Arguably the high watermark of spoof/satire television in the UK, The Day Today is unquestionably an important slice of British comedy history.
Spawning from the similarly genius radio show On The Hour, The Day Today brought together several now well-known comedic actors and writers – Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front, Patrick Marber, David Schneider, Peter Baynham, Doon Mackichan – all fronted, of course, by Chris Morris.
Created by Morris and Armando Iannucci, The Day Today successfully parodied current affairs programmes of the time, most notably Newsnight, whilst finding the perfect vehicle for some of the finest writers in comedy – among them, Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews. Some of those involved would, of course, go on to create the more anarchic (and brilliant) Brass Eye, but The Day Today represents a more accessible, consistent and, for me, funnier satirical parody of the media.
While there are many standout moments throughout the series, here are the sketches and moments I think help define The Day Today as one of the most influential comedies of the 90s
“Is this cool?”
Steve Coogan’s role in The Day Today is, of course, inextricably linked with the television birth of Alan Partridge but, in truth, the show was a far broader showcase for his character-driven comedy.
One of my favourite sketches is his ‘information special’ as Conor Hammil. Warning viewers about the dangers of driving dangerously, Coogan begins as an imitation of Jeremy Clarkson – “Get out of my way you squares!” – before then asking, repeatedly “Is this cool?” while showing us a barrage of images of scars and injuries.
The kind of thing Coogan makes seem effortless.
Peter O’ Hanraha-hanrahan
The show’s economics correspondent, Peter O’ Hanraha-hanrahan is regularly shown up as an inept and often bumbling figure. Whether faking German “ich nichten lichten” or failing to successfully interview political figures “Peter! You’ve lost the news!”, O’ Hanraha-hanrahan is consistently the butt of the joke.
Patrick Marber plays this so well, actually making you feel rather sorry for him in the face of Chris Morris’ Jeremy Paxman-esqe barracking.
While we’re on the subject of Peter, the show provided many other memorable names – Colin Poppshed, Romella Belx, Donnnald Bethl’hem, Valerie Sinatra and, of course Sukie Bapswent.
A scarily on-the-nose parody of MTV, the Rok TV segment was perhaps most memorable for Nirvana’s musical accompaniment to a sanitary towel advert. Chris Morris shows off his own admirable character impersonations throughout the segment which further benefits from the deadpan delivery.
And then there’s Fur Q. I was a teenager when I first saw The Day Today and I remember being in uncontrollable tears of laughter when this sketch aired. The song Uzi Lover, clearly a broad parody of the media’s perceptions of hip hop, still cracks me up today.
Alan Gordon Partridge made his first tentative steps into television on The Day Today and his mixture of in-studio banter and live broadcasts remains some of the funniest work Coogan has done with Partridge, which is saying something considering the breadth of work.
I am particularly fond of his World Cup 94 preview, which any self-respecting human being will have seen. Eminently quotable – “TWAT! That was liquid football!”, “He must have a foot like a traction engine”, and, of course, “THRIKER!”
A worthy mention, too, for his frequently awkward back-and-forths with Chris Morris. His discomfort is obvious and a clear step-change from the latter-day all-knowing Partridge we would later come to meet.
Just what would a soap opera set inside a Bureau de Change really be like? The Bureau answered this emphatically with Morris announcing that this would be replacing the BBC’s 9 O’ Clock News. A relatively rare case of bringing all of the core actors together in one sketch, everyone brings their ‘A’ game, from Coogan’s slimy manager to Front and Mackichan’s bitching assistants, ably supported by fine turns by Schnieder and Marber.
The overacting is brilliantly-played and if there was ever a perfect send-up of EastEnders, this is it. It’s also another example of how the show could mix broad, accessible comedy with its more hard-hitting satirical bite – “Pull down the blinds. I’m closing the Bureau… for an hour”.
The mockumentary format is well-established these days and there are countless examples of the genre, some brilliant (Spinal Tap, Look Around You), others less so (Confetti).
The Pool is very probably The Day Today‘s finest work. Told in two-parts, it follows the workers and visitors of a swimming pool in Acton and, like The Bureau, gives all the actors a chance to collaborate.
Doon Mackichan’s truly horrible receptionist starts things off, presenting the pool’s notices in lieu of wanting to actually communicate with real people, resulting in one swimmer bellowing “Give me a key!” Then we have David Schneider’s wonderful, ineffective supervisor and the children he’s in charge of who are so clearly having a whale of a time filming.
Patrick Marber weighs in with some delightful lines as a smarmy swimming attendant before we meet my favourite Coogan character outside of Partridge, the pool’s night supervisor.
What begins as a relatively innocuous and very personal interview takes a far darker turn as he tells a story of the pool’s safety record under his watch, with his proud boast of only having slipped up once in his 18 years on the job.
Say it with me: “In 1975, no-one died. In 1976, no-one died. In 1977, no-one died. In 1978, no-one died. In 1979, no-one died. In 1980, some ONE died. In 1981, no-one died. In 1982… there was the incident with the pigeon. In 1983, no-one died. In 1984, no-one died. In 1985, no-one died. In 1986… I mean i could go on…”.