Originally published on Planet Slop
As Steve Coogan returns to our screens as the insufferable Alan Partridge, Alan Parry looks back fondly at one of his less remembered characters, Tommy Saxondale.
Steve Coogan is returning to the BBC this month in a brand-new, highly-anticipated Alan Partridge series, and we are more than excited by the news. However, we wanted to have a closer look at another of his projects.
Coogan, of course, has portrayed a whole host of other personas in his time, each of which is brilliantly funny in its own right. But, owing to the success of Partridge and the subsequent demand for more of the same, some of his other work has passed under the radar. One example, which I’m going to take as my focus here, is Saxondale.
Penned by Coogan and sometime collaborator Neil Maclennan, this was a sitcom centred around ex-roadie Tommy Saxondale, who struggles with both an anger management problem, and leaving his previous adrenaline-fuelled, rebellious lifestyle behind. For many years people have spoken about the decline of rock music, and Coogan encapsulates the much-maligned, die-hard dinosaurs of rock with a startling accuracy here. Struggling with no longer being cool or relevant, its no wonder that Tommy has such pent-up aggression, which is most apparent in his officious attitude towards pest control.
But, just because we all know an outmoded rocker or two, does not mean that Tommy is merely a one-dimensional caricature. Simply put, he’s not. While this aspect of his personality is front and centre, there is more going on. For example, Tommy shows off his nurturing skills when he takes a young assistant under his wing, offering him both work and board.
The assistant, Raymond is portrayed by Rasmus Hardiker (Lead Balloon), and he’s offered Tommy’s own brand of life-guidance. This unlikely, quasi-father figure and his counterpoised girlfriend Magz, played by the brilliant Ruth Jones (Gavin and Stacey, A Child’s Christmases in Wales) help the youngster find his feet. And in turn he shows Tommy that there is a way to find genuine pleasure in more low-octane pursuits.
We know that Tommy has been hurt by an unpleasant divorce, and he is obviously unsure of how to process his emotions, so together Raymond and Magz offer him a tenderness which he has clearly been lacking. In this sense it’s a love story, although, it can get a bit kinky at times.
Coogan’s character is a free thinker, and regularly says what’s on his mind, even if it’s not the best time to do so. In this way, the writing team are seemingly holding up a mirror to the wider world. They appear to be saying that strongly held beliefs should be given thorough consideration before being aired publicly, otherwise you can make a right tit of yourself. And perhaps Tommy’s relationship with Morwenna Banks’ Vicky, serves only to prove how difficult it is to get on in life if you are constantly prickly. It maybe that I’m getting a little deep here, because for all this conjecture, the laughs come thick and fast, and they’re not particularly sophisticated.
In conclusion, because they are each portrayed by Coogan, its extremely difficult to separate this from Alan Partridge. But is it fair to judge his other personas against his magnum opus? Probably not. Partridge will be remembered alongside David Brent, Basil Fawlty, Victor Meldrew, Hyacinth Bucket and Captain Mainwaring, as an absolute classic British sitcom character.
But, Saxondale is certainly deserving of attention in its own right. One should remember that at that time the BBC and others were putting out some real tripe, and the resonance of The Office hadn’t truly hit home. It’s not an exercise in subtle humour per se. And nor is it in-your-face in the way that The Thick of It is.
But, is it worth revisiting? Definitely! And my reasons are pretty simple, its well-balanced, and hasn’t aged prematurely. Further, it has a superb cast. But, more than anything, the sort of ill-tempered fossil that Tommy represents, is plenty deserving of the burlesque to which he is treated.