Forgotten Comedies: The Day Today

The Day Today was satire at its finest. You'd think that twenty-five years later this TV show, satirising events of the mid-nineties for just one series, wouldn't have much to offer to a modern audience. But thanks to great writing, it still feels fresh and modern and its style is still being emulated!

(Not to mention that this show, or rather its radio incarnation, was the first outing for the iconic comedy character Alan Partridge!)

The Day Today starred Chris Morris, who is most famous for C4's Brass Eye (more on that later) and might be better known to the casual comedy viewer for being the first boss in The IT Crowd. He co-wrote The Day Today, but also acted as a news anchor. The whole programme was played 'straight', and in such a style that you might actually be briefly tricked into believing that you were watching a real news programme!

This was a quite a revelation at the time, though these days we are more familiar with this kind of thing on YouTube: recut interviews and amusing mash-ups of political speeches. But really, this all started on The Day Today.

The show began on Radio 4 in 1991 with On the Hour, which was written by Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, to name just a few. This was where Alan Partridge debuted as a sports pundit.

There were other returning characters too - such as economics corespondent Peter O'Hanraha-hanrahan played by Patrick Marber. However, it was 'Alan Partridge' that really took off! In fact he took off quicker than On the Hour itself.

In 1992, Alan Partridge was given a Radio 4 spin off, titled Knowing Me Knowing You. Both The Day Today and Knowing Me Knowing You spawned TV versions, and both debuted around the same time on BBC2 in 1994.

The Day Today retained most of its core group of performers and writers from the radio, but most notably it added Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews to the writing team. They would go on to create arguably one of the greatest sitcoms of all time: Father Ted!

The surreal style is what keeps The Day Today from feeling dated. The story about 'the British pound being stolen,' for example, could almost be a Monty Python sketch:

The show was a big success, winning many awards. So, what happened next? And why wasn't there a second series? Well, according to David Quantick, the screenwriter, Chris Morris had a 'one series only' policy: "Chris only does six of anything. He’s too much of a perfectionist to do any more. A stickler for detail.” (Source)

You may probably be aware that Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci went on to write every Alan Partridge vehicle there has ever been together, and they still do! Thereafter, Chris Morris went to work for Channel 4, along with many of the other writers of The Day Today (including Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan).

However, they also introduced new writers (most notably Charlie Brooker), creating Brass Eye, one of the most controversial comedy shows of all time.

Brass Eye continued The Day Today's style, but ramped up the edginess, pushing the boundaries of comedy more than even the likes of Frankie Boyle, and other well known controversial comedians of our day. In fact, it caused such a stir that it led to a huge media backlash against the programme and even lead to a tabloid campaign against it.

But whatever you think about Brass Eye, few could argue with The Day Today and its influence on the comedy landscape. Even now shows like The Mash Report, Dead Ringers and, going back a bit further, Listen Against on Radio 4 (who remembers that one?) were clearly influenced by its style.

It is a show that is often cited by comedians as inspirational, and you still see clips of The Day Today posted on Twitter satirising today's politics - an incredible feat for a satire show that is now twenty-five years old!

Written by Rhianna Evans

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