The BBC announced this week that Steve Coogan would be bringing radio DJ Alan Partridge back to life in an all-new comedy series, titled And Did Those Feet… with Alan Partridge.
Partridge was – and to this day still is – an iconic figure in British comedy history, born in a decade in which Only Fools was dominating the ratings, The Royle Family had audiences in stitches and Father Ted provided much-needed laughs from across the Irish Sea.
Yet his return in 2024 couldn’t see him in more polar opposite company, with today’s comedy sphere dominated by social media personalities like Munya Chawawa cropping up everywhere, Ricky Gervais facing cancel calls whenever he opens his mouth, Jimmy Carr playing Countdown and a tired Have I Got News For You telling everyone how terrible Britain is every week.
Of course, 2024’s attempts at breathing much-needed life and laughter into the comedy genre can’t be put down entirely to the BBC.
But its latest attempt to do so resulted in such exasperation that all oxygen needed to be saved for the anticipated giggles all but disappeared.
Partridge has appeared on screens since the ’90s, of course – he had the big-screen film Alpha Papa released in 2013 and bagged another series called This Time with Alan Partridge in 2019, as well as his own podcast and tour.
And yet another Partridge incarnation – no matter how many Madeley-isms and Un-PC gags – symbolises that bosses at the Beeb appear to have run out of fresh ideas when it comes to reviving UK comedy.
Alan Partridge’s BBC return: Steve Coogan recently fronted This Time on the Beeb
And we shouldn’t really be surprised after a brief look at the licence fee-funded corporation’s current portfolio of content.
Stepping back from comedy for a moment to take a look at what the BBC has put out in recent years makes for rather disheartening reading.
In the world of drama, shows like Silent Witness are in their 27th series and the acting and storylines have become so wooden, convoluted and dire that recent episodes have been met with calls to axe the entire thing.
Long-running soap EastEnders has suffered much-publicised dwindling ratings in recent years – with ITV moving Emmerdale to go head-to-head with Albert Square and an emphasis on streaming arguably to blame.
Although when it comes to Phil Mitchell and co, the Beeb may be able to take consolation in the fact that 2023’s Christmas special trumped its counterparts and proved a streaming success in the weeks before and after.
Steve Coogan: The actor will reprise the role of Alan Partridge again
Then there’s Waterloo Road which was canned in 2015 only to be rebooted in 2021.
It has attempted new dramas in recent years, The Tourist and Vigil just two examples, but the former was thumped by ITV’s Post Office drama in January and the latter sparked mass switch-offs for going woke, according to irked viewers.
Death in Paradise remains popular after over a decade on the air but is constantly falling victim to rotating frontmen, and the same can be said for Doctor Who which recently celebrated 60 years of time-travelling drama.
Elsewhere, Dragons’ Den desperately tried to keep viewers hooked by adding Gary Neville as a guest Dragon in its 21st series, Mrs Brown’s Boys keeps lining Brendan O’Carroll’s pockets despite floods of complaints year after year, and a tired The Apprentice has swapped any semblance or entrepreneurialism for wannabe influencers in its 18th season.
There is Strictly Come Dancing which remains a winning formula despite the lengthy amount of time it’s spent on screens so why change it after two decades?
And the BBC’s latest Saturday night success story comes in the form of the Bradley and Barney Walsh-fronted reboot of Gladiators – a show which first aired over 30 years ago.
Alan Partridge in And Did Those Feet…: The BBC announces new series
The list of long-running, and arguably stale shows airing on the BBC goes on, from MasterChef to the aforementioned HIGNFY – but there is some hope… or so it seems at first.
The Traitors has proven a priceless gem for the corporation, moving the ratings dial and setting social media alight consistently during its first two runs.
It also represents a shift in the way the Beeb puts out its content, managing to appease impatient streamers and traditional telly watchers alike by dropping three episodes on iPlayer at once while airing consecutive episodes from Wednesday to Friday.
And it is brilliant – Claudia Winkleman is great as the host, it has an unscripted feel that makes reality TV unmissable, and the concept itself has you screaming at the screen for the Faithfuls to stop slagging each other off and boot off a smirking Traitor from Manchester (cough, cough, Paul).
But even the originality of The Traitors has been brought into question of late after US publication Deadline reported that a short-lived show from 2004 – aptly named Traitor – had resurfaced showing an eerily similar concept.
While the Beeb’s incarnation of The Traitors is based on its Dutch counterpart, Netherlands-based production company IDTV addressed the similarities.
A spokesperson told the publication: “The Dutch original, De Verraders, is our own format, a unique creation developed by IDTV with [Dutch broadcaster] RTL4. The 2004 show is very different from De Verraders.”
WATCH HERE: A clip from the BBC’s reboot of Gladiators starring Bradley Walsh
Meanwhile, the BBC declined to comment on Traitor’s similarity to The Traitors and whether or not its latest ratings smash is born from a show that’s again decades old.
I will give credit to the BBC for Ghosts which ran for five seasons, bagged a US remake and saw its creators decide to bring it to a very good close before it’d outstayed its welcome.
But while bringing Partridge back may strike some nostalgic chord with some, he’s hardly going to spearhead a new shift that British comedy desperately needs.
And when the BBC is rolling out a character whose heyday was almost three decades ago, it’s not unfair to ask if ‘This Time’ they’ve got it wrong.