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Iannucci, Armando (1963-)

Producer, Writer, Director, Presenter

Main image of Iannucci, Armando (1963-)

As producer, writer and performer, Armando Iannucci helped to reinvigorate the Oxbridge axis of British comedy during the early Nineties. Arguably the most important comedy producer to have emerged in the past twenty years, he is certainly the most influential and exacting. A more conservative presence than many of his peers, he claimed he "could only really have been an academic or a comedian."

Born in Glasgow to a Scottish mother and Italian father in 1963, Iannucci studied at Oxford University, but it was only during his second phase as a research student that he seriously pursued comedy. A writing partnership blossomed with Andrew Glover, and he performed in revue with Sarah Smith and as part of a live double-bill alongside David Schneider, forming long-term creative relationships with all three.

In 1988, BBC Radio Scotland invited him to co-host their experimental youth shows, No' The Archie Macpherson Show and Bite The Wax. He moved to London after applying for a producer's job with BBC Radio in 1989, and quickly earned a reputation for contentious broadcasts.

On The Hour (1991-92) and Knowing Me Knowing You (1992-93) are his best-known radio productions, thanks in part to subsequent high-profile television transfers. On The Hour gathered aspiring comic performers and writers, amongst them Patrick Marber, Doon Mackichan, Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, and old friends Glover and Schneider. The programme layered comic disciplines as though they were sources for a news report, marrying improvised scenes with tightly scripted narrations.

The Day Today, the 1994 BBC2 television counterpart to On The Hour, was nothing short of a landmark, firmly establishing Chris Morris and Steve Coogan (whose inept sports journalist Alan Partridge made his debut on the radio programme) as major stars. Having touted the show amongst independent production companies, and eventually settling on Talkback, co-creators Iannucci and Morris maintained a remarkable level of control. The same year's television transfer of the chat-show spoof Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (sans Morris) was somewhat rushed, but even so, hugely popular.

Iannucci had to date preferred to maintain a shadowy presence on his major projects. This changed in 1995 when he hosted the topical BBC2 series The Saturday Night Armistice, produced by Sarah Smith. The presenters - Iannucci, Schneider and Day Today writer Peter Baynham - were an unknown quantity, but they weathered well across three series and numerous specials. A shift to Friday nights quickly improved on early ratings.

Shortly afterwards, Baynham replaced Marber as co-writer of Alan Partridge's ongoing story. With Coogan and Iannucci, the sitcom I'm Alan Partridge (BBC) won much praise upon its 1997 debut, and a mixed reception on its belated return in 2002. There were many factors behind this, not least a stressful production and drastic editing at the expense of plot logic. Additionally, the ubiquitous docu-soap parody The Office (BBC, 2001-3) had, by this time, made studio sitcoms with live audiences deeply unfashionable. The critical expectation was for semi-improvised shows, with fewer gag lines and character actors rather than comedians at the centre of the action. Ironically, Iannucci had kick-started this trend when working on The Day Today, with the spoof fly-on-the-wall serials 'The Pool' and 'The Bureau'. It was cruel confirmation of his influence on others.

The Armando Iannucci Shows (Channel 4, 2001) experienced a difficult birth, from an Armistice-esque pilot to a highly personal sketch show, strongly influenced by Woody Allen and Raymond Carver. Conceptually ambitious, its production fostered a strong connection with Adam Tandy, who would hereon act as practical producer on virtually all of Iannucci's television projects, leaving the star to concentrate on being creative producer and, invariably, director.

A new stable of writers have formed around Iannucci since his return to the BBC in 2004. A BBC3 special, 2004: The Stupid Version involved an unprecedented number of names, among them several web comedy artists. It was effectively a precursor to BBC2's Time Trumpet (2006), chiefly written by Will Smith and Roger Drew but nonetheless recognisably an 'authored' Iannucci project. Indeed, the central conceit stemmed from an earlier BBC2 one-off, Clinton: His Struggle with Dirt (BBC2, 1998), in which public figures were played by aged lookalikes reflecting on the past, which for the viewer was a distorted future.

The collaborative approach continued with The Thick of It (BBC, 2005- ), his Westminster-set political comedy which employed familiar improvisational techniques in an abrasive new form, and was the work of five writers, including former Labour researcher Jesse Armstrong and special 'swearing consultant' Ian Martin. The series proved an assured and award-winning return to sitcom.

Latterly, he has also acted as executive producer on other BBC comedy projects, notably Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle (BBC, 2009), which aired almost five years after it was first proposed and benefited from its long gestation period. He has also presided over Chris Addison and Carl Cooper's Lab Rats (BBC, 2008) and Dave Gorman's Genius (BBC, 2009).

Until 2008, Iannucci had merely dipped a toe into cinema, contributing to London Underground anthology Tube Tales (1999) and failing to secure funding for an historical comedy in 2003. Bad fortune changed in 2009 with In the Loop, his critically lauded retooling of The Thick of It with an added American element.

Ian Greaves

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Day Today, The (1994)Day Today, The (1994)

Highly influential spoof news/current affairs programme

Thumbnail image of I'm Alan Partridge (1997)I'm Alan Partridge (1997)

The erstwhile chat show host slums it in a Norwich travelodge

Thumbnail image of Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (1994-95)Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (1994-95)

The hapless sports reporter's disastrous chat-show debut

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Thumbnail image of Morris, Christopher (1963- )Morris, Christopher (1963- )

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