Let’s not pretend Steve Coogan is at his peak just because the apocalypse is nighby Lucinda Smyth / March 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
The man on the screen is wearing a yellow puffa jacket, a blood-chestnut toupee, and a bared-teeth grimacey-smile that cranks sideways as he talks. It’s the sort of smile that can only be explained by his state of perpetual embarrassment. “A simple stream in North Gresham, Norfolk,” the man says, in a reverent nasal monotone. “But six centuries ago, this stream would have flowed with the blood and entrails of fallen men.” He pauses, huffs. “I was hoping to illustrate it by pouring in this bucket of butcher’s waste, but some dimwit at the county seems to think it would contaminate the water supply.”
You’re watching the second episode of the BBC 1 sitcom, This Time with Alan Patridge. The man on the screen is the eponymous host, Partridge himself, and he is presenting a segment on the Peasants’ Revolt.
Dear Prospect reader, if you’ve come to this article not knowing anything about who Partridge is, I honestly can’t help you much beyond the above description. I could try to catch you up by running a brief summary of the 28-year cultural history. I could tell you about the radio shows, the inaugural chat show, the sitcoms (two), the feature film, the book, the audiobook, the cameo appearances. I could bore you through the basics: how he’s played by the actor Steve Coogan, how he’s a hapless disc-jockey formerly at the fictional North Norfolk Digital, how he’s now (in the new series) the temporary BBC presenter of This Time, a sort of The One Show/Good Morning Britain spoof. I could waste an entire paragraph telling you all this. But to put it in informational terms would only be to understate the impact that Partridge has had on UK audiences.
Alan Partridge is more than just a comedy character. He is an expression of Englishness. Specifically, he is an expression of English social awkwardness. He is someone who recognises what the acceptable standard is, attempts to rise to it, drastically fails to get there and (unlike you) refuses to apologise. Remember that time you were driving and mouthed to someone to switch off their fog-lights, and they thought that you were swearing at them? Yeah, Alan did that, in a car with a giant phallus graffitied on it, and then he got called out for it on his radio show. Remember…