John Thomson reveals comedy writing techniques he and Steve Coogan used in the 90s

John Thomson spent many years writing with fellow coemdian Steve Coogan

Comedians John Thomson and Steve Coogan met while studying drama at Manchester Polytechnic and not only developed a friendship, but also a successful writing partnership.

Their first show together was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1992 – Steve Coogan In Character With John Thomson won the Perrier Comedy Award that year.

Speaking on White Wine Question Time, John Thomson told Kate Thornton he was still a newbie on the scene when he performed at the Fringe.  

“I left college in the 1990s. Me and Steve [Coogan] were writing together, doing characters and we formulated this show. I was the compere, Bernand Righton, which was a politically correct Bernard Manning. I hosted the show.”

A review in The Independent at the time said of the award-winning show: “The material is variable, but the timing is flawless.”

The pair carried on writing together over the years, working on some of Steve’s successful shows such as Coogan’s Run, and Knowing Me, Knowing you… With Alan Patridge.

John, who now plays Pete Gifford in Cold Feet, says the pair had a great system for writing their characters, which involved taking lots of strange photos.

“We had a great system really, particularly for Ernest [Moss, one of Steve Coogan’s recurring characters]. I used to relish writing for him.

“What we would do is we would dress up in character, drive around Manchester with a mate, with a camera and go 'Stop! Here looks good' and pose.

“Me and Steve would photograph first, develop the slides, because there was no PowerPoint then, it was slides and a slide show. We'd sit, put them in a carousel, click them and then we'd write around the picture. We worked backwards. It was a great way of working.”

Their ‘system’ resulted in some interesting locations being found.

“Ancoats in Manchester was a good place because there's some quite interesting places,” John told Kate. “Like the unfinished section of the Mancunian flyover. I'd stand at the top of it, but you're not supposed to be up there, I don't think.”

John Thompson appears on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time hosted by Kate Thornton

“One image I remember that endures is a burnt-out sandwich bar with like timbers, charcoal timbers sticking up and it was called The Butty Bar Plus.”

He continued: “One was literally an abandoned caravan in a lay-by that was starting to come apart. The outer shell had been come off it. And he [Steve] had me pulling it – and we were like 'There's Rob. He's as strong as an ox with the mind of a child!'

“People driving past must have gone 'What the heck are they doing?'” laughed John.

Steve, who is the only person John collaborated with, went onto become hugely famous for these eclectic characters, particularly Alan Partridge, who returned to the small screen last year.

Of those early days writing with Steve, John said: “Oh, happy days. We had such a laugh doing that.”


Hear John Thompson talk more about his early comedy career, the return of Cold Feet and his love of fashion on this week’s episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.