Alan Partridge returns to the BBC: what to expect from This Time

Aha! It’s a triumphant Beeb return for Steve Coogan. We preview the first two episodes of This Time With Alan Partridge...

Warning: spoilers ahead for This Time With Alan Partridge.

Life has been eventful for Alan Partridge in the 25 years since he accidentally discharged a duelling pistol into restaurant critic Forbes McCallister’s chest live on the BBC. Steve Coogan’s hapless broadcaster has lived in a Travel Tavern (and static home), hosted North Norfolk Digital radio show Mid Morning Matters, survived a siege in big screen outing Alpha Papa, released a pair of autobiographies, and appeared in Sky Atlantic documentaries.

Now Partridge has come full circle, making an unlikely return to the BBC as the co-host of daily magazine show This Time. He finds himself parachuted in after long-standing host John Baskell is taken ill, tasked with anchoring segments that wheel between sincere and silly. So far so One Show (okay, very One Show!), but on the face of it This Time is the perfect vehicle for a man whose broadcasting style was once described as “equidistant between chitchat and analysis”.

Den Of Geek caught the first two episodes of This Time With Alan Partridge – and sat in on a Q&A with Coogan, co-star Susannah Fielding, and writers Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons – and based on what we saw, Partridge fans can expect to laugh so hard Kenco will explode out of their nostrils when the show debuts on BBC One on Monday the 25th of February. Read on for a taste of what to expect…

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Brexit brought Alan Partridge back to the BBC

Yes, the UK’s exit from the European Union is partially responsible for Alan’s return to the Beeb.

“We had to justify a reason why Alan would come back,” Coogan explained. “We had a gift with Brexit, we thought there might be a missive at the BBC saying that a certain area of the viewing audience has been disenfranchised and ignored, the non-elite. Alan represents that so you can imagine them thinking ‘we might as well give this guy another bite at the cherry because he seems to be in touch with that worldview.’”

Coogan added that Partridge 2019 has moved on from the “uber-conservative Little Englander” of earlier incarnations. “Now he’s more nuanced,” Coogan said. “It’s funnier to go for people people who are attempting to adopt what is known as ‘correct thinking’ and not quite get it right.”

Each episode unfolds in real time

Calling back to the formats of The Day Today and Knowing Me Knowing You, This Time’s 30-minute episodes play out as they would if broadcast for real. Aside from cutaways to Partridge hosting pre-recorded segments, we view him through the lens of the in-studio cameras. Plenty of time to catch his insecurities and excruciating attempts to bond with co-host Jennie Gresham (Susannah Fielding).

“Alan’s always aware he’s being watched. You’ve got dividends in that because you can see him modifying his behaviour,” Coogan said.

Alan’s VT segments are comedy gold

If you enjoyed the roving reporter Partridge of The Day Today and his recent documentary exploits in Scissored Isle, then This Time will cover similar territory with some excruciatingly funny pre-recorded segments.

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Episode one features Alan’s exploring hygiene, visiting the site of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London’s Soho and falling for one of his interview subjects after watching her undertake a rather sensual hand wash.

Partridge goes Paxo!

In one in-studio sequence Partridge comes face-to-face with a hacktivist and goes full-blown Jeremy Paxman. His hectoring, aggressive interview technique culminates in him chasing the hacker out of the studio and through BBC Broadcasting House.

The gag’s pay-off brings a starstruck Alan into contact with a very famous newsreader.

Susannah Fielding is the show’s secret comedy weapon

The Great Indoors and High & Dry star Fielding shares the This Time sofa with Coogan as Jennie Gresham. She plays the character with a blend of Alex Jones’s unwavering cheeriness and Susanna Reid’s saint-like patience. Fielding even cited Reid as an inspiration, saying she watched plenty of morning and daytime TV to nail the pained facial expressions.

“It’s that fine balance between putting a smile on, and also controlling Alan but not saying it – actually being able to shut him down,” she said. “That was really fun to play.”

In episode one there’s a running gag involving Partridge’s off-air gags being stolen by Gresham then deployed when the duo are back on air. A cunning power move to keep Partridge in check.

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Simon Farnaby will guest star

Partridge’s ascent to the This Time job is very much a case of right place, right time. By episode two we get the sense that he’s been thrown in because Simon Farnaby’s frequent guest presenter wasn’t available.

Farnaby’s appearance brings out the best/worst of Alan as he does everything in his power to get the last laugh. It’s a squirm-inducing battle of one-upmanship as Partridge scrambles to best his charismatic sofa rival.

Alan meets his doppelgänger

Asked if they had any favourite moments from This Time, Coogan, Fielding and Rob Gibbons all circled back to the same thing. “There’s a bit I really love in the middle of the series where Alan interviews his doppelgänger, an Irish farmer,” Gibbons said.

“I actually enjoyed that because it’s the only opportunity I get to do something completely different,” Coogan added. “He’s based on a working class Sligo farmer who looks a bit like Alan Partridge.”

Lynn and Sidekick Simon are back!

Alan’s long-suffering assistant Lynn Benfield (Felicity Montagu) will feature in the series, venturing onto the set to deliver pep talks to Alan when he’s off air. Lynn’s fierce streak is quickly evident when she chastises Alan for letting Jennie swipe his jokes. In one moment in episode two, Alan even compares her to The Omen’s Mrs Baylock. (“Have no fear, little one… I am here to protect thee!”)

Tim Key’s Sidekick Simon is also present, rebranded (or should that be debranded?) as plain old Simon Denton to operate This Time’s ‘digiwall’. Unfortunately, Simon tech-savviness is sorely lacking and his desperate attempts to summon tweets result in a live TV trainwreck.

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Michael the Geordie is alive and well… maybe

Michael the Geordie (Simon Greenall) has been absent from all things Partridge after leaping from Cromer Pier at the close of Alpha Papa. Though he’s referenced as missing presumed dead in the Partridge movie and memoir Nomad, we may not have seen the last of him…

“Watch this space, we’ve got plans for Michael,” Coogan said. He didn’t reveal anything more than that, but we’re readying our cup of beans in anticipation of Geordie Michael’s resurrection.

This Time With Alan Partridge starts on BBC One on Monday the 25th of February at 9.30pm.