who became famous there that year? Apart from you...
1975 and 1976 I was at the Fringe… and by August 1977 I was clearing tables at Watford Gap Service Area on the M1 after graduating from Durham and before starting a year at the Drama Studio London. Both years I was at the Fringe were fantastic, but in 1976 I did a one man play: Des Esseintes, adapted from JK Huysmans’ novel A Rebours. It was well-reviewed by the Scotsman and was the spur to me deciding to train to be a professional actor. One of the shows I did in 1976 was the Durham Revue: Butter Side Down. We also went to see the Oxford Revue, which featured Rowan Atkinson. He certainly became very famous after that. I actually thought our revue was better than theirs, but Rowan Atkinson was astonishingly good: his performance that night has stayed in my memory. Just brilliant. I think also that I enjoyed 1976 even more than 1975 because I understood so much better how the Fringe worked. Each year it was evolving and improving. As it still is. I felt more like an old hand that second year. Lifelong friends were made too – and who can put any meaningful value on something so joyous.
Was there anything NOT to like?
I’m not much of a one for complaining. All I can think of is that sometimes the smell from the brewery in Edinburgh could be a bit overpowering. It would sort of “hang” in the air all day.
Did you learn any big lessons? Other than 'avoid the Cowgate after midnight'?
Just how important teamwork is in theatre. OK, I did a one man show in 1976, but that still was backed by a team. We all supported each other in the company. A few of my closest friendships were forged during those years, and they still endure, and the mutual support and friendship continues. I also learned to follow through with ambitions. This is something I have to rekindle sometimes, but it began in those years for sure.
Did you always plan on being a famous actor? What WAS the plan?
I certainly never planned to be famous. It’s always been the work itself that excites me. In a way though I had a micro experience of being famous at Durham University in the University Revue: DUST. A quarter of the student population used to attend the revue, and I often experienced students I didn’t know recognising and pointing at me in the street. I can remember thinking “this is what it must be like to be famous”. Eight years later I appeared in Series 2 of ‘Allo ‘Allo! and 15 million people were watching, about a quarter of the UK population knew who I was. Weird, and takes a bit of getting used to, if one ever really does get used to it.
Is it galling / frustrating / amusing / whatever... to know that your face / your name in people of a certain age induces a knee jerk reaction and a cry of "Good Moaning" and nothing else from your extensive and impressive career?
It's only galling when people shout “Good Moaning” to my retreating back after they’ve passed me. Most people are lovely and friendly and I regard it as a privilege to be acknowledged that way. What IS weird is that many times people have greeted me (in shops, hotels etc) with “Good Moaning”, not realising it’s me. That’s very odd – but lots of people use the phrase to greet customers and colleagues at the office. It’s taken on a life of its own.
Are you prepared for (or have you ever experienced) an outraged millenial / Gen Z backlash against the comedy racism that was the engine of 'Allo 'Allo?
It’s not something I’m prepared for, not have I experienced it. I think the tone of the programme was very 80’s, but more importantly, the race that came off the worst was certainly the British. The two British Airmen, and my character of Crabtree were not, to put it bluntly, very bright!
What makes YOU laugh?
I love deadpan comedy. Subtlety and craft. I like a well done farce. I’m still a fan of the sorely missed Victoria Wood. A genius: not a word I often use either. I never tire of the Two Ronnies and Round the Horne.
Any plans for the Fringe... what do you fancy seeing?
I’m so absorbed getting my show in working order that I haven’t planned anything yet. But my show is at 12 noon, so I’ve plenty of time to see plenty of good shows. Or maybe not so good shows. But that’s all part of the EdFringe experience.
So you are back and you are acting and it is a comedy and it sounds gloriously retro. I am assuming tongues are firmly in cheeks?
It’s set in the mid 1970’s and features me as Jamie Button, a supporting artist on Are You Being Served?
I am loving it already.
It’s funny, and interesting and also a whodunit, as someone gets murdered and I solve the mystery!