I, Partridge, by Alan Partridge
Book review by Steve Bennett
Few can have seen Alan Gordon Partridge and thought, ‘Who is this man, and how on earth did he get on my TV?’ Well now, thanks to his autobiography I, Partridge, the truth about how TV Quick’s Man Of The Moment 1994 came to have the career he did can be revealed.
His broadcasting highlights are, of course, well known: how he went from his unique brand of sports reporting on the incisive current affairs shows On The Hour and The Day Today, to fronting his own BBC series, which set a new benchmark for chat.
Over the series he famously shot restaurant critic Forbes McAllister dead and smashed commissioning editor Tony Hayers in the face with a turkey - memorable TV moments, indeed, and incidents which surely led to his work hosting UK Conquest quiz show Skirmish, and becoming the voice – some may say saviour – of Radio Norwich and latterly North Norfolk Digital (North Norfolk’s best music mix).
But who can have imagined the almost insurmountable obstacles Partridge endured to reach these dizzying heights of regional broadcasting? His childhood, as described here, was little short of horrific. Parental abuse was rife – the dropped cake incident will surely make you gasp in shock – and they eventually abandoned him, leaving him to survive on only his wits and the generosity of his neighbours, the Lamberts. For three weeks, he was sheltered by this kindly family, until the momentous day his parents returned from their holiday in Brittany.
He also endured no end of anti-Alan discrimination, that surely would have driven a lesser child to the European Court Of Human Rights. ‘Smelly Alan Fartridge’, as the broadcaster makes abundantly clear, was as discriminatory as it was factually inaccurate. But it surely only made Partridge the man he is today.
Such an eventful life would surely make an ideal feature film, that point is made apparent in the book. But although limited to the medium of dead trees (for now!), I, Partridge, creates a fully immersive, 360-degree, interactive, multimedia reading experience, by providing a soundtrack to his life. At certain points the reader is invited to press play on the CD (sadly not provided due to unimaginative bean-counters at the publishing house, but surely only the work of a few hours to compile for yourself from the list provided) so that the sounds of Vangelis, The Belle Stars and Jean Michelle Jarre can provide an evocative soundscape for the trials of Partridge.
Rumours have abounded about certain aspects of Partridge’s life, no doubt started by jealous rivals, but here he puts the record straight about his marriage, career and time living in the conveniently located Linton Travel Tavern, with its unparalleled access to the A11 arterial route. You will surely feel a swelling of pride as Partridge recounts how he boldly, decisively and uncompromisingly told the BBC where to stick their job in front of a cowering Tony Hayers in the TV Centre canteen, walking calmly from the building with his pride most definitely intact and his head held high.
The reader is left in no doubt after reading all 310 impeccably-spelt pages that this was the BBC’s loss. He tells us such directly and indirectly, as he reveals his real self.
His genuinely unique insight into the human psychology is surely the attribute that led him to ask his interview subjects questions no other talk-show host would have dared say. And it manifests itself time and time again here, as he instinctually knows what people are thinking, being able to extrapolate complex emotions from what - to the untrained eye - might appear to be, a casual remark or the contractually-obligated niceties of a Travel Tavern employee.
Partridge has surely suffered more ups and downs in his life than any human has ever endured – and he detailed some of these in his previous tome, Bouncing Back, sadly only available in a limited distribution area in the Norfolk area, thanks to sheer short-sightedness on the publisher’s side (and you wonder why the book trade is dying!) Yet that earlier book has provided enlightenment and education for thousands – assuming, that is, that the paper that came from the thousands of pulped copies was subsequently used to print worthy titles.
In I, Partridge, the urbane host touches on the time covered by that book, when he plunged into a Toblerone binge which, in his own words, made him ‘by some distance the most depressed and troubled man in the UK’. But bounce back he most certainly did, and now proudly broadcasts for 12-and-a-half hours a week on East Anglian radio, compared to the measly half-hour he had on BBC Two. What a stratospheric rise! Ahead of the curve as ever, he knows that the future lies not with the liberal elite Oxbridge old-boys network of the BBC, who wouldn’t know talent if it punched them in the face with a turkey, but in the bold new world of niche digital broadcasting.
Yet with I, Partridge he has also joined the canon of literary colossuses (colossi?) alongside Clarkson, Littlejohn and, dare I say it, McNab – telling his own story as only he can. It’s a cracking read.
- I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan by Alan Partridge (with Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan) is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Click here to buy from Amazon for £10.
Posted: 4 Nov 2011