All this week Dan Luisi is taking a look at some classic Christmas comedy offerings. Today it's the turn of Norfolk's finest, Alan Partridge.
Quite how Alan Partridge managed to wangle the BBC into giving him his
own Christmas special after murdering Forbes McAllister in his last TV
appearance is down to the joys of contractual obligation. With that contract at an end Alan is gunning (although not with dueling pistols) for a second series, and in his mind the sensible option is to invite Chief Commissioning Editor of BBC Programs, Tony Hayers, to join him for 41 minutes of festive chat in a studio mock-up of Alan's own front room. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
The Boaster biscuits and mulled wine were flowing like, well, wine, and
it's not long before Alan's penchant for product placement shines
through - he's received a brand new Rover Vitesse Fastback for Christmas
and was particularly pleased with it! Later on we'll meet the sales
manager of Alan's local Rover dealership dressed up as Santa. Tony
Hayers doesn't look pleased, after all product placement is a big no-no
on the BBC, so when Alan goes to tell a joke from inside a cracker that
begins "What make of car goes 'woof woof'?", he quickly adds "It’s not a
Rover. It’s a Vauxhall Labrador".
What we have here is pure comedy gold. Steve Coogan was at the top of his game, and delivers so many moments which we can now refer to as "classic Partridge". Of course at the time there was no such thing. Alan had been around for a few years thanks to the likes of The Day Today and his own radio show, but he wasn't mainstream yet, that would come soon after this 1995 Christmas special.
Knowing Me, Knowing Yule gave us our first real insight into Alan's life outside of the studio. Back in his beloved Norwich we see him getting special treatment in his local branch of Tandy, and checking out the "quality action" on a CD player. He goes jogging through the city whilst making deals - "300k. 300k or we
take it to Sky", and "If Raquel Welsh doesn’t want to stay in a Trusthouse Forte, then we’ll stick her at a youth hostel and see if she likes that". Then, prior to his Terry's Chocolate Orange with superficial damage, he delivers Christmas presents to sick children in hospital, they're "second hand, but in quiet good condition". All classic Partridge, and all very much setting things up for 1997's I'm Alan Partridge.
But it's in the studio where disaster seems to cling to Alan's heels, and
everything he touches becomes a shambles. These are the moments in KMKYWAP when Alan is always worth watching, if only to
see his ever-increasing denial of the trouble he is in.
We've already been greeted by the bell ringers of Norwich Cathedral, and been introduced to Fanny Thomas, a transvestite TV chef who is cooking up Christmas snacks in the kitchen (brilliantly played by Kevin Eldon). Joining Tony Hayers on the couch will be two very special people, Gordon and Liz Heron. Gordon, a professional golfer, was struck by lightning on the 18th hole during the Colgate Cup. Wheelchair-bound, he went on to coach his wife to golfing victory. It was a heart-warming story, perfect for a Christmas special. But as we all know Alan is notorious for insulting his guests and is
frequently intimidated by anyone who is not completely normal. There is
no shortage of this as he becomes more and more desperate for Tony Hayers to answer his Christmas wish. There are some harsh
confrontations between him and the interviewees. But it's all
The supposed climax of the show was to be an attempt at a Guinness World Record for pulling the world's biggest Christmas cracker. Inside the cracker was a kidney dialysis machine meant for the local hospital if the record was broken, but instead the cracker caught fire (thanks to White City Pyrotechnics). With 77 youngsters in costume back stage ready for the the big finale: The Twelve Days of Christmas (with Alan Partridge in a pear tree!), and the number ruined by half a smouldering cracker, what's an Alan to do?
The whole thing culminates with Alan punching disabled Gordon in the face with a turkey, and then doing the same to Tony Hayers. Twice.
And on that festive bombshell, with Alan's career in ruins and an extended stay at the Linton Travel Tavern in his near future, he brings on Mick Hucknell to close the show. Just to add insult to injury.
Alan may have just realised that he "will never work in broadcasting again", but this was a real turning point for the man playing him. The first series of I'm Alan Partridge would cement the character in British comedy history and make Partridge (and his catchphrase A-Ha) something of an albatross for Steve Coogan. I expect it was a fear of typecasting, but for most of the Noughties Coogan seemed to be distancing himself as much as possible from Partridge, pulling him out on the rare occasion, Comic Relief and such. But the last few years have shown that he appears to have come to terms with that now, and looks to be enjoying playing the role of Partridge once again. Maybe he remembered his wise words given in character to Tony Hayers: "I think if you ask the British public whether they’d prefer 40 kidney dialysis machines or an Alan Partridge Christmas special, the answer would be pretty unanimous."
Yes, I'm pretty sure it would be.
Tomorrow - Father Ted: A Christmassy Ted