We investigate the radio emission behaviour of PSR B0823+26, a pulsar which is known to undergo pulse nulling, using a 153-d intensive sequence of observations. The pulsar is found to exhibit both short-term (∼minutes) and unusually long-term (∼hours or more) nulls, which not only suggest that the source possesses a distribution of nulling time-scales, but also that it may also provide a link between conventional nulling pulsars and longer term intermittent pulsars. Despite seeing evidence for periodicities in the pulsar radio emission, we are uncertain whether they are intrinsic to the source, due to the influence of observation sampling on the periodicity analysis performed. Remarkably, we find evidence to suggest that the pulsar may undergo pre-ignition periods of ‘emission flickering’, that is rapid changes between radio-on (active) and -off (null) emission states, before transitioning to a steady radio-emitting phase. We find no direct evidence to indicate that the object exhibits any change in spin-down rate between its radio-on and -off emission modes. We do, however, place an upper limit on this variation to be ≲6 per cent from simulations. This indicates that emission cessation in pulsars does not necessarily lead to large changes in spin-down rate. Moreover, we show that such changes in spin-down rate will not be discernible in the majority of objects which exhibit short-term (≲1 d) emission cessation. In light of this, we predict that many pulsars could exhibit similar magnetospheric and emission properties to PSR B0823+26, but which have not yet been observed.