You have to commend the BBC for allowing disgraced employee Alan Partridge back to present a show in a primetime slot. Those of us of a certain age will remember Alan shooting a man in the final episode of his infamous chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You. The BBC quite rightly took the show and its presenter off the air in 1994. Those in the know at the BBC talk of a particularly difficult meeting in 1997 when Partridge met with then Head of Programmes Tony Hayers. Rumours say Partridge forced a stunned Hayers to, “Smell his cheese” before running out of the restaurant. To his credit, Partridge did attend the funeral for Hayers who died that same year after falling off a roof while trying to adjust his TV ariel. It’s fair to say Partridge never quite recovered from his downfall at the BBC, and despite releasing an autobiography in the early noughties in which he insisted he had “bounced back”, the presenter has taken refuge in local radio ever since. Until recently listeners in his hometown of Norwich could listen to him on a show entitled Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital.
So I imagine it was with some trepidation that the BBC asked Alan to step into the role of guest host for their flagship entertainment show This Time alongside long term host Jennie Gresham after regular host John falls ill.
All joking aside, this is the premise for Alan Partridges’ long-awaited return to the BBC. I’ve seen the first two episodes of the six-parter entitled This Time With Alan Partridge which will be shown towards the end of the month on BBC One. Partridge fans are in for a treat. Created and written by star Steve Coogan and long term Partridge collaborators Rob and Neil Gibbons, the show is probably best described as a clever cross between Knowing Me, Knowing You, W1A and Mid Morning Matters. Though Partridge has never really left our screens with a very successful run of documentaries on Sky and his own feature film, this new series for Partridge feels the perfect fit for primetime BBC One.
Coogan and the Gibbons are clearly poking fun at The One Show with a dash of Good Morning Britain with Alan and co-host Jennie ( Susannah Fielding) sat in a studio chatting to guests and linking to all manner of bizarre stories. The series cleverly shows both the goings on behind the scenes of This Time Alan and Jennie trying to muddle through after Partridge has made the atmosphere awkward in a way only he can but the format also allows Coogan to flesh Alan out further when he steps outside the studio setting and we see his reports on all manner of things beginning with the importance of handwashing.
Fans of I’m Alan Partridge will get a kick out of seeing Alan reunited with his devoted PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu) who can be seen in the quieter moments while the VT’s are playing reassuring Alan and bolstering his confidence for not only his first live TV appearance but his first time in HD!
This show also reunites Partridge with his Mid Morning Matters sidekick Simon Denton (Tim Key) who Alan has brought on with him to monitor the social media responses throughout the show. Not that Simon has a full grasp of the technology in the studio quite yet.
This Time With Alan Partridge is at its heart a love letter to everything that we love about Coogan’s iconic character. It’s the TV equivalent of a Greatest Hits compilation as the show allows Partridge to flex his interviewing muscles in scenes that feel both of the moment, but reassuringly reminiscent of 1994’s Knowing Me Knowing You. His brief but important interactions with Lynn show his vulnerabilities and his interactions with Simon and new co-host Jennie feel as awkward as anything you may’ve seen on Mid Morning Matters. His interactions with guests are both incredibly funny but toe-curlingly uncomfortable but that’s what we want from Partridge and this new show delivers on every front.
To say any more before the episodes airs would spoil your enjoyment, but suffice to say if you’re a Partridge fan you’ll be in your element and if for some reason you’re not…. well I’d rather you weren’t visiting the site to be quite frank.
This Time With Alan Partridge starts Monday 25th February at 9.30pm on BBC One.