Comedy Rewind

Ready, set, go for Coogan's Run

Coogan's Run. Guy Crump (Steve Coogan). Credit: Pozzitive Productions

1995 was a busy year for Steve Coogan. As well as appearing in his first Hollywood blockbuster The Indian In The Cupboard, he also co-wrote and starred in six part anthology Coogan's Run.

Aside from Inside No. 9, nowadays it is increasingly rare for a performer to get their own anthology series. In the 1960s and 70s they were more common, with Ronnie Barker having several that showcased his talents: Seven Of One famously giving birth to both Porridge and Open All Hours. While no episodes of Coogan's Run were ultimately spun off into series of their own, each episode is a standalone story that focuses on a character from the fictional northern town of Ottle. Coogan and long-time collaborator Henry Normal's aim was to make a series based not only around a single town in Greater Manchester, but one that would also capitalise on Coogan's chameleon-like ability to inhabit a wide variety of characters over and above what was already his most popular creation, Alan Partridge.

Coogan's Run. Credit: Pozzitive Productions

Originally developed under the title Six Sides Of Coogan, which would have come complete with cheesy retro opening credits showing Coogan's face on each side of a dice, Coogan's Run kicked off with Get Calf, which features Paul and Pauline Calf, characters Coogan had been honing on the live circuit for many years, and who had already been seen on the small screen. Paul is a gruff, unemployed wastrel who fills his days drinking with best friend Fat Bob, played by John Thomson. Coogan and Thomson had won the prestigious Perrier award three years previously for their Edinburgh Fringe show In Character, featuring the duo.

This episode sees Calf go into hiding after witnessing a bank robbery, where he clashes violently with a religious cult into which he attempts to integrate, and has to be rescued by Fat Bob. Coogan wrote the script alongside long-time collaborator and business partner Henry Normal, with whom he would set up production company Baby Cow in 1999 - itself named in reference to Paul and Pauline.

Coogan's Run. Credit: Pozzitive Productions

Dearth Of A Salesman is probably the best remembered of the episodes, in no small part due to protagonist Gareth Cheeseman's resemblance to Alan Partridge, both in looks and mannerisms. Scripted by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, the episode follows Cheeseman's increasingly desperate attempts to secure a deal at a sales conference despite the fact that he seemingly possesses no social skills, which he doesn't notice due to his enormous ego. Many of the hallmarks of Partridge can be seen here, from the dull dissection of minutiae to righteous indignation aimed at employees or indeed anybody he sees as being inferior. In many ways it is a prototype for I'm Alan Partridge, even seeing all its action confined to a hotel.

As much as Coogan likes the humour to come from the character detail, Linehan and Mathews still pepper the script with proper jokes. For example:

GARETH: [On the phone] We should get together. Shoot a game of pool, like the old days. Just you and me, on the town, we'll get completely rat arsed! OK, bye Mum.

A running gag sees Cheeseman speak effusively about his Ford Probe car, repeatedly admonishing anybody who gets within touching distance. Inevitably, this pays off at the end as it is destroyed. Cheeseman made such an impression that the press blamed poor sales of the Ford Probe on its prominence in this episode.

Coogan's Run. Image shows left to right: Florence Mullinger (Felicity Montagu), Ernest Moss (Steve Coogan), Robin Moss (John Thomson). Credit: Pozzitive Productions

A Handyman For All Seasons, again written by Coogan and Normal, takes us back to Ottle in the 1960s. Filmed in black and white, the episode is perhaps the closest to realism as the series gets. Its style draws on many aspects of television production of the time, mirroring the likes of early Coronation Street, and the plot sees repairman Ernest Moss's life crumble around him as he attempts to put a halt to a property development.

Coogan's Run. Credit: Pozzitive Productions

Thursday Night Fever, another Linehan and Mathews script, takes us inside a nightclub where failing entertainer Mike Crystal invents a hypermasculine alter ego, Clint Stallone, and begins to see his fortunes change. Coogan had been developing a similar character, Duncan Thickett, on the live circuit. While Thickett was a pastiche of a desperate comic always dying onstage, Crystal cuts a more flawed figure. Just five years later, Peter Kay would explore a similar world in Phoenix Nights.

Coogan's Run. Guy Crump (Steve Coogan). Credit: Pozzitive Productions

Natural Born Quizzers takes place inside the highly competitive world of pub quizzes, as trivia-obsessed brothers Stuart and Guy Crump, who lost a quiz show as children and burned down the studio, killing one of their two competitors (and both of their own parents) in the process, are released from prison after 20 years only to kidnap their therapist and the surviving opponent to re-enact that fateful night. As well as co-starring as Stuart Crump, Patrick Marber also co-wrote the episode, having invented the characters for Jonathan Ross's variety series Saturday Zoo. If any comparisons to Inside No. 9 are made, this is usually the episode used as an example, containing as it does both deeply psychotic characters and violent elements.

Coogan's Run. Credit: Pozzitive Productions

Marber wrote and directed the final episode, The Curator. Tim Fleck, the insipid titular character, plots revenge after his beloved museum is turned into a steakhouse. Along with Natural Born Quizzers, this episode strikes perhaps the darkest tone, with Fleck being (even by Coogan's standards) a remarkably meek, lamentable loser, inspired by the swimming pool attendant seen in The Day Today. But, perhaps more than any other character in the series, it shows Coogan's chameleon-like ability to completely inhabit a role that could have been a one note stereotype. There isn't a hint of repetition from his other performances through Coogan's Run.

While the title makes clear that this is ultimately Coogan's baby, he is not afraid to share the screen with similar talent, and surrounds himself with the cream of the crop of comic character actors throughout. From Victoria Wood stalwart Bernard Wrigley to future The Catherine Tate Show actor Richard Lumsden, the series is a goldmine of future stars. Notably, Graham Fellows makes a rare appearance outside of his alter ego John Shuttleworth as a weedy agent in Thursday Night Fever.

It may be something of a curio in Coogan's filmography, and while he has gone on to huge popular and critical success as both a writer and actor (including winning a BAFTA for co-writing Philomena), Coogan's Run captures him on the cusp of superstardom, fresh from the live circuit and eager to make his mark. After the success of the series he went on to create womanising pop star Tony Ferrino for The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon, which was broadcast shortly before I'm Alan Partridge launched him into the big leagues.

While Steve Coogan has continued to create characters, Coogan's Run stands as perhaps the greatest - and certainly a long-lasting - example of his seemingly effortless ability to disappear into multiple characters, a skillt hat has served him well in his ascent to the apex of the industry. It's worthy a few hours' of anyone's time for that alone.

Where to start?

Coogan's Run. Image shows left to right: Stuart Crump (Patrick Marber), Guy Crump (Steve Coogan). Credit: Pozzitive Productions

Episode 5 - Natural Born Quizzers

Natural Born Quizzers serves as a showcase for every skill in Coogan's armoury. Paired with Patrick Marber as oddball siblings who are just a little too close, the banter between the two carries the episode through some dark scenes while their obsessive pursuit of quiz show glory wouldn't see them out of place in Royston Vasey. The police officer assigned to their case is Jim Carter, who is a deadpan delight throughout.

Complete Coogan

At last - a collection celebrating the true comic craftsmanship of Steve Coogan!

From Alan Partridge to Duncan Thicket and from Pauline Calf to Tommy Saxondale, the award-winning Coogan's outrageous, perfectly-observed, comic alter-egos have provided many of the funniest moments on British TV. This fantastic collection has them all - not just his iconic Partridge, Paul Calf and Tony Ferrino, but also cherished, one-off gems like Nathan Blaze, Gareth Cheeseman and Ernest Moss.

First released: Monday 1st December 2008

  • Distributor: 2 Entertain
  • Region: 2 & 4
  • Discs: 14
  • Minutes: 1,370
  • Subtitles: English

Buy and sell old and new items
Search for this product on eBay

BCG may earn commission on sales generated through the links above.

Not in the UK?

Fear not! Many items can still be ordered. Amazon in the UK delivers to many international territories, whilst their Australia, USA and Canada stores also supply many equivalent or imported items.

If you are in the North America, look out for US/Canadian flag icons on popular product listings for direct links.

If you order from a UK store, please note that the UK is in Region 2 and B, respectively, for DVDs and Blu-rays - check your player's compatibility, or look for multi-region products if you are located in another region.

If you are in Australia or New Zealand (DVD Region 4), note that almost all DVDs distributed in the UK by the BBC and 2entertain are encoded for both Region 2 and Region 4. The UK and Australasia are in the same Blu-ray region (B).

Share this page