I’ve had a lot of time for Alan Partridge, ever since I stumbled upon an episode of his cult fly-on-the-wall documentary series, I’m Alan Partridge, late one evening on BBC2 in the early noughties. The episode in question followed the spry forty-something around the peaceful country of Norfolk while he lived his aspirational and enviable life as a local media personality. In this fascinating and insightful half hour (think Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Jersey Shore ten years before the format was popular and without those irritating to-camera pieces, or even any acknowledgement of the film crew’s presence at all), Partridge enraged the local farming community by speaking openly on his successful local radio show of their obscene animal husbandry practices. This culminated with the bitter farmers – interrupting Alan as he professionally filmed a charming advertorial feature on barge holidays – dropping a cow on Partridge from a bridge, a dangerous and violent action that sent Alan to hospital and proved, once and for all, that these odd countryside folks are not to be trusted. Their act of revenge legitimising Partridge’s critiques. Pathetic and short-sighted, as you’d expect from men who feed beefburgers to swans.
In that one episode, I saw a principled man, a successful man, a man unafraid to speak truth to power (well, farmers), and I was impressed. This was a man (other than the cow injury) living the dream. But who was he? Where had he come from? Why was this glorious piece of television about him being shown in a late slot on lame BBC2, a channel which back then was popular as the over-funded and unwatched BBC4 is now. I asked around the playground and my German class at school the next day, but no one had seen it, and many of my peers openly laughed in my face for settling on BBC2 for even a moment: back then, it was Channel 4 or nothing. Only four or five kids back then had parents forward-thinking enough to invest in a satellite dish, and these kids – rightly, I feel – refused to socialise with the rest of us, instead smoking cool cigarettes and engaging in underage sexual activity. Those with access to non-terrestrial television grew up quicker, and most of those kids have grown up into adults who’ve not only had children, but many of them are already on their second marriages – impressive!
Partridge, though, wasn’t a square like you’d expect to find at the centre of a BBC2 late night doc, he was instead a maverick, a man with fresh ideas and an outlook better suited to a more modern decade – with the right agent, he could’ve been the man Jeremy Clarkson became. And I could tell this, before I even knew who Jeremy Clarkson was, after just one episode, even with puberty making a mess of every thought in my muddled pubescent mind.
I waited, patiently, for more. In the days of analogue TV listings, I’d scour every TV Quick issue hunting down more Partridge, more of this crisp broadcaster whose style I’d been irreparably turned on by. Eventually, I struck gold, I caught a couple of episodes of Partridge’s iconic chat show, Knowing Me Knowing You. Then, months after that, I found a VHS boxset of Knowing Me Knowing You PLUS Knowing Me Knowing Yule at a Stratford-upon-Avon (i.e. better than your average) car boot sale. I was warned by my friends that most VHSes sold at car boot sales usually contain nothing but amateur pornography made by the seller, but I knew my VHSes and could tell that these had firm “read only” functionality: I was safe.
Shortly after this, I became the luckiest man in the world when I’m Alan Partridge got a second series, something Knowing Me Knowing You failed to achieve, but, hey, the beeb is known for its mistakes. This time Partridge was popular viewing with my peers, and the playgrounds and German classes of my Middle England education were filled with people repeating his classiest put-downs, such as repeatedly shouting a man’s name across a car park. Season (as it would now be called) Two of I’m Alan Partridge also revolutionised the way we all ate full English breakfasts – there is no longer a greasy spoon in England that fails to use a sausage as a breakwater.
This was then, though, almost a decade and a half ago, and now we are now. Since then, Partridge has produced three hard-hitting (on Norfolk, his own autobiography and contemporary “youth” culture) hour-length documentaries for Sky (as mentioned above, the broadcaster of the future), he’s been featured in another two series of a fly-on-the-wall “sit-doc”, Mid Morning Matters, his life has featured as a feature in a feature film, and he’s published a successful autobiography, I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan.
Why am I telling you all this? Because Partridge has just published a SECOND book, and I’ve just read it. It’s called Nomad and is about our Alan following in the footsteps of his father on a walk from Norwich to Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.
Is it filled with insightful detail about the past and present of one of the nation’s favourite media personalities? Yes.
Is it filled with ideas for bafflingly uncommissioned television programmes? Yes.
Is it filled with crisp nuggets of opinion and fact about a rigorous career within the UK broadcasting industry? Yes.
Is it filled with witty, emotionally wrought prose that often seeks to right wrongs and name names w/r/t the biggest meanies Partridge has ever met? Yes.
Does it go on about Clare Balding’s impressive hair, Noel Edmonds’ bullying, Nick Knowles’ regular evenings in the Gatwick Airport pre-check-in Wetherspoons, Partridge’s impressive personal finances, Simon “Sidekick Simon” Denton’s numerous personal failings, Lynn Benfield’s commendable acceptance of working for the minimum wage her entire career, and poingant reminiscences of dead Geordie, Geordie Michael (Alan bless his missing-presumed-dead Geordie soul)? Yes, yes, yes yes yes to all.
Nomad is very entertaining, a great relaxed and unchallenging read – an adjective that I’m sure Mr Partridge would appreciate. For me, it was perfect to accompany yesterday’s Jan One hangover.
Recommended to all readers interested in the media and a good time. Mine’s a Ladyboy!