CHRISTOPHER STEVENS hails return of Alan Partridge to BBC

Monstrously vain he may be… but we can’t help loving Alan Partridge: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS hails the return of Britain’s cheesiest host to the BBC (and his comb-over is slicker than ever)

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More than 20 years after he shot and killed a guest on his chat show (look, it was an accident, anyone can make a mistake), the cheesiest host on TV is back.

This Time With Alan Partridge saw the appalling yet lovable presenter, his comb- over hair more slick than ever, take a temporary place on the daytime television sofa, standing in for a sick colleague.

And as Alan grabbed his chance at a comeback, you can be certain that every telly personality in the land was waiting with clenched teeth and buttocks to see if they would be lampooned by Steve Coogan’s comic creation.

Ouch! Jeremy Paxman probably wanted the earth to swallow him up as Alan borrowed his technique of repeating one question endlessly – chasing a guest into a lift while shouting: ‘Will you finish the interview now please?’

Alan Partridge, played by Steve Coogan, with Jennie Gresham, played by Susannah Fielding 


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Ye-oww! James Naughtie, who famously and crudely got Jeremy Hunt’s name very wrong, must have cringed when Alan introduced another guest as Alice Clunt … only to be told her name was actually Fluck. (‘I see what I’ve done,’ he said.)

Ooof! The whole Sky Sports News team were surely blushing when Alan produced a giant touchscreen that stubbornly refused to work … just like theirs when it was introduced amid farcical fanfare.

Some TV types are so obtuse, of course, that they might not realise how closely the Partridge character is based on them. I suspect Richard Madeley is secretly flattered that Alan has stolen all his mannerisms – the twiddly fingers when he’s searching for a word, the solemn nods when he wants us to know he’s being Serious.

Part of the pleasure is simply that it’s so beautifully observed. Eager to look his very best for the camera, Alan chooses a suit and silk tie, complete with tie-pin – as though those clothes have been in storage since his career collapsed in 1995. He looks like a sales rep, dressed to impress for a board meeting with the aid of Austin Reed and Tie Rack.

But as well as the pin-sharp details, there are broad gags begging for belly laughs. I roared as often as I winced. At the end of a segment on baby seals, Alan said: ‘Ahhh! So cute, I don’t know whether to eat him up or wear him.’

More than 20 years after he shot and killed a guest on his chat show, the cheesiest host on TV is back

As Libby Purves pointed out in the Mail yesterday, the Partridge gag would have run out of steam a long time ago if it was just a television send-up. He first appeared as a junior sports reporter on The Day Today nearly 30 years ago, unshakeably glib despite his lack of knowledge about everything from horse-racing to athletics.

This monstrously vain man is made believable and forgivable by his flashes of self-awareness. They always come too late, and leave him more confused than he was before. But unlike most narcissists, he does glimpse his own flaws and tries to correct them.

We shrivel inside to watch him … and know that later, when his brain catches up, he’ll be shrivelling too.

He’s pitifully eager to please. About to make his return to BBC television after two decades, on a daytime show much like This Morning, he was so nervous that his mouth turned to the texture of flannel.

This monstrously vain man is made believable and forgivable by his flashes of self-awareness

‘Can I hath a glath of water pleathe?’ he begged, over and over, like a toddler seeking attention from his mother. To calm himself during a gap halfway through the broadcast, he started reciting a childhood rhyme about the Highway Code. It’s easy to imagine Alan was a precocious toddler who hasn’t felt confident in his abilities since he was three years old.

Presenting a piece about the importance of washing your hands, he trilled a revolting bit of nursery doggerel about hygiene.

Speaking of hygiene, he signed off the hand-washing segment with the sort of wordplay that was once compulsory on Tomorrow’s World and the like. Alan interviewed a scientist named Jean and ended with: ‘From hygiene to bye, Jean!’

BBC staff revealed that Alan Partridge had emailed all 20,000 + of them, asking for them to tune in

Younger viewers might not realise that a previous generation of presenters, from Michael Rodd to Michael Aspel, were incapable of finishing a report without a pun like that.

Alan belongs to their era. He can’t fathom how different the 21st-century world is from his own. When a reporter, played by Lolly Adefope, responds to his casual sexism by contradicting everything he says, he is baffled. ‘Weird,’ he says, as if her reaction has nothing to do with him.

A toe-curling encounter with Emily Maitlis of Newsnight concluded the episode, as Alan asked for her email address like a man in a pub trying to get a woman’s phone number.

That won’t be his worst humiliation of the series. Though it is sending up everything shallow and fake about broadcasting, This Time is a much more trenchant comedy than the BBC satire W1A. You don’t have to care about life in the media to relish the spectacle of Alan Partridge making another hideous mess of his life.

Food for thought indeed. And on that bombshell, back to the studio.

 

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