Peter Baynham on the making of I’m Alan Partridge: “It’s like building a plane as it’s plummeting to Earth”

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 over Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “I was thinking ‘that’s the comedy generation for the next 10 years’.” 

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge

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.”

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