There’s a good chance that Alan Partridge is the most popular character you’ve never heard of. He is popular enough to have starred in multiple TV shows, radio series, audio books, and even a movie, but he’s not so well known to have reached Borat levels of annoying (“My wife!”).
Alan Partridge is played by UK comedian Steve Coogan, who co-created the character alongside Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It and Veep. A TV and radio broadcaster with an over-inflated sense of his own celebrity status, Partridge is constantly forced from on-air job to on-air job after failing due to his equally inflated sense of ineptitude.
The genius of Alan Partridge is that he’s instantly recognisable. You have seen his type before on TV. You’ve listened to his type on the radio. Alan Partridge represents an entire class of presenter who is able to succeed by being just entrenched enough in public broadcasting and due to the constant need for on-air ‘talent’.
And because he is so recognisable, you can watch any Alan Partridge show and immediately understand what is going on and what he’s all about without having seen or heard any of his preceding shows. Certainly you will find this the case watching the movie, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.
Just how extensive is the Alan Partridge oeuvre? Well, Coogan has been playing the character on and off for almost 30 years...
Alan Partridge’s first appearance was on the radio in 1991. Partridge was the sports reporter on fictional BBC news show On The Hour, which in reality was a comedy program broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The character was soon spun-off onto his own Radio 4 chat show Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge.
When the time came in 1994 to turn On The Hour into a TV show, The Day Today, Partridge made his first appearance on television. This is a clip of the show’s pilot episode – watch for an appearance by a pre-fame Minnie Driver:
But you can’t confine a talent like Alan Partridge to just one show. Later that year his radio chat show was also ported to TV with the debut of Knowing Me Knowing You (also featuring Driver). This took the form and structure of every other BBC TV chat show and inserted Alan Partridge into it. It was with this show that comedy fans around the world started to take notice of Partridge, discussing the character as being on the same level as those found in other beloved Brit import comedies, such as John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers.
BAFTA award-winning failure
Alan Partridge moved from cult favourite to wider popularity with the BAFTA award-winning show I’m Alan Partridge in 1997 (followed by a second season in 2002). The show began with Partridge fired from TV and now living in a hotel. He’s working an overnight slot on the local Norwich radio station while spending his days under the delusion that he’s the biggest celebrity in town and making every effort to claw his way back to the big-time.
Things remained quiet on the Partridge front until the character was revived for a series of online video shorts produced through a sponsorship deal with Fosters in 2010. The show was made available on a dedicated promotional site before also being made available to YouTube. In Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge, he was still hosting radio, but he’d escaped the overnight shift for a morning talk show. From Norwich local radio he was now working for the even less glamorous North Norfolk Digital Radio. A year later, he made his publishing debut with Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Rob Gibbons and Neil Gibbons writing the ‘memoir’ I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan.
Alan hits the big screen
The small screen was, well, too small to confine Partridge. A man of his talents needed a bigger canvas. And so, in 2014, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa made its debut. In the film Partridge is still working at North Norfolk Digital Radio when the station’s staff is taken hostage by a disgruntled former colleague (played by Colm Meaney). On the opening weekend in the UK the film debuted at number one and has a very fresh rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Alan rides again
After the success of the film, Alan Partridge released a second memoir (he has a lot to say), starred in two one-off specials for the BBC, and this year returned in a new BBC series This Time with Alan Partridge. The broadcaster is back on television, this time hosting a current affairs show. It’s probably safe to say that we haven’t seen the last of Alan Partridge.
Catch Coogan’s big screen adventure with Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa on Saturday 17 August at 7:30pm on SBS World Movies.