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.”
Amid all the decadent food and Michael Caine impressions, the four-part series has always had a darker edge.
By Bilge Eberi / Vulture
My grandfather, who died several years ago at the age of 98, was a Turkish archeologist who specialized in ancient Hellenic ruins. He spent almost half a lifetime digging up a long-forgotten Greek town on the Aegean coast of Turkey, a site that happened to be right next to a coal-mining facility. It both tickled and saddened him to see the old world juxtaposed with the new, timeless Greek columns and graves framed against huge piles of black, black coal. He wasn’t much of a romantic, but he did love the poetry and majesty of myth. When I was a child he’d glance out over the horizon, at the ships and sailboats passing in the blue distance, and tell me about how through these very Aegean waters had sailed the navies of Paris and Menelaus. He loved to enliven the everyday with evocations of the ancient world.
(He was obsessed with Troy, and spent years writing a book about it.) I, a snot-nosed kid for much of this time, paid only scant attention to his stories.
Only later did I realize what a gift he was giving me.
So, weirdly, I was reminded of my grandfather as I watched The Trip to Greece, the fourth and final installment of the film and TV series following Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they make their way around the hotels and tourist spots and fine-dining establishments of the world. This film (which actually begins in Turkey, in the area around Troy) opens and ends with words from The Odyssey, and at various points evokes the stories of Odysseus and Aeneas as Coogan and Brydon eat, joke, imitate, and niggle their way through Greece. The parallels are inexact and rough, and to director Michael Winterbottom’s credit, the film doesn’t try too hard to adhere to any kind of mythic structure. But what does remain at the end of this final and most despairing of the Trip entries is a sense that the past is never quite done with us, that today’s heartbreaks and passions and tragedies are merely variations on ancient patterns. Continue reading →