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Reviewed by Julian Hall
Friday, 14 October 2011
The title of Steve Coogan’s maligned live comeback tour of 2009, “Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters”, told you everything you needed to know about its variable quality. The lingering affection for the headline act, his bumptious broadcaster from Norwich, was enough to save face for that venture, but anyone witnessing this spectacle could not have foreseen the Partridge revival.
I, Partridge picks up the traction given to Steve Coogan’s cringeworthy creation by the recent internet series, Mid Morning Matters: shorts set to be lengthened and tailored for television. Then there’s that will-they, won’t-they, Alan Partridge film. They will, apparently, in 2013, over 20 years since the character invented by Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring first blustered its way into our consciousness on Radio 4’s On The Hour.
It’s certain that I, Partridge will fare better than his first attempt at a memoir, Bouncing Back: the fictional autobiography that was the subject of so much derision in the TV series I’m Alan Partridge. Although memoirs by comedy characters are not the hottest propositions among the deluge of publications associated with the form, this one will avoid the pulping received by its “predecessor”, and then some.
To go “behind-the-screens” with Partridge is to accompany him almost plucked of the comedy of embarrassment. Almost. He’s not waiting for the pin to drop during an awkward silence that he has created; rather, he’s powering through the career-points we know from his radio and TV outings and putting his side of the story, unhindered the horrified expressions of those around him.
Yes, the usual knowing nod to his mistakes and misreadings of mood is still there and the Partridgian tone, in general, is lovingly recreated. “If you step up to me, you better brace your ass for a smackdown. They stepped, I smacked. Down.” So boasts Alan in the face of the carnage that was the Knowing Me, Knowing Yule Christmas special: the tipping-point that sent the BBC2 star back into the arms of his beloved Norwich, his beloved radio and then, more specifically, into exile at the Linton Travel Tavern.
I, Partridge succeeds as a re-cap of the various Alan Partridge adventures we knoW, and as the glue that contextually holds them altogether. We find out what we need to know about his parents and his ex-wife Carol in order for the picture to add up, but not so much that his persona starts to break down with too much – God forbid – empathy. Meanwhile, telling childhood episodes are sparingly but pointedly used, for example the repeated cries of “I am your patrol leader!” to punish an unruly scout in his charge.
The echo of this exasperated and futile disciplinary cry is found throughout the Partridge back catalogue. It’s clear that it is going to be ringing in our ears for a while longer.