The Independent’s Ian Burrell reports on the fantastic news that BBC America will soon be bringing the TV-radio presenting dynamo Alan Partridge to U.S. idiot boxes, as well as chatting with Partridge’s alter ego, Steve Coogan.
You might imagine that he would be keen to look beyond Alan Partridge, to the many other new projects he has on the go, but Coogan repeatedly draws his blazer-wearing creation back into the conversation. “At some point in the future, I might do a one-off,” he says, in spite of reported comments by Armando Iannucci that the character seemed to have had its day after the last series. “I probably will do a one-off at some point. Is he dead? No, he’s not.”
Coogan is at pains to ensure that no middle-aged regional broadcaster is able to claim any “credit” for having inspired the character. “There’s a real myth about this. I don’t know how many times I’ve read things in the paper saying who he is based on. He is not based on any individual at all,” he says.
And then Henry Normal ventures a thought that many have long suspected: “I would hazard a guess that it’s based on you.”
Coogan agrees instantly. “Exactly. The person he’s based on is mostly me. It’s a kind of unexpurgated, slightly monstrous version of myself. All those people who think it’s based on them can stop. Actually, I don’t like them to think it’s based on them… I think they’re quite flattered and I don’t want them to take any kind of credit for the character, even ironically.
“He started out as a commentator and he evolved to sound more and more like me. He’s slightly right-wing, he’s narrow-minded, a Little Englander, he’s xenophobic, he’s insecure, he’s sort of basically decent even though he’s all those things. He’s basically a Daily Mail reader.”
Normal again interjects to point out that this is the second “bash” Coogan has had at that publication. “I know, I hate ’em,” says Coogan.
The comedian thinks “everything can be funny” and that any subject provides legitimate material. He criticises Chris Tarrant for commenting that Chris Morris’s controversial Brass Eye satire on public attitudes to paedophilia was beyond the pale. “I think phantom flan-flinging was out of bounds,” he scoffs.
He then launches into an unexpected defence of political correctness and the lasting legacy of the alternative comedy scene. “Everyone hates political correctness. No one says: ‘I love political correctness, I think it’s great.’ But the fact is that the movement that came with alternative comedy was very important and has permeated popular culture, in that it’s now no longer tolerable to make racist jokes on television. And that’s a good thing. It would have been termed politically correct at one stage, but it’s actually just decency.”
Still, it’s good to know that Coogan’s sense of decency doesn’t tally exactly with, say, Lord Reith’s. The comedian would quite like Baby Cow to invest in a new comedy about prison life, a modern-day Porridge.
“If we reinvented Porridge now I would insist on broaching the very delicate subject of anal sex,” he says. “It’s the truth that it goes on.”
That should give his beloved Daily Mail something to ponder.