At the end of the second series of I’m Alan Partridge, back in 2002, it would have been no surprise if that was the last we saw of the iconic character.
He’d just watched his book, Bouncing Back, being pulped, work was finally completed on his new house and he was, essentially, unemployed. More importantly, there were constant rumours that the man who played him, Steve Coogan, wanted to move on from the role. And who could have blamed him? Probably best to leave it there.
But then: the renaissance, with Partridge returning to our screens with the truly incredible Mid Morning Matters in 2011, which saw Alan back in his most natural of habitats: local radio.
So just what happened during those wilderness years?
Coogan revealed all in an interview with the Radio Times, saying, “Alan was an albatross around my neck until about eight years ago, when I started doing stuff like The Trip and Philomena. When I got an Oscar nomination for Philomena I thought, ‘Well, I’ve definitely drawn a line under something.’ So, counterintuitively, I didn’t want to do Alan because I had to do Alan; I wanted to do Alan because I wanted to do Alan.”
Talking about his relationship with the character, he says: “Alan is part of my DNA. But I edit my DNA and take out all the bits that are rational and are diplomatic. So there’s a side of him in me. In fact, sometimes in the past, people have tried to use it as a stick to hit me with and said, ‘Ha, ha, look at Steve Coogan, he’s really like Alan Partridge.’ To which my response is always, ‘Yes, I know.’ Why is that terrible? Of course I am!”
It’s a good job that Coogan made his peace with Alan, since, despite I’m Alan Partridge’s position as the gold-standard of Partridge, there has been a glut of magnificent Alan material in those last eight years, including two series of Mid Morning Matters, the Alpha Papa film, and a string of brilliant one-offs, not forgetting two outstanding books, the autobiography I, Partridge and Nomad.
Another of those specials will, of course, air over Christmas, with Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How and Whom? coming to BBC Two on 27 December.
Coogan explains that Partridge “allows me to say things that, were I to say them as myself, would probably be career-ending… He’s definitely a bit of a dinosaur. Unbelievably, you look around at the world now and see that there are still broadcasters with full-on red-blooded Alan-like attitudes. We thought we had thoroughly debunked that. It just shows how little influence you actually have on the national culture.
“The world has coalesced into a situation that is sympathetic to Alan, which for me is quite depressing. Sometimes I agree with Alan but on Brexit I’m a Remainer, and I feel quite conflicted about it. But the fact is, having a fool praise something is a far more powerful indictment than just criticising it. Also, Alan can be like the boy who says the emperor’s wearing no clothes.”
As to whether Alan would have been caught up in any of the sex scandals currently enveloping the entertainment industry, he is fairly confident that he wouldn’t have been one of the perpetrators.
“He is haplessly sexist, rather than Machiavellian or malicious. But he was never predatory. All the recent scandals involving sexual politics and people being abusive, I don’t think he would do that. He’s more benign. Alan’s not evil; he’s just a perennial British fool.”