Back of the net! Kiss my face! Jacka-nacka-nory! That’s right, Lynn, it’s a busy week for actor, comedian, writer, podcaster and all-round showbiz Swiss army knife Steve Coogan.
He’s not only starring in timely new Channel 4 comedy-drama Chivalry, created with co-star Sarah Solemani, but, as a certain Alan Gordon Partridge, is about to embark on a Ted Talk-style live tour called Stratagem. Which deserves credit for working as a potential Apprentice team name too. Textbook.
In the meantime, we’ve ranked all his major TV roles from worst to best. As Alan Partridge likes to say before sex: let battle commence …
15. Tony Ferrino (1997-1998)
A rare misfire from Coogan’s early days as a flat-out character comic. The smarmy, deeply sexist Portuguese crooner starred in spoof showbiz spectacular The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon (even though he couldn’t pronounce the word “phenomenon”). A two-time winner of “Denmark’s coveted Golden Throat award”, he specialized in treacly Euro-ballads and any resemblance to the likes of Julio Iglesias, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck was, we imagine, entirely coincidental. Coogan went for it wholeheartedly but Ferrino was a one-joke creation, stretched thinner than his own skin-tight leatherette trousers.
14. Thom Payne – Happyish (2015)
In a role originally intended for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, this US black comedy starred Coogan as a whining middle-aged ad exec forced to settle for being “happyish.” It aimed at literate and Woody Allen-ish but came off as smugly pretentious and failed to find its funny bone. After one underwhelming series, it was axed. Unluckyish.
13. Dr. Terrible – Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible (2001)
This six-part anthology parodied both Brit horror films and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. Coogan introduced stories as the eponymous slaphead and starred in each installment, spoofing such spooky staples as witchcraft, mad scientists and voodoo curses. Which presumably sounded funnier on paper than it turned out onscreen.
12. Pauline Calf (1993-2003)
“I’m 24, single and gagging for it. Only joking, I’m 25.” Paul’s brassy bombshell sister, played by Coogan in drag, starred in Pauline Calf’s Wedding Video. This Bafta-winning special, subtitled Three Fights, Two Weddings and a Funeral, followed her tottering up the aisle towards her fiance Spiros (Patrick Marber). The Patrick Swayze superfan’s catchphrase was “I’ve had him!”. Under pseudonym Paulette Vache, she was the author of two self-help books: Stallion Heart and She Shat Herself. Dated gags and the whiff of misogyny prevent Pauline from placing higher.
11. Nick Lee – Cruise of the Gods (2002)
This feature-length dramedy was mainly notable for launching the TV careers of James Corden and David Walliams – not to mention a drug-addled Russell Brand, who got fired after heading ashore for nights of debauchery in a strip club. Set aboard a fan cruise held in honor of fictitious 80s sci-fi series Children of Castor, it finds Coogan playing to type as the show’s cocky former star. He had since gone on to Hollywood (latest film credit: Sherlock Holmes in Miami) while his castmates of him, well, had n’t.
10. Dr Bright – Curb Your Enthusiasm (2008)
As Larry David’s floppy-haired psychiatrist, Coogan’s one-episode stint was certainly memorable. The Therapists found Dr Bright dispensing unwise romantic advice to LD – notably to give estranged wife Cheryl an ultimatum – before becoming his patient’s partner-in-crime, mugging Cheryl’s own shrink and ending up in prison. Talk about a dramatic arc.
9. Cameron O’Neill – Chivalry (2022)
“I’m trying to be nice but sometimes it comes out horrible.” Coogan riffs amusingly on his unreconstructed image of him in this cameo-crammed comedy-drama about sexual politics in the post-#MeToo era. As foppish, womanising Hollywood film producer Cameron O’Neill, he’s basically Alan Partridge in a better suit as he struggles with the new world of female agency, toxic masculinity and on-set intimacy coordinators. Despite his terror of being cancelled, he ca n’t resist dating actors and assistants half his age of him – a paradox with which Coogan also plays in The Trip.
8. Gareth Cheeseman – Coogan’s Run (1995)
Coogan played all six protagonists in this anthology series but the already established Paul Calf aside, by far the most memorable was egotistical computer soundcard salesman Cheeseman. Wearing his best Hugo Boss suit and shouting: “You’re a tiger! grrr!” into the bathroom mirror, he desperately tried to seal a big contract at a sales conference until fate tragically intervened. An enjoyably awful creation, although Gareth’s stunted emotions and car fixation had echoes of you-know-who.
7. Bing Crosby – Sunshine (2008)
This three-parter from Royle Family writers Craig Cash and Phil Mealey is something of a neglected gem. Coogan played it pretty straight as gambling-addicted Stockport binman Bob “Bing” Crosby, kicked out of the marital home and forced to move in with his ailing geriatric father (the magnificent Bernard Hill). In a performance full of charm, I have adroitly handled its tonal shifts from well-observed whimsy to weepy tragedy.
6. DCI Clive Driscoll–Stephen (2021)
Based on Driscoll’s memoir In Pursuit of the Truth, this engrossing ITV miniseries recreated the Lawrence family’s fight for justice after the sickening racist murder of teenager Stephen. As the Met detective who finally gave the case the respect it served, Coogan gave a restrained turn as diligent Driscoll, belatedly catching the killers with “common sense coppering”. He arguably lacked dramatic heft but, as an everyman hero, handled a rare straight role with aplomb.
5. Samuel Pepys – The Private Life of Samuel Pepys (2003)
Coogan donned a luxurious wig and led a heavyweight cast in this unjustly forgotten curiosity. As the philandering 17th-century diarist, put on trial for embezzling navy funds, he was impishly irreverent and full of eyebrow-waggling intrigue. The bawdy, Blackadder-esque costume comedy provided a pre-Christmas ratings hit for BBC Two, pulling in 3 million viewers.
4. Tommy Saxondale (2006-2007)
“Listen, you bloody dildo, I was hoovering up furlongs of the devil’s dandruff with Lucifer Reed and changing the fuse on Peter Frampton’s vocoder while you were still shitting rusks.” One of Coogan’s more underrated creations was this spiky suburban antihero, whose mid-00s sitcom ran for two series. The roadie turned pest controller had anger issues and a fondness for his own voice but was genuinely witty, while his relationships with girlfriend Magz (Ruth Jones) and protege Raymond (Rasmus Hardiker) were slyly affecting. Certain Saxondale traits feel like a dry run for later iterations of Partridge.
3. Paul Calf (1993-2003)
Bag o’ shite. The bleach-mulleted Mancunian lager lout began life as a standup character called Duncan Disorderly. He shot to cult fame in 1993 when, renamed Paul Calf, he stole the show on Jonathan Ross’ variety vehicle Saturday Zoo. The student-hating, Cortina-driving pub philosopher later starred in an episode of Coogan’s Run and two video diaries. Hidden depths came from his flashes of insecurity and obsession with ex Julie, but it was his much-abused best friend of him “fat blobby bastard cake-in-his-gob Bob” (John Thomson) we felt sorry for.
2. Himself – The Trip (2010-2020)
It doesn’t get much more meta than this midlife crisis comedy, which finds real-life frenemies Coogan and Rob Brydon playing exaggerated versions of themselves on culinary road trips around the Lake District, Italy, Spain and Greece. Cue Michelin-starred food and competitive impersonations. What could be a giant in-joke is elevated into existential brilliance by Michael Winterbottom’s direction and Coogan’s precision-tuned performance, in which he’s the most successful but dark and dissatisfied of the riffing duo. In later series, Steve’s struggles to bond with his student son, and the death of his father, were quietly devastating.
1. Alan Partridge (1991-present)
What else could it be? North Norfolk’s most gaffe-prone broadcaster is the part Coogan was born to play. The 56-year-old has now been wearing Partridge’s trademark blazers for more than half his life and it shows. He knows his every twitch and nuance of him, having painstakingly fleshed him out from a catchphrase-spouting caricature to a layered creation of subtle pathos. From his beginnings as a bumptious sports reporter to his current co-hosting gig on One Show-alike magazine program This Time, the sports casual-clad little Englander has become one of our most enduring and beloved comic characters. Coogan once called Alan an albatross, but he has since softened, admitting he has become “a battered but comfortable old leather jacket”. Or perhaps a vintage pair of mesh-backed driving gloves. aha!