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'I'm Alan Partridge': Tube Talk Gold

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Alan Partridge made his television debut as a supporting character on surreal news satire The Day Today, but when that series drew to a close after just six episodes and co-creator Chris Morris shifted allegiance to Channel 4 for his follow-up Brass Eye, Steve Coogan chose to re-team with writer Armando Iannucci on a new project for BBC Two, with his character taking centre stage.

But while the chat show spoof that sprung out of this collaboration - an adaptation of Radio 4 series Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge - has quite rightly earned plenty of plaudits, it's this writer's opinion that the character of Partridge hit his comic peak in the faux-documentary series that followed, I'm Alan Partridge.

I'm Alan Partridge: Originally broadcast from November 3, 1997 to December 16, 2002

Alan Partridge

© Rex Features / JACKIE DI STEFANO/Rex Features



Take your typical, rambling, old-fashioned local radio DJ, then imagine that awkward, buffoonish persona applied to everyday life and you've got Coogan's Partridge, a man who seems permanently unable to prevent his foot from entering his mouth.

The first series to fully explore the man behind the tomfoolery saw Alan working a graveyard shift on Norwich radio - where he maintains a rivalry with smug fellow DJ Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell) - while living in hope that Knowing Me Knowing You will be picked up for a second series.

Unfortunately for Alan, the ratings for his first series "started poorly and went downhill from there", and when he suffers a mini-breakdown at a lunch meeting - assaulting the BBC's director of programming Tony Hayers ("Smell my cheese, you mother!") - his chat show is consigned to the history books, leading to the dissolution of his company, Peartree Productions.

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge
Much of the humour comes from Alan's verbal diarrhoea of course, but there's also some terrific physical comedy in these early episodes - Alan and Lynn becoming increasingly entangled by a phone chord in third episode 'Watership Alan', Partridge being flattened by a dead cow in the same episode or any of the various fantasy sequences in which Alan - fearing that he's whoring himself out for a shot at success, pictures himself lap-dancing for a series of authority figures, clad in shirt, sweater and a "vulcanised rubber" thong.

Despite his constant bumbling - both physical and verbal - Partridge remains baffingly likeable throughout the series. Perhaps it's because he's so clearly desperate to be popular, maybe it's that he perseveres despite a string of humiliations, it could even be that he's refreshingly blunt - "Do you genuinely like me, sex-wise?" he asks his saucy employee Jill (Julia Deakin)...

Whatever the reason, one has to credit the brilliance of Steve Coogan's performance and the tightly-written scripts he penned alongside Iannucci, the best of which in the show's first series is fifth episode 'To Kill a Mocking Alan', in which Alan's attempts to impress a pair of Irish TV execs - played by Father Ted creators Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan - lead to him becoming trapped in the home of an obsessive fan.



It also helps that, beyond Partridge himself, the series is populated by a number of memorable comic characters, such as Alan's downtrodden, long-suffering PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu), who seems to have a baffling soft spot for her boorish boss; dim-witted but chirpy Geordie and ex-soldier Michael (Simon Greenall) and - in series one only - Travel Tavern employee Sophie (Sally Phillips), who's barely able to contain her amusement at Alan's pompous natterings.

Following the airing of series one, Coogan and Iannucci took a break from Partridge to focus on other projects, but eventually reunited in 2002 - series two picks up five years later, with Alan having finally left the Linton Travel Tavern, only to find himself stuck living in a static caravan while building work continues on his dream home.

It's fair to say that the second series of I'm Alan Partridge proved more divisive than the first - Iannucci has been vocal in his dislike for these later episodes, while Coogan also commented on his "big acting" as a more frenzied, post-nervous breakdown Alan.

But much of this criticism is unfair - series two contains many of the show's finest moments and indeed arguably its finest overall episode 'Never Say Alan Again', in which Partridge's plan to embark on a James Bond marathon with Michael is threatened first by a Sunny Delight spillage and then by Michael's new Yankophile pal Tex (Peter Serafinowicz), leading to the classic scene in which Alan declares himself "Norfolk's Maddest Man", begs his ignorant friends to "Stop getting Bond wrong!" and finally performs a physical run-through of the entire opening sequence to 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me.



With twelfth episode 'Towering Alan', Coogan's comic creation again vanished from the BBC schedules, save for the odd Comic Relief special and the like. But as the man himself once warned the Beeb, "If you don't do it, Sky will," - and sure enough Alan's latest exploits on North Norfolk Digital in new series Mid-Morning Matters were picked up by Sky Atlantic, with a one-off special Welcome to the Places of My Life following in June of this year and six more episodes already commissioned for 2013.

Within his own fictional sphere Alan Partridge may be a miserable failure, but thankfully in our world he's still going strong and with the long-awaited Alan Partridge Movie finally set to hit cinemas on August 16 next year, we think we'll be hearing that famous 'Aha!' for a long while yet.

Were you a fan of I'm Alan Partridge? Share your favourite moments below!

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