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Coogan, Steve (1965-)

Actor, Writer, Producer

Main image of Coogan, Steve (1965-)

Over the past decade, Steve Coogan has established himself as one of the most popular, charismatic and versatile comic actors working in Britain today. He was born on the 14th October 1965 in Manchester, and originally trained at the city's Polytechnic School of Theatre. His early work included various character voices in Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-96) as well as a bit-part appearance in Paul Greengrass' Falklands drama Resurrected (1989).

However, it was as a comedy performer that Coogan's greatest success came, and the first hint of this was in the series Saturday Zoo (1993), where he created the boorish, ghastly Paul Calf, who briefly became as much a 90s archetype of the 'New Lad' as Harry Enfield's 'Loadsamoney' had been of the 80s. This character, along with his equally horrible sister Pauline, was resurrected in various guises in such television comedies as Paul Calf's Video Diary (BBC, 1993) and Pauline Calf's Wedding Video (BBC, 1994). The latter, shown shortly after Four Weddings And A Funeral (d. Mike Newell, 1994) rejoiced in the knowing subtitle 'Three Fights, Two Weddings and a Funeral', as well as boasting a cameo from John Hannah.

The figure for whom Coogan is best known, perhaps to the extent that his other work has been dwarfed by it, is Alan Partridge. Partridge first appeared in Chris Morris' and Armando Iannucci's BBC Radio 4 satire show On The Hour (1991), which then became The Day Today (BBC, 1994). Coogan was very much part of an ensemble cast, but the figure of an inept, pompous sports reporter was considered to have enough comic mileage for him, along with Iannucci and Patrick Marber, to use the character in a spin-off spoof chat show called Knowing Me, Knowing You (BBC, 1994). Again, this had its roots in the radio programme of the same time, in 1992. While Coogan also invented the less successful figure of an uber-macho Latin American crooner named Tony Ferrino, it was Partridge who proved the most popular figure, as could eventually be seen by the enormous success of the 'sitcom' I'm Alan Partridge (BBC, 1997-2002). In the first series, at least, Coogan, Iannucci, and co-writer Peter Baynham, looked forward to the later plotless, character-driven comedies of Ricky Gervais and Caroline Aherne, turning Partridge into a laughable yet oddly sympathetic figure with consummate skill. Around this time, he also attempted to diversify in his series Coogan's Run (BBC, 1995), with his repellent salesman Gareth Cheeseman in particular standing out as a clear precursor to Gervais' David Brent in The Office (BBC, 2001-3).

His film career proper began inauspiciously, with a cameo in The Indian in the Cupboard (USA, 1995), and a part (as Mole) in Terry Jones' The Wind in the Willows (1996) which allowed him little scope for comedy. Apart from a small part in the Alan Ayckbourn misfire The Revenger's Comedies, (UK/France, d. Malcolm Mowbray, 1998), his first significant cinematic role was the lead of The Parole Officer (d. John Duigan, 2001). While enjoyable enough, Coogan reprised Partridge in all but name in what proved a surprisingly old-fashioned comic romp. However, his performance as real-life Factory Records founder and Granada TV presenter Tony Wilson in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People (UK/ France/ Netherlands, 2002) still kept him very much within the parameters of comic, Partridge-esque acting (Wilson had apparently been one of the main inspirations for Partridge), but allowed him to hint at a more knowing, self-aware style of performance, especially in the drily postmodern voiceover.

For a while, Coogan's career seemed to be moving along without any great direction, allowing him to appear in such respectable dramas as The Private Life of Samuel Pepys (BBC, 2003) and, in a wry cameo opposite Alfred Molina, in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes (US, 2003). His appearance as Phileas Fogg in Around The World in Eighty Days (US, 2004) opposite Jackie Chan gave him little to do, and other American ventures such as Don Roos' Happy Endings (2005) seemed over-keen to cast him as a slightly goofy English straight man. However, his reunion with Winterbottom, A Cock and Bull Story (2005), allowed him to play himself to great comic effect, especially in the hilarious scenes in which he played against Rob Brydon. His appearance in Sofia Coppola's Marie-Antoinette (US, 2006) could hardly be called typecasting, and indicates his diversity.

Coogan also founded Baby Cow Productions with Henry Normal, which has produced such acclaimed and new-wave comedy as The Mighty Boosh (BBC, 2004) and Julia Davis' Nighty Night (BBC, 20004-5), as well as keeping Coogan's old friend Brydon in work, firstly with the brilliant, tragicomic Marion and Geoff (BBC, 2000), and then, in somewhat lighter vein, with The Keith Barret Show (BBC, 2004) , which, with its deconstruction of the talk format, turned what Coogan had begun with Partridge full circle.

Alexander Larman

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)

Surprisingly effective adaptation of a supposedly unfilmable novel

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

Thumbnail image of Spitting Image (1984-96)Spitting Image (1984-96)

Topical satire show featuring memorably vicious puppets

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Thumbnail image of Brydon, Rob (1965-)Brydon, Rob (1965-)

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Thumbnail image of Davis, Julia (1966-)Davis, Julia (1966-)

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Thumbnail image of Iannucci, Armando (1963-)Iannucci, Armando (1963-)

Producer, Writer, Director, Presenter