Thursday, 18 August 2022

Twenty-two in '22: I, Partridge

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

I, Partridge by Alan Partridge

9/22: I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan by Alan Partridge

The blurb:

Journalist, presenter, broadcaster, husband, father, vigorous all-rounder: Alan Partridge. Star of action blockbuster Alpha Papa; a man with a fascinating past and an amazing future.

Gregarious and popular, yet Alan’s never happier than when relaxing in his own five-bedroom, south-built house with three acres of land and access to a private stream. But who is this mysterious enigma?

Alan Gordon Partridge is the best – and best-loved – radio presenter in the region. Born into a changing world of rationing, Teddy Boys, apes in space and the launch of ITV, Alan’s broadcasting career began as chief DJ of Radio Smile at St. Luke’s Hospital in Norwich. After replacing Peter Flint as the presenter of Scout About, he entered the top 8 of BBC sports presenters.

But Alan’s big break came with his primetime BBC chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You. Sadly, the show battled against poor scheduling, having been put up against News at Ten, then in its heyday. Due to declining ratings, a single catastrophic hitch (the killing of a guest on air) and the dumbing down of network TV, Alan’s show was cancelled. Not to be dissuaded, he embraced this opportunity to wind up his production company, leave London and fulfil a lifelong ambition to return to his roots in local radio.

Now single, Alan is an intensely private man but he opens up, for the second time, in this candid, entertaining, often deeply emotional – and of course compelling – memoir, written entirely in his own words. (Alan quickly dispelled the idea of using a ghost writer. With a grade B English Language O-Level, he knew he was up to the task.)

He speaks touchingly about his tragic Toblerone addiction, and the painful moment when unsold copies of his first autobiography, Bouncing Back, were pulped like ‘word porridge’. He reveals all about his relationship with his ex-Ukrainian girlfriend, Sonja, with whom he had sex at least twice a day, and the truth about the thick people who make key decisions at the BBC.

A literary tour de force, I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan charts the incredible journey of one of our greatest broadcasters.

The review: first things first, this isn't actually written by Alan Partridge, what with him being - spoiler alert - a fictional construct. Rather, this has been penned by long-time Partridge writers Neil and Rob Gibbons, with Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan. So you're in safe hands.

Next, of course, is the fact that this is a parody of a memoir, in the same way that Partridge himself is a parody of ... well, so many failed media types, and latterly/inadvertently Richard Madeley. The book is basically a comedic pastiche of awful celebrity memoirs, the sort that flood the shelves of Waterstone's and W H Smith in the run-up to Christmas. And the writing is good enough that it works on that level, as you would expect from these authors. But - and it's a reasonably sized but - it only really works if the reader is sufficiently well versed in Alan's backstory.

This is because, as you would imagine, Alan is a terrifically unreliable narrator. There is much humour to be had, then, from Alan's self-serving recollections of events with the version of those same events that you are already familiar with from On The Hour, The Day Today, KMKY, I'm Alan Partridge, and so on. The comedy comes, not from the events themselves, but from Alan's after-the-event reinterpretations that, coincidentally always paint him in a good light ... needless to say, in his version Alan nearly always has the last laugh.

Another fine source of humour is delivered by Alan's repeated attempts to show how little certain past events have upset or stayed with him, only for the subtext to reveal otherwise.

I would say it's all here but it isn't: the events of Alpha Papa are not covered (despite what the blurb suggests), and it's not up-to-date enough to cover This Time either. That said, pretty much everything else that has seen Coogan as Partridge, on radio or TV, gets woven neatly into the story; there's a fine line to be trodden here between touching on past output and rehashing too much, so I'm pleased to report that the authors get the balance pretty much bang on throughout.

Of course, riffing on past output is both the book's greatest strength and biggest weakness. Fans will delight in the details, congratulate themselves on picking up references and laugh again as favourite moments from Alan's past get the memoir treatment. However, if you are not a consumer of all things Partridge, well, you're going to struggle a bit, aren't you? For you, it's just made-up nonsense about a made-up person.

The bottom line: a well-constructed and genuinely funny read for existing Partridge aficionados, but understandably unlikely to win over any new fans.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

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