An Alan Of All Trades

An Alan Of All Trades film still

As Alpha Papa hits cinemas we take a look back at the fleeting highs and numerous lows of north Norfolk's primo radio personality.

This week sees everyone's favourite inept sports reporter, local radio disc-jockey and disgraced chat-show host Alan Gordon Partridge reinvent himself yet again, this time as a hostage negotiator. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa finds Steve Coogan once again sweeping his hair into that side-parting as Alan's current place of work, North Norfolk Digital, is rebranded and then taken over by a gun-toting former employee. As Alan practices his 'siege face' we look back over some of our favourite incarnations of Partridge.

A Bad Sport

Alan first came to our attention as a sports reporter (for Radio 4's 'On The Hour' in 1991 and later TV's The Day Today) despite showing virtually no familiarity with sporting rules and parlance and frequently resorting to irrelevant, meandering comments. Alan describes a diver banging his head on the board as 'textbook', confidently predicting he'll be awarded high marks, assumes all jockeys are children and, during his commentary on the Tour de France, declares irately that, 'carrying bikes on top of a car is not a sportsmanlike way to run this race.'

Master of the 'Chatosphere'

A-ha! In 1994 Alan brought his radio chat-show Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge to BBC2 and with it his vigorous incompetence, reliably behaving in a sleazy/bad-tempered/competitive/disinterested manner towards guests and entering into a feud with house-band leader Glenn Ponder (Steve Brown).

The first (and last) TV series came to a close in a spectacular fashion when Alan accidentally shot a guest 'live' on air. He commented while remonstrating with another guest that, 'People forget that on the Titanic's maiden voyage there were over a thousand miles of uneventful, very pleasurable cruising before it hit the iceberg.' Unfortunately Alan's career has encountered iceberg after iceberg.

Knowing Me, Knowing You was followed by the Christmas special Knowing Me, Knowing Yule — inspired by Noel's House Party — and characterised by further disgrace when Alan peppered the show with product placement, aggressively patronised a disabled golfer and described God as a gas. It marked the first screen appearance of Alan's nemesis, Chief Commissioning Editor of the BBC Tony Hayers (David Schneider), and culminates with Alan hitting both Tony and the aforementioned golfer in the face with a partridge.

Travel Tavern Alan

The first series of I'm Alan Partridge revealed Alan's humiliating reality after his TV career descended down the toilet. After his wife kicks him out one Christmas, to take up with her fitness instructor boyfriend, Alan takes up residence at the Linton Travel Tavern where he's suffered by manager Susan (Barbara Durkin) through an increasingly strained grin.

At a creative nadir and with long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) and his big plate in tow, Alan comes up with a series of terrible programme ideas (amongst them Lady Shapes, Inner City Sumo and the infamous Monkey Tennis) and sneakily sacks his whole production team. Relative highs include a fleeting romance and finding friendship with the tavern's odd-jobber Michael (Simon Greenall). Unfortunately a second series (broadcast in 2002) showed us that the only way is down when we found Alan living temporarily in a caravan.

Duke of the Waves 

If Nick Nolte was The Prince of Tides then Alan Partridge would probably see himself as Duke of the (air) Waves. In I'm Alan Partridge Alan reluctantly returns to his local radio roots, broadcasting in the very small hours for Radio Norwich with the show 'Up at the Partridge', where he asks questions like 'Who invented the skip?' and each day hands over to breakfast show DJ Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell) with rising animosity.

2010's web-premiered Mid Morning Matters finds Alan broadcasting in a more civilised timeslot (albeit for the presumably even lower profile radio station North Norfolk Digital) and with a sidekick — Simon (Tim Key). The gaffes of course continue: during an armed forces phone-in he gently explains to a young child, 'Sometimes when the government has exhausted diplomatic means they allow state-sanctioned killing'.

Literary Alan

2011 was the year of Alan the author with the publication of his autobiography 'I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan'. In the introduction Alan describes his approach as, 'I've opened myself up (not literally), put my balls on the line (not literally) and written it all down (literally).'

He went on to discuss the autobiography and further develop his new literary persona in 2012's one-off TV discussion show Open Books with Martin Bryce. Despite wearing a neckerchief, Alan often failed to convince in a literary guise. Listing evocative character names from the work of Dickens with replacement presenter Chris Beale (Robert Popper), Alan's solitary suggestion is 'Mr Tickle'. Struggling to convince as an expert on any topic, in the same year's Welcome to the Places of My Life Alan dabbles with history as he takes us around Norwich, combining pointing-out-the-obvious with awkward interactions and inane observations. At one point he pronounces sagely, 'The more I learn about Hitler the more I dislike him. He was mad.'

Action Alan

In Alpha Papa, Alan lives the big-screen, action hero dream — despite the fact that, as he tells Lynn, he's started wearing his chubby clothes again. When North Norfolk Digital is rebranded as Shape, the corporate axe falls on one of the station's experienced broadcasters, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) who reacts violently to the news, taking a group of station employees hostage. Believing Alan to be his only ally, Pat trusts him to negotiate with the police and assist in the management of the siege.

As ever, Alan's perceptions of his own abilities fail to mirror the reality and his efforts to bring the situation under control sometimes lead to matters escalating. Yet he's somehow in his element, briefly becoming a news sensation before the inevitable, abject humiliation, getting a chance to play the crowd as 'host' of the siege and to broadcast some 'radio gravy' live from the scene. Still, he's the same old irritable Alan. When asked to identify himself by police, Alan is indignant, 'I've not been off the TV that long.' he groans. It's quintessential Partridge. Long may he grumble.

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