Back of the net! Kiss my face! Jacka-nacka-nory! Indeed, Lynn, it’s been a busy week for actor, comedian, writer, podcaster and all-round showbiz Swiss Army knife Steve Coogan.
Not only does he star in the timely new Channel 4 comedy-drama Chivalry, made with co-star Sarah Solemani, but as a certain Alan Gordon Partridge, he’s about to embark on a Ted Talk-style live tour called Stratagem. Which deserves the credit of also working as a potential Apprentice team name. Textbook.
In the meantime, we’ve ranked all of his major TV roles from worst to best. As Alan Partridge likes to say before sex, let the battle begin…
15. Tony Ferrino (1997-1998)
A rare misfire from Coogan’s early days as a cartoon character. The grubby, deeply sexist Portuguese crooner starred in spoof showbiz spectacle The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon (even though he couldn’t pronounce the word ‘phenomenon’). A two-time winner of the “Danish coveted Golden Throat Award”, he specialized in syrupy Euro ballads and any resemblance to the likes of Julio Iglesias, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck was entirely coincidental in our opinion. Coogan went for it wholeheartedly, but Ferrino was a creation of one joke, stretched thinner than his own form-fitting leatherette pants.
14. Thom Payne – Happyish (2015)
In a role originally intended for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, in this US black comedy, Coogan played a nagging middle-aged advertising executive who was forced to settle for being “happy.” It was aimed at literate and Woody Allen-esque, but came across as smugly pretentious and couldn’t find its funny bone. After a disappointing run, it was axed. Unhappy.
13. dr. Terrible – Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible (2001)
This six-part anthology parodied British horror films as well as Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. Coogan introduced stories as the eponymous slaphead and starred in every episode, spoofing ghostly staples like witchcraft, mad scientists, and voodoo curses. Which probably sounded funnier on paper than it turned out on screen.
12. Pauline Calf (1993-2003)
“I’m 24, single and gagging about it. I’m just kidding, I’m 25.” Paul’s coppery 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 teetering down the aisle toward fiancé Spiros (Patrick Marber). The Patrick Swayze superfan’s tagline was “I’ve had it!”. Under the pseudonym Paulette Vache, she was the author of two self-help books: Stallion Heart and She Shat Herself. Dated jokes and the hint of misogyny prevent Pauline from rising higher.
11. Nick Lee – Cruise of the Gods (2002)
This feature-length film was particularly notable for launching the TV careers of James Corden and David Walliams — not to mention drug addict Russell Brand, who was fired after going ashore for nights of debauchery at a strip club. It takes place aboard a fan cruise in honor of the fictional 1980s sci-fi series Children of Castor. Coogan plays to type as the snooty former star of the show. Since then, he’d gone to Hollywood (final film credit: Sherlock Holmes in Miami), while his castmates hadn’t.
10. dr. Bright – Keep your enthusiasm in check (2008)
As Larry David’s wimpy psychiatrist, Coogan’s one-episode stint was certainly memorable. The therapists discovered that Dr. Bright gave LD ill-advised romantic advice—particularly to give estranged wife Cheryl an ultimatum—before he became his patient’s partner-in-crime, raided Cheryl’s own psychiatrist, and landed him in prison. Talk about a dramatic arc.
9. Cameron O’Neill – Chivalry (2022)
“I try to be nice, but sometimes it comes out terrible.” Coogan amusingly riffs on his unreconstructed image in this cameo-packed comedy-drama about sexual politics in the post-#MeToo era. Crazy, womanizing Hollywood film producer Cameron O’Neill, he’s actually Alan Partridge in a better suit as he grapples with the new world of female agency, toxic masculinity, and steady intimacy coordinators. Despite his fear of being canceled, he can’t resist dating actors and assistants half his age – a paradox that Coogan also plays in The Trip.
8. Gareth Cheeseman – Coogan’s Run (1995)
Coogan played all six main protagonists in this anthology series, but the already established Paul Calf aside, the most memorable by far was the selfish computer sound card salesman Cheeseman. In his best Hugo Boss suit and yelling, “You’re a tiger! Grrr!” in the bathroom mirror, he desperately tried to secure a major contract at a sales conference until fate tragically intervened. A pleasantly hideous creation, though Gareth’s stunted emotions and auto-fix had echoes of you-know-who.
7. Bing Crosby – Sunshine (2008)
This three-part version from Royle Family writers Craig Cash and Phil Mealey is a neglected gem. Coogan played it pretty fair when the compulsive Stockport binman, Bob “Bing” Crosby, was kicked out of the conjugal home and forced to move in with his ailing geriatric father (the magnificent Bernard Hill). In a performance full of charm, he handled the tone shifts from well-perceived quirkiness to weepy tragedy.
6. DCI Clive Driscoll – Stephen (2021)
Based on Driscoll’s memoir In Pursuit of the Truth, this gripping ITV miniseries recreates the Lawrence family’s struggle for justice after the sickening racially motivated murder of teenager Stephen. As the Met detective who ultimately gave the case the respect it deserved, Coogan gave a low-key twist as diligent Driscoll, catching the killers too late with “common sense brassware.” He arguably lacked dramatic weight, but as an all-time hero, he played a rare straight part with aplomb.
5. Samuel Pepys – The Private Life of Samuel Pepys (2003)
Coogan donned a lavish wig and led a heavyweight cast in this unjustly forgotten curiosity. As the flirtatious 17th-century diarist tried for embezzling naval funds, he was irreverent and full of eyebrow-waggling intrigue. The bawdy, Blackadder-esque costume comedy proved to be a pre-Christmas ratings hit for BBC Two, drawing 3 million viewers.
4. Tommy Saxondale (2006-2007)
“Listen, you damn dildo, I was sucking the devil’s rose with Lucifer Reed and switching the fuse on Peter Frampton’s vocoder while you still shit rusk.” One of Coogan’s more underrated creations was this spiky suburban antihero, whose mid-’00s sitcom ran two series. The roadie-turned-pest-fighter had anger issues and a penchant for his own voice, but was genuinely witty, while his relationships with girlfriend Magz (Ruth Jones) and protégé Raymond (Rasmus Hardiker) were cunningly contagious. Certain Saxondale traits feel like a dry run for later iterations of Partridge.
3. Paul Calf (1993-2003)
Zak o’ shit. The bleached Mancunian lager-lout started life as a stand-up character named Duncan Disorderly. He shot to cult fame in 1993 when, renamed Paul Calf, he stole the show on Jonathan Ross’ variety show 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 mate “fat blobby bastard cake-in-his-gob Bob” (John Thomson) that we felt sorry for.
2. Self – The Journey (2010-2020)
It doesn’t get much more meta than this midlife crisis comedy, in which real-life enemies Coogan and Rob Brydon play exaggerated versions of themselves on culinary road trips across the Lake District, Italy, Spain and Greece. Cue Michelin star food and competitive imitations. What could be a gargantuan joke is elevated to existential brilliance by Michael Winterbottom’s directing and Coogan’s fine-tuned performance, in which he is the more successful but dark and disaffected of the riffing duo. In later series, Steve’s struggles to bond with his college student son and his father’s death were quietly devastating.
1. Alan Partridge (1991–present)
What else could it be? North Norfolk’s most gaffe-prone broadcaster is the role Coogan was born to play. The 56-year-old has now worn Partridge’s signature blazers for more than half his life and it shows. He knows every vibration and nuance, which has painstakingly worked him out from a caricature spewing a slogan to a layered creation of subtle pathos. From his beginnings as a dashing sports reporter to his current co-hosting appearance on One Show-alike magazine program This Time, the sporty, casually dressed little Englander has become one of our most enduring and beloved cartoon characters. Coogan once called Alan an albatross, but has since softened, admitting he’s turned into “a battered but comfortable old leather jacket.” Or maybe a vintage pair of mesh-backed car gloves. ah!