Steve Coogan, the man behind Alan Partridge, has talked about the differences between new writers Rob and Neil Gibbons and former Partridge collaborators Armando Iannucci and Patrick Marber.
“I always feel like Armando and Patrick when they were writing it felt like a bit like pulling wings off an insect,” Coogan said at the Edinburgh Television Festival. “It was fun but quite cruel.”
However, he said that the new writers Rob and Neil Gibbons, who have worked on the film Alpha Papa and Sky’s Mid Morning Matters With Alan Partridge, have brought great “empathy” to the character who is returning to the BBC with the new series This Time with Alan Partridge which is expected to air at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
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“Alan was essentially a fool but with Rob and Neil people have a bit more compassion for Alan. And although he’s a fool, they don’t want him to be destroyed they don’t want him to fail completely. He’s well intentioned even if he’s wrong.”
Coogan discussed the difficulties he faced when this original team of writers left to pursue other projects.
“Patrick Marber and Armando Iannucci and Peter Baynham… all very successfully went off in their direction and they left a bit of a talent chasm,” said Coogan.
Describing the discovery of Rob and Neil Gibbons he added: “They came up with stuff that was so strong and when I read it I went down on my knees and shouted ‘alleluia’. I was laughing like a drain and said ‘oh my god they totally understood the voice’. And not only that, they managed to build the character and make the character slightly more complex and make you have a bit more empathy with him. So we were able to develop this new incarnation.”
Coogan also revealed some more details about This Time with Alan Partridge.
He disclosed that Partridge joins the sofa of a chat show alongside a more professional presenter played by Susannah Fielding after her usual sidekick – a character called John – has been hospitalised after a heart attack. By episode two the John has died and the new series sees Partridge trying to “worm his way back into the BBC… it’s about hanging on.”
Said Coogan: “In Knowing Me Knowing you he killed a man accidentally and there was a subsequent enquiry. That was the last time he was on the BBC in reality. So we had to create a fiction. In reality to come back to the BBC… we created a narrative to serve that.
“We felt because of Brexit and we could have the BBC saying that we are under representing a community that is weirdly represented by Alan Partridge. It’s BBC management saying ‘we don’t really understand these people but apparently there are a lot of them out there’. So he’s parachuted into a programme called This Time [alongside] one of those scary, very professional co-hosts.”
Edinburgh delegates were shown an exclusive clip of the series in which Alan has a guest on the show – an Irish doppelganger, a farmer from Sligo (also played by Coogan) who brings disaster when he begins to sing IRA rebel songs.