After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1989, Alistair began working as a stand-up comic and was soon a regular at London's Comedy Store.
He appeared at the Edinburgh Festival for the first time as a stand-up comic in 1991 (he had appeared there as an actor in 1988 with the satirical show 'NewsRevue') in a double-bill with Harry Hill (then Harry Hall) called 'When Harry Met Ally' - which became a four-part radio series the following year.
His reputation as an impressionist grew and grew as he appeared on countless television shows including ; 'Tarbuck Late, Pebble Mill, The Clive James Show, Auntie's Sporting Bloomers, Oddballs, Frank Skinner's 'Packing Them In', Saturday Live, Under The Moon, They Think It's All Over, That's Showbusiness, Live At Jongleurs, and on the 1996 Royal Variety Show.
ii) actor - television
He also worked as an actor on television most notably in two series of Tim Firth's award-winning comedy drama 'Preston Front' - he took over from Stephen Tompkinson as 'Spock' - and also featured in Roy Clarke's short-lived 'Spark' (alongside James Fleet and Jan Francis), Rob Grant's 'Dark Ages' (alongside Pauline McLynn, Phill Jupitus and Sheridan Smith) had a small role in the first episode of Jonathan Creek and appeared in an episode of Murder Most Horrid (with Dawn French).
He appeared in television sketch shows ; 'Up Yer News'(BSkyB's first comedy show - with Caroline Quentin, Robert Bathurst et al), 'The Imaginatively Entitled Punt and Dennis', 'Harry Enfield and Chums' and Stewart Lee and Richard Herring's 'Fist of Fun'. He also made a broadcast pilot of a show entitled 'It's A Mad, World, World, World' with Caroline Ahearne which was not commissioned.
He found a regular slot on BBC2's football programme 'Standing Room Only' - in which he first appeared in a sketch with Ronni Ancona (directed by Peter Cattaneo who went on to direct 'The Full Monty') - and wrote for and appeared in the hugely popular BBC Scotland football sketch show 'Only An Excuse' - the first time he had done impressions with wigs and make-up.
He was a regular feature on Radio 4 comedy shows including: Weekending (1989-93), The Harpoon (by Julian Dutton and Peter Baynham), The Nick Revell Show, The Young Postmen (by and with Ben Miller), The House of The Spirit Levels (with Claire Skinner and Alison Steadman), Life, Death and Sex With Mike and Sue (with Sally Phillips, Jan Ravens, Ronni Ancona, Robert Duncan and Roger Blake) and he co-wrote and starred in four series of The Game's Up (a satirical sports show) on Radio Five (again alongside Ronni Ancona), was a team captain on two series of Radio 4 panel show 'First Impressions' and made one disastrous appearance on 'Just A Minute.'
He also read several books for Radio 4's 'Book At Bedtime' slot including Anton Chekhov's short stories, J.L. Carr's 'The Harpole Report' and 'Stalin's Nose' by Rory McLean.
As an actor, he took the title role in 'Decline and Fall' alongside Jim Broadbent and Andrew Sachs, 'Cold Call' (with Deborah Findlay) and in 'Roberto Zucco' and 'Our Man At Wembley.'
iv) voice work
From 1992-1996, he provided the voices for many of the characters on 'Spitting Image' (including : Prince Charles, Tony Blair, Paddy Ashdown, John Smith, John Major, Terry Venables, Chris Eubank, Gary Lineker, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Griff Rhys-Jones, David Coleman, Trevor McDonald, Michael Buerke, Ian McCaskill and Hugh Grant) - alongside Jon Thompson, Hugh Dennis, Steve Nallon, Kate Robbins, Roger Blake and Steve Coogan.
He also provided voices for Spitting Image Productions' controversial 'Crapston Villas' on Channel 4 (alongside Jane Horrocks, Alison Steadman and Lesley Sharp) ; provided the voices of Alan Snowman and Des Yeti for 'Robbie The Reindeer' and played all the characters in the children's animation 'James the Cat' for Channel 5.
He was part of the voice team in the latter series of BBC2's 'The Staggering Stories of Ferdinand de Bargos,' (alongside Jim Broadbent, Enn Reitel, Jon Glover, Jo Brooks and Ronni Ancona). With Glover, he also re-voiced footage for 'Sports Review of the Year' for three years, 95-97.
His interest in sport also saw him release two hugely-popular football comedy videos: Football Backchat and The Second Leg which assured him of cult status among football fans and professional footballers alike. McGowan wrote all the dialogue and re-voiced existing footage to hilarious effect.
The young McGowan was very well used by advertising companies. He featured in adverts for ; McEwans lager, Heineken, HJ Heinz Soup, Fruit and Fibre and Gino Ginelli.
After establishing himself on The Big Impression, he also brought the issue of identity fraud to the public in a series of adverts for Capital One. He then became front page news when the Daily Mirror illegally went through his bins and found items he had thrown away which could allegedly have resulted in his own identity being copied - he was swiftly replaced in the advertising campaign by a talking frog.
His theatre work falls into three sections ;
Post drama school (89-90)
Loving Women (Etcetera Theatre), The Pied Piper (Worcester Swan) and 'Goodbye America' (Eastern Angles)
Pre and during 'The Big Impression' (98-2000)
Kafka in Kafka's Dick (directed by Philip Franks) and Clov in Endgame, alongside James Bolam (both at Nottingham Playhouse), Art (with Sean Hughes and Colin Buchanan at The Wyndham's, 2000)
Post 'The Big Impression' (2005- present)
Khlestakov in The Government Inspector (Chichester) - 'a triumph' (The Stage), Ford in Merry Wives : The Musical (RSC - with Judi Dench and Simon Callow) and The Dentist in Little Shop of Horrors (Duke of York's - for which he received an Olivier nomination), the title role in The Mikado (Carl Rosa) - 'showed how it should be done' (Evening Standard), Vernon Gersh in They're Playing Our Song alongside Connie Fisher (Menier Chocolate Factory) - 'The excellent Alistair McGowan' (Daily Telegraph), The Duke in Thelma Holt's touring 'Measure For Measure' (2009), the Emcee in Rufus Norris' Cabaret (Lyric), Baron Hardup in 'Cinderella' (2008, Wimbledon Theatre with Gareth Gates and Joanna Page), 'Cocktails With Coward' (devised by Alistair McGowan, Riverside Studios, 2010), The Pirate King in 'The Pirates of Penzance for Raymond Gubbay (2011), John in 'Oleanna - 'flawless acting...'(Nottingham, Lakeside, 2011) and Henry Higgins in 'Pygmalion' at The Garrick Theatre alongside Dame Diana Rigg (2011)
For the World Cup in 1998, McGowan was asked to record a song with a band called 'Yeah Force One'. It was hoped that 'World Cup Crescendo' (a loose spoof of an old song by the Bonzo dog Doo-Dah Band), would be a serious contender for 'Number One'. But dwarfed by Fat Les with 'Vindaloo' and a re-release of Baddiel and Skinner's Three Lions, it received next to no airplay and reached no higher than 100 in the charts.
From 1998-2003, Alistair took part in a number of poetry festivals at which he read his own poetry (as yet unpublished) - a mixture of comic, autobiographical, romantic and observational work. Venues included ; The Manchester Poetry festival, The Swindon Literature Festival (twice), The Ledbury poetry festival (twice) and the Ross-on-Wye poetry Festival.
McGowan has had autobiographical pieces in The Times, travel articles in The Daily Mail and written several environmental articles for The Sun.
In 1997-98, McGowan regularly wrote for the Daily Telegraph Saturday sport section. He wrote comedy articles spoofing the match programme styles of the likes of Graham Taylor and Martin O'Neill and also conducted genuine interviews with Tim Henman and his coach David Felgate but had to give up writing articles to concentrate on his emerging TV series, The Big Impression.
THE BIG IMPRESSION
'The Big Impression' (commissioned as 'Alistair McGowan's Big Impression' - the show's name was changed after two series to reflect Ronni Ancona's growing presence and popularity in the show) ran for four series on BBC One between 1999 and 2004.
The pair made over thirty half-hour editions of the show which gained ratings of over 8 million at its peak.
The show won several awards including : Best Comedy Entertainment Programme at the Comedy Awards in 2000 and a BAFTA for Best Comedy programme in 2003 while Alistair and Ronni jointly won 'The Comedy Award' at the Variety Club Awards in 2001 and Alistair won 'Best Entertainment Performance' at the Royal Television Society awards in 2001. The programme redefined impressions shows proving that they could be populist and intelligent and succeed without involving outright political satire.
It is not generally known that McGowan wrote seventy per cent of the sketches and was the show's script-editor.
The most popular characters were Victoria and David Beckham but McGowan and Ancona did around 100 characters between them. They lampooned anyone and everyone - from Cary Grant to Hugh Grant, Richard and Judy, the cast of Eastenders - esp Dot Cotton (played by Alistair) and Peggy Mitchell (Ronni Ancona on her knees). McGowan was particularly known for his Sven Goran Eriksson, Gary Lineker and Mark Lawrenson, David Schwimmer and a slurring Michael Parkinson.
As well as their four six-part series, the pair filmed a number of specials including 'Posh and Becks' Big Impression' and 'Sven and Nancy's Big Impression' which were filmed like mini-dramas.
The pair hoped to take the series on to doing more story-led episodes but this vision was not shared by the BBC and, reluctant to continue with the series as a sketch show, McGowan and Ancona decided to pursue other projects.
Post The Big Impression
Since 'The Big Impression' ended McGowan has been hugely busy in an impressive number of fields.
On television, he has just finished a much-admired 6 part sports-comedy show 'You Cannot Be Serious' ('An excellent one-man show', Clive James (Daily Telegraph)) for ITV1he played Mr Kenge in BBC One's seminal production of Bleak House (starring Gillian Anderson, Carey Mulligan and Anna Maxwell-Martin et al) and the title role in the hard-done-by, quirky detective show Mayo (co-writing several later episodes) - also on BBC One.
He most recently played Piero de Medici in the first series of 'Leonardo' on CBBC and featured as Robert Wilson in 'The Words of Captain Scott' alongside Dougreay Scott.
He was a team captain on the short-lived panel show '29 Minutes of Fame' - from the creators of 'Mock the Week' - with Bob Mortimer, Jo Brand and Sean Lock.
He hosted Have I Got News For You? And presented an hour-long wildlife show 'Alistair McGowan Goes Wild With Rhinos' in which he highlighted the terrible decline in the world's rhino population. He presented a piece on The One Show on the nature of protest - tied in with his own protest about the proposed building of the third runway at Heathrow - and has been a guest on Room 101 and famously featured on the hugely popular Who Do You Think You Are? in which he discovered he had Anglo-Indian roots on his father's side.
While still making The Big Impression, he also hosted an edition of highly-successful BBC series The Big Read (in which he extolled the virtues of Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights'), he appeared on The Late Review three times as a reviewer and hosted 'Richard and Judy' on Channel 4 (with Ronni Ancona) while the regular presenters took a week's holiday.
His love of sport also saw him try his hand at commentating. Once on football (Mansfield Town vs Rochdale for Stag FM) and once on tennis - realising a boyhood dream when he covered the events taking place on Court 3 at Wimbledon for BBC Five Live alongside Wendy Turnbull and commentated briefly on a Michael Chang vs Jonas Bjorkmann second round match.
In 2009, after a long-run of successful theatre projects, McGowan returned to stand-up with a sell-out run at The Edinburgh Festival before embarking on his first solo tour ('The One And Many') which played 44 dates around the United Kingdom. (Alistair did the whole tour by train). The tour culminated in him hosting an edition of the hugely-popular 'Live At the Apollo' on BBC One.
Also at Edinburgh, he performed in 'Cocktails With Coward' (with singer Charlotte Page) - a sell-out show he devised, featuring the songs and dramatised poems of Noel Coward. The show was revived for two short runs at Hammersmith's Riverside Studios in 2010 - the second run being renamed 'Sincerely Noel' after a second hour was added to the show.
He appeared as Nico (a corrupt Greek tourist guide) in the film 'Driving Aphrodite' opposite Nia Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss - 'Alistair McGowan steals every scene that he's in.' (Screen Daily). He played an Anglo-Indian film star in the low-budget film 'Ealing Comedy' with Kulvinder Ghia and he was also used in the film 'Everything Is Illuminated' (directed by Liev Schreiber) but his role as a rabbi burying Elijah Wood's grandfather and turning into Hitler was cut by the producers from the final edit and the scene replaced by a shot of Wood looking at a gravestone. In 2010, David Baddiel asked McGowan - who had previously been the person most annoyed by by one of McGowan's impressions - to play Norris McWhirter in his 'Little Crackers' film for Sky One : 'The Norris McWhirter Chronicles'
He has written 'A Matter of Life and Death' (or 'How To Wean A Man Off Football') with Ronni Ancona - an autobiographical comedy-self-help book about football as an addiction in which Ancona and McGowan also talk about their relationship together in the 90's and how football played a major part in making and breaking them.
His first play, 'Timing' (based on an idea by Alistair and Paul Dornan) and set in the world of voice-overs, premiered at the King's Head in London in October 2009 (produced by Nica Burns) and received a nomination for 'Best New Comedy' in the whatsonstage.com awards 2010.
He went back to his old drama school to direct 'Semi-Monde' by Noel Coward (at Guildhall School of Music and Drama) in 2008 and also directed 'The Mikado' for Raymond Gubbay in 2010 at Royal Festival Hall, London and Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Glasgow Concert Hall ('a superlative production'(Daily Herald)) and 'The Pirates of Penzance' for Mr Gubbay in 2011 at Manchester, Birmingham and London.
New radio work
He returned to Radio 4 to play The Lord of Darkness in Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto's Elvenquest - with Stephen Mangan, Darren Boyd, Kevin Eldon and Sophie Winkelman in 2009.
In 2010 he featured in Goldfinger (with Sir Ian McKellen and Toby Stephens)and Final Demands by Frederick Raphael - with Tom Conti. He recorded a new six-part comedy series 'Continuity' (also featuring Charlotte Page) and was involved in the last series of the long-running Radio 4 sports comedy show 'Look Away Now.'
He was also heard singing his own lyrics to the Mikado's song on Radio 3's In Tune and was a guest on Radio 3's 'Private Passions' in April 2010.
Alistair has been a spokesman on environmental issues for many years and has helped promote campaigns for Sustrans, The Woodland Trust, Trees For Cities, Recycle Now and for five years has been an ambassador for WWF-UK. He has also drawn up a green charter for the film industry launched with Ken Livingstone and Emma Thompson in 2008.
On 13th January 2009, it was announced that, in partnership with Zac Goldsmith, Emma Thompson and Greenpeace, Alistair had bought a strip of land behind a pub in Sipson, the village under threat of destruction by the proposed third runway at Heathrow. The field has been split into small squares and sold around the globe. The government would have been legally entitled to get permission from the four owners and the thousands of nominal owners before being able to go ahead with their plans to expand Heathrow. McGowan said, "BAA were so confident of getting the Government's go-ahead but we have cunningly bought the land they need to build their runway." When the new coalition came to power, the plans were dropped.
He has never yet owned a car.
Alistair has a very good reputation as an after-dinner speaker and has been entertaining private audiences for over fifteen years performing for a number of football clubs (including Manchester City, Leeds United, Arsenal, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest) and has hosted a large number of industry award ceremonies including the BAFTA Craft Awards on two occasions and the British Environment In Media Awards on four occasions.
Alistair's keen interest in tennis led to him being asked to take part in a number of pro-celebrity tennis events which have seen him play against and alongside the likes of : Ilie Nastase, Ken Rosewall, Guillermo Vilas, Peter Fleming, Mats Wilander, Henri Leconte, Mansour Bahrami and Annabel Croft. He has twice played Tim Henman (once for an article for The Daily Telegraph and once for a charity event) and also played with Ilie Nastase against Pat Cash and the then Prime Minister Tony Blair for Comic Relief.
While spending six years as a student, Alistair did a number of part-time jobs to supplement his grant including ; fruit-picking, waiting, working as a kitchen porter (his first BBC pay cheque), bar work, tele-sales, cloakroom attendant, as a sales assistant in the Barbican shop, a steward at the Barbican Centre and an usher at the Victoria Palace Theatre.