Bank Holiday Monday sees Steve Coogan return to the role of Alan Partridge once more in his latest Sky Atlantic special: Scissored Isle.
Produced by regular Baby Cow collaborators Dave Lambert and Ted Dowd, the special sees Alan tackle Broken Britain in a bid to fix his broken career. But given the high calibre of Past Partridge, does this live up to the rest? TVO took a sneaky peek to find out…
Few comedy creations have etched themselves into public consciousness the way Alan Partridge has. First making his mark in radio news spoof On The Hour and its tv spin-off The Day Today, Alan’s disastrous stint as a chat-show host in Knowing Me Knowing You was only the beginning of his journey: and amazingly, this summer marks 25 years of Partridge on air.
It is a testament to Steve Coogan’s belief in the character, that he keeps returning to play him even when, both artistically and financially, he need never don a pair of comfortable slacks, a polo shirt and some driving gloves ever again. Perhaps spurred on by the input of Neil and Rob Gibbons who have been co-writing for Alan for the last few years, with each successive return to the role, he finds a new way to approach Alan’s world, whilst staying true to the mythos he and his regular collaborators have built up over the last quarter of a century.
For the uninitiated, and trust us, such people do exist, Partridge is a failed broadcaster whose own incompetence destroyed his career with the BBC in the mid-1990s (KMKY), had a Toblerone-induced breakdown and bounced back into local radio (I’m Alan Partridge), and in recent years has found a new lease of life on digital radio with his trusty sidekick Simon (Mid-Morning Matters, Alpha Papa). And off the back of this, he’s been presenting one-off documentaries for Sky – with Scissored Isle the latest opportunity for Alan to show the world he’s a proper presenter again…
The problem for Alan, is that during the last series of Mid-Morning Matters, he engaged in some sharp banter with a guest that resulted in him putting his foot in it once more, and with his sponsors gone, so has the radio show. Was this Alan’s fault? Or was it, as he is keen to suggest, the fault of society? Believing that this once United Kingdom now suffers from a terrible schasm (somewhere between a schism and a chasm, apparently), which divides the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’, Alan’s solution is to meet both sides, and try to come up with a solution that will make him a better citizen, a better man, and a better more sought after broadcaster.
TVO is anxious not to spoil the charms of this extended special, but what we can say is that Alan and his pedigree chum Seldom travel to the North West of England – both to Manchester to meet the poor and vulnerable, and to “the little known county of Lancashire” to meet a posho landowner (played by Miles Jupp with all his usual upper middle class gusto).
Along the way, Partridge tries his hand on the checkouts at Tesco, trying to teach till etiquette to a confused pensioner, and discovering his unique talent for scanning. After meeting a woman struggling with debt, he goes the full Roger Cook on the founder of First Person Finance, Kevin Ruddock, which sees Coogan reunite with his former regular collaborator John Thomson for a cringeworthy sketch.
Alan also meets a man who lives off supermarket throwaways, which leads him to take part in a late-night skip-raid with typically disastrous consequences. Best of all, perhaps, is Alan’s attempts at bonding with a gang of youths from Ancoats, trying to fit in with the locals by – and we quote – “stopping slightly and saying alright instead of hello”.
Of course, Coogan has always been proud of his North Manchester roots, and has often laced his comedy with cracking references that take on an extra layer of meaning to those from the area, such as this writer. There’s an affectionate ribbing for Manchester and the surrounding areas on show here, that further demonstrates the old adage that you can take the boy out of Manchester, but you can’t take the Manchester out of the boy. That said, Alan Partridge is such a distinct creation that the sight of him wandering down the canals just off Oxford Road, or chilling during a slo-mo walk through an Ancoats housing estate, is surprisingly jarring. Paul and Pauline Calf belong here (and really need to return, if you’re out there, Steve!), but Alan stands out as an oddity in unfamiliar environments.
And the world around him has a surprisingly potent effect on the man. It’s not just the hangover that follows a house party on the morning he has to interview the mayor: Partridge seems to genuinely find new aspects of himself on his journey, in much the same way Simon Greenall’s Michael always got the best out of him in I’m Alan Partridge many moons ago. When Alan faces a night talking to himself via his Go Pro camera, he even starts reminiscing about his ex-wife Carol in a positive light, and he later takes his new hoodie friends somewhere they’ve never been before. Alan, it seems, may finally be going soft.
Fortunately, the comedy isn’t. Whether it’s the assertion that people called Carl are the backbone of Britain, or a typical Partridge riff on everyone’s favourite kind of bank, or the accidental comparison he makes between a Freegan and a certain children’s favourite which genuinely seems to thrown Alan for a moment, he’s on fire here, thanks to a great script from Coogan and the Gibbons brothers, who also direct this time around. Regular collaborators Dave Lambert and Ted Dowd are also on hand to produce, though Armando Iannucci is noticeably absent, possibly due to his commitments to US smash hit Veep.
Together, they’ve managed to take Alan to somewhere he’s never been before, whilst continuing the saga that’s been building up for 25 years. There’s an argument that is isn’t vintage Partridge, and that there are some moments which feel a little contrived, but in all honesty, it’s just good to have him back on our screens. Who would have thought such a bad broadcaster would be so utterly watchable, whatever he does? There’s life in this one yet…