Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling had a long and illustrious career as a comedy character. Originally created by Peter Cook for Beyond The Fringe and Not Only… But Also, he was an aristocrat used by Cook to satirise any number of things as well as for pure surrealism. But he’s probably best known for his attempts to get ravens to fly underwater.
Dudley Moore: Is it difficult to get ravens to fly underwater?
Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling: Well, I think the word difficult is an awfully good one here. Yes, it is. It’s nigh impossible… There they are sitting on my wrist. I say ‘Fly! Fly you little devils!!’… (then) they drown. Little black feathery figure topples off my wrist and spirals to a watery grave. We’re knee deep in feathers off that part of the coast… not a single success in the whole forty years of training.
DM: Does this makes your life a miserable failure?
SAS-G: My life has been a miserable failure, yes.
Probably his finest hour, however, was in Christmas 1990, when over a period of 12 days on BBC2, he explained to Ludovic Kennedy what gifts he’d like for Christmas in A Life in Pieces. These five-minute sketches allowed Sir Arthur to look back over his life in exchange for gifts of a partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves and so on. However, his reminiscences exposed him unwittingly as a coward, liar, murderer and many other things.
If you have an hour or so, even though they haven’t been released on DVD, you can enjoy on YouTube all 12 episodes of A Life in Pieces:
That wasn’t the last the world heard of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, however. He went on in 1994 to record for Radio 3 a series of five interviews, Why Bother?, with none other than Chris Morris. During the interviews, Sir Arthur talked about his experiments on eels, his role in the racial violence during the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King trial, his military career, including his time in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, and his habit of strangling his business partners, as well as his next project: cloning from the fossilised remains of the infant Christ.
The interviews were completely improvised and Morris says:
It was a very different style of improvisation from what I’d been used to, because those On The Hour and The Day Today things were about trying to establish a character within a situation, and Peter Cook was really doing ‘knight’s move’ and ‘double knight’s move’ thinking to construct jokes or ridiculous scenes flipping back on themselves, and it was amazing.