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TV Review: Alan Partridge - Why When Where How and Whom

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2018 may just be the Year of the Partridge.

It’s been 25 years since On The Hour, Radio 4’s surrealist news parody that first introduced us to Alan Partridge. Brought to life by Steve Coogan, Alan’s uniquely charmless personality has earned him a place in the annals of British comedy history.

Inept and pompous in equal measure, the sports reporter turned local radio personality will return to our screens in the New Year to give his thoughts on Brexit. Yet before we’re graced with his take on the EU, Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How, and Whom charts the course of Alan’s turbulent career and the unlikely success of a character who ought to be reviled.

The documentary brings together the many voices involved in shaping Alan Partridge, including writers Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber, and the man himself, Steve Coogan. Fans of I’m Alan Partridge will be pleased to see cast members Felicity Montagu and Simon Greenall weighing in on the character’s legacy.

The team behind Partridge recount the creation of Alan, from his Pringle jumpers to his distinctive turn of phrase, as they track the ups and downs of his fictional career. The heights of Knowing Me Knowing You, the spoof chat show that brought Alan a modicum of prestige, would end after Partridge accidentally killed a guest on air.

Ironically, it would be Alan’s fall from grace that brought the character’s fame to stratospheric new heights. I’m Alan Partridge saw a divorced and disgraced Alan fight desperately to return to television, whilst taking a minor gig as a radio host in Norwich. After two successful seasons, however, the writers and Coogan were keen to move on from North Norfolk’s favourite broadcaster.

The documentary reveals little new for avid Partridge fans, aside from some previously unseen rehearsal footage. No new anecdotes are revealed that could not already be found somewhere online, and the backstage tensions that emerged between Coogan and members of the writing team is only ever hinted at.

It does, however, serve as an excellent retrospective on a character that has become an unlikely favourite. It doesn’t matter what your favourite Partridgism is, it’s sure to be featured here. Rather than reveal new facts, the documentary is a reminder of Alan Partridge’s enduring comic appeal.

After a long break, Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge heralded a triumphant return, even if Alan’s own life is less glamorous than ever. With a critically acclaimed movie, several documentary parodies and two memoirs under his belt, the Alan Partridge brand has moved from strength to strength.

The BBC’s Partridge retrospective shows that the character’s versatility has been key to his success. Despite Coogan’s initial fears that the character wasn’t substantive enough, Alan Partridge has moved beyond his origins as a spoof of sports commentators and become something else entirely.

A moment where writer David Schneider jokes about the non-Oxbridge members of their team, including Coogan himself, seems inadvertently symbolic of Alan’s own position. Iannucci, Marber et al represent a world in which Alan desperately tried to ingratiate himself, to no avail.

Oh, how the tables have turned. Coogan has spoken publicly about Alan’s Brexiteer tendencies, and suddenly the man we’ve spent years ridiculing seems emblematic of a much bigger social divide. A spineless Little Englander who is desperate for glory, Alan Partridge’s voice seems almost prescient for the first time in decades.

What should we make of an Alan Partridge who’s on the winning team? That’s the challenge for his new Brexit-themed show. But if Alan Partridge: Where, Why, When, How, and Whom proves nothing else, it’s that Coogan and the writing team are more than up to the task. Spice World!

Alan Partridge will return to our screens in Early 2018. Why When Where How and Whom is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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