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I'm Alan Partridge (1997)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of I'm Alan Partridge (1997)
BBC, tx. 3/11/1997-16/12/2002
12 x 30 min episodes in two series, colour
DirectorsDominic Brigstocke
  Armando Iannucci
Production CompanyTalkBack
ProducerArmando Iannucci
Written byPeter Baynham
 Steve Coogan
 Armando Iannucci

Cast: Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge), Amelia Bullmore (Sonja), Phil Cornwell (Dave Clifton), Barbara Durkin (Susan), Simon Greenall (Michael), James Lance (Ben), Felicity Montagu (Lynn), Sally Phillips (Sophie), David Schneider (Tony Hayers)

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One-time chat show giant Alan Partridge has fallen on hard times, stuck in a graveyard local radio slot and living from a suitcase in a Norwich motel.

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Having introduced the character of the incompetent, narcissistic Alan Partridge to TV audiences in the seminal news parody The Day Today (BBC, 1994) and taken up his story in spoof chat show Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (BBC, 1994-95), comedian Steve Coogan, with co-writers Peter Baynham and Armando Iannucci, revived him once more for sitcom I'm Alan Partridge, which delved into the broadcaster's private hell.

The start of series one found Partridge banished from the BBC, ejected by his wife and languishing as a more-or-less permanent guest in a sterile Travelodge. Desperate to reignite his career (during a disastrous lunch with his former boss, Partridge fires out increasingly unlikely programme suggestions, including 'Monkey Tennis', which has passed into critical language as shorthand for trash TV), his only link to former glories is presenting a graveyard slot on Radio Norwich.

The neuroses and social ineptitude explored in previous Partridge vehicles were comically intensified by reducing his circumstances to pitiable depths. The writers were by now so familiar with his acutely drawn backstory and catalogue of personal faults, that he felt not only convincingly three-dimensional but also weirdly sympathetic. Coogan's superlative performance - aided by a strong supporting cast and cameos from some of the rising new elite of British comedy (among them Chris Morris, Julia Davis and Simon Pegg) - further guaranteed the character a place in the sitcom pantheon.

Though shot in pseudo-documentary style, the series was performed before a live studio audience. In an attempt to fuse these elements effectively, Iannucci devised a staging technique whereby cast and crew worked within hermetic sets away from the audience, who watched on monitors. This allowed greater camera fluidity and encouraged the actors to deliver subtler performances while still benefiting from the feedback of an audible but unseen audience.

The second series, produced after a five-year hiatus during which The Office (BBC, 2001-03) made sitcom naturalism fashionable, was noticeably broader and more contrived. It found Partridge having 'bounced back' following a complete nervous breakdown. Nevertheless, he was now arguably more disturbed than ever. Though it contained several hilarious scenes, the production was dogged by hectic last minute rewrites which may have contributed to its lack of focus.

Paul Whitelaw

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Video Clips
1. Making plans (2:26)
2. Partridge and owls (1:49)
3. A night of passion (4:46)
Complete second episode (29:03)
Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (1994-95)
Coogan, Steve (1965-)
Iannucci, Armando (1963-)
Phillips, Sally (1970-)