For some inexplicable reason most of Europe’s comics cognoscenti – especially the French and Belgians – are fascinated with the Brits.

Whether it’s air ace Biggles, indomitable adventurers Blake and Mortimer, the Machiavellian machinations of Green Manor or even the further travails of Long John Silver, the serried stalwarts of the Scepter’d Isles have cut a dashing swathe through the pages of the continent’s assorted magazines and albums.

And then there’s Clifton…

Originally devised by child-friendly strip genius Raymond Macherot, the doughty troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959. After three albums worth of short strip material Macherot left, and the eccentric comedy crime-fighter floundered until revived and repurposed at the height of the Swinging London scene courtesy of Jo-El Azaza and Greg. Furloughed again until the mid-1970s, writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Turk (Philippe Liegeois) revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this is the fifth, or the ninth volume overall.

The setup is deliciously simple: pompous and irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton, ex-RAF and recently retired from MI5, has a great deal of difficulty accommodating being put out to pasture in rural Puddington. He thus takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, occasionally assisting the Government or needy individuals as a gentleman troubleshooter.

Sadly, for Clifton, as with that other much-underappreciated national treasure Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, he is keenly aware that he is usually the only truly competent man in a world full of blithering idiots.

In this initial translated adventure the forceful personality is seething at home one night, reading ghost stories when a sequence of odd events occurs. They culminate in both he and his nationally celebrated cook and housekeeper Miss Partridge witnessing plates of food and glasses of wine flying about and crashing to the floor. Fortifying themselves with the remaining sherry, the staunch duo repair to their separate beds unaware that a very live presence has been spying on them and playing pranks.

Clifton bones up and is soon made annoyingly aware of stage performer the Great Wilkinson who is reputedly the world’s greatest exponent of the art of psychokinesis. A quick jaunt to London in the old red sports car soon sees the former spy getting along famously with a diminutive performer who happily agrees to come down to Puddington and recce the Colonel’s troubled home. It seems, however, that the smiling showman is far more interested in meeting celebrated chef Miss Partridge.

Thus proceeds a wickedly fast-paced romp with a genuine mystery tale at its comedic core. Clifton and Co fumble their way past roguish red herrings and through a labyrinthine maze of clues to the lair of a canny criminal mastermind with what seems the perfect MO. However, long before justice triumphs, the tinderbox temper of the suave sleuth is repeatedly triggered by clodhopping cops, obnoxious officials, short-fused chefs, imbecilic bystanders and a succession of young fools and old clowns all getting in the way and utterly spoiling the thrill of the chase.

Delightfully surreal, utterly accessible and doused with daft slapstick in the manner of Jacques Tati or British Carry On films (without the saucy slap and tickle stuff), this light-action epic rattles along in the grand old tradition of Will Hay, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim – or perhaps Wallace and Gromit and Mr Bean. Whatever generation, it offers readers a splendid treat and loads of timeless laughs. And there are more in The Laughing Thief.