Alan Partridge has been on radio and TV for around a quarter of a century – and according to his creator Steve Coogan, he has moved with the times. Honest.
As Partridge prepares to make a heralded return to the BBC with new series This Time With Alan Partridge, Coogan suggests that the character’s ability to adapt makes him more like former Prime Minister David Cameron than any real-life TV personality you care to name.
“Alan does reflect the times. The good thing about him is he doesn’t stay the same and he does try and be in tune with the zeitgeist,” Coogan said during a screening of the new series.
“Twenty years ago he was kind of a reactionary, right wing Daily Mail-type person,” he continued. “Now he’s a bit more like David Cameron in that he understands you can be economically conservative but you have got to be socially liberal. He tries to embrace things and tries to be on message about things. He tries – but he’s not really.”
The new series sees Partridge given the chance to host teatime BBC chat show This Time alongside presenter Jennie Gresham (played by Susannah Fielding).
While the return is a boon to Partridge and a joy for his fans, it was a nightmare for the writers – especially given that his last appearance fronting a live BBC show ended with him shooting a guest live on air.
“We had to justify the reason why Alan would come back,” Coogan said. “But we kind of had a gift in Brexit. We thought there might be a missive at the BBC saying that a certain area of the viewing audience had been ‘disenfranchised’ if you like. Ignored, this non-elite.
“And Alan kind of represents that. You can imagine them thinking, ‘We might as well give this guy another bite of the cherry because he seems to be in touch with that world view.'”
However, the current state of British television also gave the creators pause for thought. In former times, according to writer Neil Gibbons, Alan’s on-air gaffes would be embarrassing. Now they are increasingly the norm.
“The problem in putting him in that kind of world is in reality presenters can say what they want these days,” Gibbons said. “In the early days there was a tightrope he was walking, because there was an expectation of professionalism. If someone fluffed a line or got someone’s name wrong or said something stupid, it’s mortifying. But nowadays those are the people who are given jobs on TV.”
Gibbons offered the example of Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, suggesting that it part of his job to say “something offensive”.
“On Good Morning Britain they are not exactly tearing their hair out and saying, ‘I wish he would stop saying something offensive or crap things all the time’. That’s why he’s on the show. We have to ignore that because the jeopardy’s gone. If you put Alan in a world where crap buffoonery is the selling point of the show, there’s nowhere for him to fall. We had to make it a bit BBC and po-faced.
“In the real world a presenter like Alan would be snapped up by these shows because they’re not really that bothered about truly professional broadcasting. They get a lot more by someone saying something really outrageous or thick. They hoover that up. We had to pretend that that Good Morning Britain stuff doesn’t exist.”
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news