The most important figure in British television comedy doesn’t have a face or a voice everyone would immediately recognise. Even though he’s hosted countless radio programmes and starred in a TV show with his own name in the title, Armando Iannucci isn’t exactly a household name. Not in the way that ‘Steve Coogan’ is. Yet, as the co-creator of I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It and now Veep, the Glasgow-born writer, performer and director has completely redefined the landscape of TV comedy. Over his two decades in show business, he has worked tirelessly to make British comedy smarter, more ambitious and (most importantly) funnier.
But now, in anticipation of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and in honour of Veep‘s multiple nominations at this year’s Emmy Awards, we’re taking a look back this week at the storied television career of The Talented Mr Iannucci.
**Warning: These clips do contain profanity**
The Day Today (1994) – Writer, Producer
A television adaptation of the radio news spook On The Hour, The Day Today introduced many now-important comedy figures to the British Public –or at least the small segment of the public who actually watched it on BBC2 back in the day. Satirising an increasingly sensational British news media, host Chris Morris would speak almost exclusively in hyperbole, berating his guests and contributors like some sort of turbo-Paxman.
The fake news programme also marked Steve Coogan’s first TV appearance as Alan Partridge, although at this point in his fictional career, he was just a sport reporter who knew next to nothing about sport. The programme also served as an obvious forerunner to Morris’ iconoclastic tabloid pastiche Brass Eye, best known for its notorious Paedogeddon special. The Day Today was short-lived on the Beeb, but it eventually became one of the most influential shows of the 90s with the DVD now a regular fixture on the shelves of all British comedy devotees.
The Friday Night Armistice (1995-1999) – Writer, Producer, Host
Iannucci’s first stint as an on-camera personality came in the form of this topical sketch-and-panel show featured his regular pundits David Schneider and Peter Baynham as well as ‘Mr. Tony Blair’, a puppet who behaved like Sooty and was modeled after the then-leader of the Opposition. (Yes, this really was ages ago). Running sporadically over four years, the programme was best known for bizarre stunts like when Armando got OJ Simpson to ‘confess’:
Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (1994-1995) – Writer, Producer
In adapting the their 1992 radio show of the same name, Iannucci, Steve Coogan and co-writer Patrick Marber pretty much transplanted the format wholesale. The Norwich chat maestro would interview a number of guests each week (played by Marber and Iannucci regulars David Schneider and Rebecca Front) only for things to get uncomfortably un-PC.
Featuring incompetent chat and awkward interactions with his bandleader Glenn Ponder, the show was ‘cancelled’ after Alan inadvertently killed a man on live TV and assaulted BBC Commissioning Editor with roasted poultry. This downward turn in Partridge’s life would lead directly into the most successful stage of both Iannucci and Coogan’s careers.
I’m Alan Partridge (1997, 2002) – Producer, Writer
Following on from Alan’s Television exile, this single camera sitcom found Partridge working the graveyard shift at a small local radio station and shacking up at a travel tavern. Iannucci, Coogan and Marber returned for writing duties, taking their first stab at a conventional sitcom and in the process, they created what is considered to be the BBC’s finest comedy of the 90s. Over its two seasons, there were simply too may hilarious bits to even begin to list. But for us, this ranks right up there as one of the funniest moments on British telly:
The Armando Iannucci Shows (2001) – Writer, Producer, Director, Actor
Perhaps the most distilled version of his comedic voice, The Armando Iannucci Shows may have suffered for having aired on Channel 4 throughout September 2001. An irreverent series of sketches, recurring character and wonderfully abstract ideas, the show was incredibly well made, but probably not what the country wanted to watch in the wake of 9/11.
This following scene combines two of the show’s best characters: Iannucci’s talkative barber and Alan Ford as ‘An East End Thug’:
The Thick of It (2005-2012) – Writer, Producer, Director
First shot in 2005 on a miniscule budget, this chaotic and farcical comedy set in the offices of Whitehall broke free from its original BBC Four shackles to earn a spot on BBC2. Focusing on the inner workings of a minor government department, The Thick of It gained notoriety amongst Westminster politicos for being a scarily accurate portrayal of government life. Apart from spawning the Oscar-nominated film In The Loop, the show is best known for introducing the most profane character in the history of broadcast television: party enforcer Malcolm Tucker.
Time Trumpet (2007) – Writer, Producer, Director, Narrator
Disappearing almost without a trace, Time Trumpet was perhaps too high concept for general consumption. Set thirty years in the future, it was meant to resemble one of those ‘I Remember The 80s’ type shows where celebrities appear on camera to reminisce about stuff for money. “Looking back” on events that would happen in our near future, Iannucci and his writers had a lot of fun creating an alternate future in which Charlotte Church throws herself up inside out, Tim Henman murders Andy Murray and Tesco becomes a paramilitary force:
Veep (2012 – now) – Creator, Director, Writer, Producer
Sometime in the late 2000s, The Thick of It had an American adaptation commissioned. A pilot was shot by Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman’s Christopher Guest, who seemed like the perfect candidate for this semi-improvised style fo comedy. However, Iannucci pretty much disowned the final product and the show never made it to air. Soon after, he was approached by HBO, to whom he pitched a show about Vice President of the United States and her staffers. It would become a show that carried over The Thick of It’s love for high level bureaucratic pettiness while allowing it to develop its own distinctly American voice. Written by many of the same writers as its British predecessor, Veep has developed over 2 seasons into one of the most searingly funny shows on American television.