Neil and Rob Gibbons are the writing duo behind the resurgence of Alan Partridge. They co-scripted his current big-screen outing Alpha Papa – involving a siege situation at the offices of North Norfolk Digital – wrote the bulk of his second biography I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan (the one that didn’t get pulped) and also worked on Sky Atlantic’s two recent Partridge specials, plus Mid-Morning Matters, the webcam-radio show that re-launched his career.
Since Alan’s triumphant return, Rob and Neil do most of the writing, but in initial brainstorming meetings they get help – and some welcome hindrance – from Alan himself, Steve Coogan.
“Writing sessions are always good fun,” says Rob. “We spend hours finding ways to avoid doing work. Steve will compare different brands of coconut water, we show each other funny or upsetting YouTube videos, we talk about the news, we developed a Rear Window fixation with people living in the flats across the street. We talk about Banged Up Abroad a lot. Then we all just slip into Alan mode and try to out-funny each other.”
“It’s a laugh but quite inefficient,” admits Neil. “So the other half of the writing time is the two of us alone at our respective homes writing new material and cobbling together the useful bits from the writing room sessions, and building a script.
“Those are the days when you feel like Alan is taking over. You’ve not spoken out loud for nine hours and you’re sat in silence trying to think of Alan’s attitude to falafel. I don’t even know my own attitude to falafel.”
Aside from the dangers of inhabiting the mind of a mildly sociopathic local radio DJ for nine hours a day, there are also his devoted fans to worry about. If you’re going to put words into the mouth of Norwich’s finest, you’d better make sure they’re the right ones. He may be a comedy character but getting Alan wrong is no laughing matter…
“People have a real sense of ownership when it comes to Alan,” says Neil. “He’s someone they’ve taken to their heart – so they have very strong feelings about what Alan would and wouldn’t do. Some feel livid and betrayed that Alan has grown his hair longer at the back…
“You have to protect the essence of a character they love but you also have to put the blinkers on and not be inhibited by all the eyes on you.”
So where will the thundering hooves of the blinkered entertainment stallion that is Alan Partridge take us next? “Oh God…” begins Neil. “There’s a new series of Mid Morning Matters in the pipeline and murmurs of another book,” Rob reassures me. “But we all need a break from Alan for a bit. He needs to go back in his box.”
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is in cinemas now