Forever in the political crossfire over the justification of the license fee, the BBC has undeniably endured some recent tough times in relation to its purpose and position in modern society. Yet its constant ability to laugh at itself and satirise its most celebrated and successful shows has always been an endearing feature and in these times of scrutiny this tool becomes ever more important in bridging that difficult gap between the corporation and the license payer. Following an eighteen year hiatus, Steve Coogan’s disgraced broadcasting alter-ego shockingly was given another chance on live TV as the replacement for the dearly departed popular presenter John Baskell who died unexpectedly leaving a vacancy on the aptly named fictional magazine show This Time alongside presenter Jenny Gresham played by Susannah Fielding and Tim Key’s Simon Denton.
Written by Coogan in partnership with Neil and Rob Gibbons, This Time With Alan Partridge follows on from Sky One’s Mid Morning Matters which ran for two series on Sky Atlantic from 2010 to 2016. Mid Morning Matters rose out of a series of webisodes published on YouTube surrounding Alan’s new debate show on the local radio station North Norfolk Digital. Coogan had decided to put Alan to bed after the second series of I’m Alan Partridge in 2002. Yet after spending eight years in the entertainment wilderness, Alan returned to the airwaves and was more crass and awkward than ever. With cameos from some of the cream of British comedy including Rebecca Front and Simon Greenall, Mid Morning Matters rekindled the public’s love for Alan and it seemed that the socially awkward broadcaster from Norwich had no boundaries of where he could go next.
In 2015 Alan enjoyed his long awaited debut on the big screen in Alpha Papa which saw him at the centre of a hostage situation at the headquarters of North Norfolk Digital following his usual morning debate show. It wasn’t long before he was made negotiator between the police and the capturers which lead to many uncomfortable moments. Felicity Montagu returned as the ever loyal Lyn and Simon Greenall reprised his role as the loveable Michael. There was tremendous pressure put on both cast and crew for the film to be a success as a result of Partridge’s formidable comedy heritage and without an instant response from an audience, it was a horrible waiting game to see if their hard work had paid off. Alpha Papa was a hit and grossed 9.8 million dollars worldwide making it one of the biggest British movies of 2013.
Alan Partridge first appeared as the sport’s reporter on BBC2’s cult satirical sketch show The Day Today in 1994. Then he was just a forthright caricature of a combination of the many sports reporters on the BBC who would always be sent to events and made to broadcast looking windswept and frequently out of control. Yet it was only when Alan interacted with others that the character took on another guise completely. The Day Today ran for just one series making stars of Chris Morris, Rebecca Front and Steve Coogan himself. Yet it was Alan who captured the public’s attention and it wasn’t long before he would be offered his own series.
By the autumn of the same year, the first series of Knowing Me Knowing You was broadcast on BBC Two. This was the first time that a fictional character had been the subject of a prime time comedy series and they were determined to push the boundaries of decency. The series concluded with commissioning editor of BBC Television Tony Hayers cancelling the show much to Alan’s disappointment. This spawned the spin-off sitcom I’m Alan Partridge in 1997 which saw him coping with the strains of life after fame. Living alone in a roadside hotel, Alan attempted to get his life back on track whilst working the graveyard shift at the local fictional station Radio Norwich. Aided by ever-loyal and downtrodden Lyn, Alan began devising ideas for shows in the hope of getting his career back on track. In a meeting with Tony Hayers, Alan pitched a whole host of ridiculous formats in the vein hope of getting a commission. These included: Alan Attack, Arm Wrestling With Chas and Dave, .. “Knowing M.E., Knowing You, Inner City Sumo, Youth Hosteling with Chris Eubank and Monkey Tennis, all of which were instantly dismissed by Hayers leading to one of the defining moments of Partridge when an irritated but deflated Alan launches a wheel of Emmental in Hayers’s face with the immortal line “Smell my cheese you Mother!’. Unsurprisingly this gesture failed to return Alan back to prime time and it would be another five years before we got to see him try all over again.
By the time we saw Alan again in 2002 for the second series of I’m Alan Partridge, a great deal had changed in his life. He was still working the late shift at BBC Radio Norwich and constantly being chastised by popular breakfast DJ Dave Clifton (played by Phil Cornwell). Yet now with new Ukrainian girlfriend Sonja, Alan’s life seems to be back on track and offers to host award ceremonies went some way to massaging his ego. Like all things in Alan’s life, his newfound demand on the compering circuit suffered a blow when his frustration at not being answered through the intercom system soared, leaving him no option but to climb the gate. This was resulted in him putting his foot through a sharp spike on the gate. Like a true professional, the show must go on and Alan presented the awards whilst being sick into a paper bag, unintentionally pressing his hand on the glitter gun dropping a tonne of glitter on his head…he wasn’t in a good way! This concluded Alan’s tenure at the BBC and it would be another eighteen years before he made a long awaited return.
So this relatively surprise return for Partridge on the BBC was met by a huge amount of anticipation among comedy fans over a quarter of a century since his debut on The Day Today in 1994. It’s unusual to encounter a comic character who has enjoyed such longevity. Irrespective of the constant battle between Steve Coogan and the character of Alan Partridge, his most famous alter-ego has now enjoyed a parallel career alongside all his other achievements. While this used to be an enormous noose around his neck, Coogan has now embraced the ever-present lure of Partridge and it seems that the awkward, outspoken broadcaster is here to stay and British comedy is the better for it. Who knows what’s next for Partridge but if there’s still interest in seeing the trials and tribulations of a man fulfilling his dreams, surely Partridge isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. A-ha!