The Oscar-nominated screenwriter talks the classic BBC sitcom, bringing Alan to the big screen and finding “kindred spirits” in Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first broadcast from Alan Partridge, a truly iconic comedy character whose calamitous journey through life has been guided largely by the same small group of writers – and Peter Baynham is one of them.
After leaving the Merchant Navy in his early twenties, Baynham began his writing career by working on satirical radio shows alongside the likes of Chris Morris, Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Armando Iannucci. Despite being a prominent voice among this new wave of edgy comic writers, Baynham didn’t get the chance to work on Alan’s first ever project – BBC Radio 4’s satirical news programme On The Hour – and feared at one point that he’d “missed the boat”.
“I remember hearing On The Hour and really feeling that everything in that show, including Alan, felt like a new kind of humour,” he tells RadioTimes.com over Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “I was thinking ‘that’s the comedy generation for the next 10 years’.”
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Iannucci approached him to contribute to the television adaptation, BBC Two’s legendary The Day Today, which served as his first encounter with sports reporter Alan Partridge (played by a fresh-faced Steve Coogan). Revisiting the show today, fans will instantly recognise the defining traits of the character, but it would be fair to say he wasn’t quite as richly developed as the version that the country would later fall in love with.
When we went onto The Day Today, because it was visual, it was an opportunity to explore some of the awkwardness of him,” Baynham explains. “But he’s still bracketed and contained within presenting to camera… so it wasn’t the fully formed character by any means and not as three-dimensional as the version we ended up with in I’m Alan Partridge – but still huge fun to work with.”
I’ve always wondered just how much of Alan Partridge’s pompous behaviour is a reflection of his creator, Steve Coogan. Sometimes the comedian seems to encourage it.
Coogan has persuaded a magistrate not to hand out an automatic six-month driving ban (despite already notching up nine points on his licence) after being found guilty of speeding in Sussex.
Coogan claimed that filming for his forthcoming BBC series involved driving around Britain and that “it’s an artistic thing that he [Partridge] drives and that defines his character”.
He also argued that 15 or 20 professionals had been lined up to work, presumably suggesting an inability to drive would leave them jobless, if only for a while.
But what really startled me was that the judge appeared to agree and reduced the ban to just two months.
I think it’s worth recalling Coogan’s driving record. In 2012 he was found not guilty of speeding after it had initially “slipped his mind” that a friend had been driving; in 2016 he was fined and banned for 28 days for speeding in Brighton.
The chairwoman of the magistrates this time around said she had taken into account the “exceptional hardship” a lengthy ban would cause. What kind of “hardship”?
How wonderful for celebrities who can put forward defences of this type. Would the same argument work for ordinary drivers who don’t appear on television? Like delivery people, ambulance drivers, care workers and busy mums trying to combine a zero hours job with dropping their kids off at school.
The funniest show on British television came to an end after six glorious episodes this week — and as of today, it’s also available for Australian viewers to watch for free in full.
This Time With Alan Partridge marks the latest outing for the character that comedian Steve Coogan and Veep creator Armando Iannucci first devised way back in 1991.
Partridge is a consistently inept veteran light entertainment personality: ruled by ego, an appalling listener and cack-handed public speaker and yet somehow — perhaps by virtue of being a straight white man — he remains gainfully employed.
In his latest outing, Alan has been handed a career lifeline: He’d been slumming it as a presenter on a North Norfolk digital radio station when he’s whisked back to the hallowed corridors of the BBC in London.
He’s the new stand-in co-host of weekday lifestyle show This Time, the show’s regular host having fallen ill.
Scene one, episode one and he’s already feeling the pressure:
Partridge and perpetually chipper co-host Jennie Gresham have a total lack of chemistry, Gresham gamely trying to keep her program on the rails while her new co-host demonstrates time and time again he’s really not the man for this job.
It’s hilarious — and frequently ridiculous. Here’s Alan giving viewers an unsolicited demonstration of how to use a public toilet without ever once using your hands: