Knowing Alan, Knowing Us – Omnigenius, on “I’m Alan Partridge”

Pop Lifer is celebrating The Day Today gang’s fearsome stranglehold on most that is good in British comedy. Part 1 began where it almost all began with “The Day Today”. Part 2 takes up when the graphics finally stopped. Chris Morris’ bombastic alter ego reappeared in Brass Eye, was retired, heard occasionally, but not seen since. Alan Partridge didn’t stop. Alan Partridge has definitely been seen, heard, read, and almost certainly dreamt about. A lot.

Mid Morning Matters – the latest Alan Partridge vehicle (courtesy of Sky Atlantic)

Pop Lifer read “I, Alan Partridge, We Need to Talk about Alan” this summer. Its audio book, although highly recommended, wasn’t strictly necessary. Every syllable was heard loud and clear in the voice first introduced 20 years ago on Radio 4’s “On The Hour”, continually heard ever since, and which now belongs to one of the most developed, recognised and finely honed comic personas ever created.

Unpopular, alone, obnoxious and grotesque, Partridge generates a very English cringe (as a thought experiment, try to imagine a Welsh or Scottish Alan. Even a Scouse one is a bit of a stretch). We reserve it for someone who fails to measure up to their own ambition and in their consequent frustration falls from grace, an embarrassment to themselves and all around them. Except, unlike George Osborne, we care about Alan Partridge. It is extraordinary that we do.

Steve Coogan’s most popular creation is a member of that band of angry Little Englanders that have stood proud and fallen ridiculous over decades. Partridge is vain but not glorious. He is narrow-minded with absurd tentacles (his loyalty to Kate Bush is a perfect example) and belligerent boundaries (his contempt for The Guardian). Unlike, say Leonard Rossiter’s Rigsby or John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, this Little Englander has not been limited to one format and four walls. Partridge’s inability to learn from his failure has been projected across a full and continually developing character arc and across a variety of formats – radio and TV news studios, a chat show, a traditional sitcom, pod casts and an autobiography.

He has remained stubbornly one step behind the rapidly changing media world he is desperate to secure respect from. For example, looking forward to ‘chillin’ with the MySpace generation’ when he announced his Foster’s web cast in 2010. In 1999, he wasn’t aware of Kurt Cobain’s existence.

Pop Lifer is not about to list our own comic equivalent of the Best of the Beatles, taking the best from everything Mr Partridge has been involved in – there’s just too many to choose from. Instead we’re going to focus on a few of the finest moments from Partridge’s best “album” – series 1 of “I’m Alan Partridge”, his “Revolver”.

Like with the Beatles, this was when the full extent of genius was revealed. It was with series 1 of “I’m Alan Partridge” when Alan’s ambition was given added neuroses and the desperation unpicked mercilessly. It was at this point when we started caring.

There are many reasons why “I’m Alan Partridge” is so good – not all Coogan related. Sally Phillip’s Sophie’s insatiable relish at each humiliation Alan presents her with at reception is a regular, understated and delicious constant. Sally Phillips performs exquisitely throughout, leading the way to her taking the spotlight in the highly under-rated “Smack The Pony”. In a just universe, she would be far more famous now than she is.

Michael (Simon Greenall), the often incomprehensible and possibly insane Geordie handy man, is the closest Alan comes to making a friend, despite the two having literally nothing in common. The awkward mix of obligation and desperation from both never settles into an even stride, every exchange littered with awkward bursts of insecurity and violence.

The glee Partridge gets from buying 12 bottles of windscreen washer fluid and singing “Goldfinger” as he skips along the A47 is endearing . His inconsiderate and obnoxious request for Lynn to assuage his boredom only moments later is not.

And despite the absurdity and the humiliations – the war Partridge finds himself involved in with the farmers of Norwich, his increasingly desperate attempts to keep his slippery fingers on his pathetic fame, the spectacularly failed attempt to combine chocolate and sex, the cowardly sacking of his staff, the appalling village fetes, the wife he hires for a tourism film and the terrifying encounter with a distinctly second-class stalker – Alan somehow soldiers on, ignoring the dark screams of his psyche like any good Englishman. At some point we find ourselves on his side, like loyal, mistreated Lynne.

Alan would go on to further TV series and attempts to conquer the bold world of new media, providing painful pathos and delirious laughter along the way, but it was here that he was captured most perfectly, nesting in his sterile hotel for the passing-through, equidistant between Norwich and London. For non-English readers, this location has another name. Hell.

Failure has never been so funny.


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2 Responses to Knowing Alan, Knowing Us – Omnigenius, on “I’m Alan Partridge”

  1. Pingback: The Thick of It, The West Wing and that “hopey, changey thing” – Omnigenius #3 | Pop Lifer

  2. Pingback: You’ve got some Front – Omnigenius #4 celebrates Rebecca Front, from “The Day Today” to “Nighty Night”, but always in “The Thick Of It” | Pop Lifer

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