Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa - Scottish radio broadcasters talk about Alan Partridge
Scottish broadcasters on their love for the character and fear of turning into him
As hapless DJ and talk show host Alan Partridge comes to the big screen we speak to three local broadcasters about their love for the character and fear of accidentally slipping into Partridge mode Interviews: Eddie Harrison
It’s over two decades since Alan Partridge first took to the airwaves, as a sports presenter in On The Hour and The Day Today, then through his own chat show, Knowing Me, Knowing You. The tragi-comic creation of Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci, Partridge has survived many indignities, demoted to an under-repair Travelodge and then a caravan. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a new feature film with returning talent including writer Peter Baynham and executive producer Iannucci, pitching the hapless presenter into a siege in Radio Norfolk.
For real-life broadcasters, Alan Partridge might be imagined sitting on their shoulders like the medieval conception of Titivillus, a demon who maliciously lurked by the printing press in order to force their hand into embarrassing errors. While Partridge might have initially seemed a specific parody of a gormless light entertainment BBC Pebble Mill at One-type presenter, the development of his darker side skewers much that is careless, crass, self-serving and narcissistic about media folk.
In the spirit of ‘good chat’, we invited three prominent broadcasters to weigh in with their opinions on why Coogan’s most popular character has endured, how true the AP stereotype is to their own experience of broadcasting, and whether they’ve known any real life broadcasters who deserve comparison with Alan Partridge…
Janice Forsyth, host of BBC Scotland’s The Culture Studio
‘With my job, with music as part of the show, there is more opportunity to fill the space within the records with what might be called ‘banter’, and I’m sure people who listen regularly to me will feel ‘please don’t refer to him again’ because I often feel that Alan Partridge is just above me, hovering on a cloud. Every so often, and we can all do it, a broadcaster can just go into a horrible cliché mode. I’m fully aware when I do it, there’s a big klaxon warning which goes off when I hear myself say, ‘And now, T’Pau.’
I absolutely loved Knowing Me, Knowing You; I think the writing is great and Steve Coogan is a master. I like Alan Partridge particularly when it goes to the dark side, like Basil Fawlty: it’s a study of a middle-aged man having a breakdown to huge comic effect. I love the one where he’s having these strange ‘flashes’ while he’s trying to keep up the persona, and he ends up in a sleazy club wearing very tight pants of a shiny nature, gyrating his crotch.
As soon as I saw that kitsch set in Knowing Me Knowing You, I have to say the person I thought of was Alan Titchmarsh. The story varies as to whether Armando actually based it on him or not. I like how Partridge has the opposite of empathy with his guests, he’s not Jeremy Paxman but he thinks he kind-of-is, so he ends up horribly undermining the people he’s talking to. It’s great to watch.
I remember friends saying to me. “I love your show, but I have to tell you that you actually said ‘The hits just keep on coming.’” At that point, and I’ve admitted this on the air, “I know, I’m Alana Partridge!”’
Fred MacAuley, host of MacAuley and Co on BBC Scotland
‘You can’t avoid it, when you’re broadcasting, you quite often find yourself starting off on a sentence with no idea where it’s going, and you suddenly realise with horror what the end game is going to be like when you get to the end of the sentence, and that’s one thing you can see in Alan Partridge.
‘I started off seeing Knowing You Knowing Me on television, and then going back to the radio work, I enjoyed it all. I guess Alan Partridge endures because of the quality of the writing, the character managed to stay contemporary and remain part of the mood of the time. For me, AP wasn’t so much taking on Pebble Mill as taking on programmes like Wogan, although Terry Wogan was a far better broadcaster than Alan Partridge could ever be.
To me, Partridge is more like someone like Simon Bates. You have these instances where someone has come to the end of what they’re doing, they’re moving on, but instead they feel hard done by, they make a self-important plea to the public to save them. Richard Madeley’s another one… there’s something about the way that these people take themselves so seriously that’s ripe for satire.’
Alison Walker, sports presenter and reporter
‘There’s something really familiar to me about Alan Partridge, he’s like a greasy car salesman, and I think we quite like that as long as we feel we can see through him. He’s insecure, superficial, he makes faux-pas, he’s thoughtless and selfish, it’s all the slightly less good things you might think about yourself on a bad day. Then again, we all put faces on for the world, so we can all relate to what he’s trying to do.
I think the bits I like best are the sports broadcasts, where he’s reporting on the Tour De France. For me, he specifically parodies a certain kind of male, old-school sports presenter. I remember, when I was a naïve young reporter, working with Tom Ferry on BBC Radio Scotland. He had a radio music show, and also presented Sportsound: he was a slick broadcaster. I'm not convinced he knew much about football but he certainly had the gift of the gab and had his groupies as well. There was something about his voice, the exaggeration he used, you always felt he was smiling when he was speaking -- he’s the one I think most resembles Alan Partridge. His style wouldn't survive now -- football commentators and presenters on the whole are all so damn serious.
Sometimes you have to cover up for a lack of knowledge about the sport itself; you sometimes have to get up to speed very quickly, I had to do that at the Olympics with handball, it’s a risk. I’ve lived in fear of making a mistake on air, that’s probably why I don’t want to listen to what I’ve said afterwards. A woman once stopped me in Tesco’s and said: “I’m sorry dear, I recognise you but I can’t think who you are’” and then said “I’ve got it! You’re Hazel Irvine.” That was an Alan Partridge kind of moment for me. Except Alan Partridge would probably have corrected her. I just smiled and walked away.'
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is on general release from Wed 7 Aug.