When I joined the BBC in the heady days of the early 2000s, Alan Partridge was still a legendary figure – pacing the corridors of Television Centre in immaculate flannel slacks, and spoken of in the same breath as the other master-interviewers of the modern era: Parkinson, Ross, Christian, Madeley. In many ways, he even influenced the great American talk-programme hosts like Letterman or Leno. Not in a literal sense, obviously, but perhaps in some other sense.
I only met the great man once, when I was just a cub reporter, wet behind the ears, and he was gracious enough to try and pass on some of his knowledge. ‘Let me give you a bit of advice,’ he said. ‘If your heart's set on going in there, for goodness sake avoid the second stall on the left – it quite literally looks like a war zone in there. It wasn't me; I only came in for some basic urination. I take care of everything else back home, thanks to a first-class Hinch VX50 chemical toilet, which genuinely would have made light work of that lot. Apart from that time I had some bad ham, it's handled everything I can throw at it so far. I certainly wouldn't expect work facilities to be up to the job. I mean I'm not a monster. I'm Alan Partridge.’ And then he was gone, like some apparition in a double-breasted blazer.
Over the years his star has waned a little. He left the BBC under something of a cloud (note – I'm not talking about personal hygiene, those rumours were put to bed a long time ago), but now, finally, Alan has a chance to give his own side of the story and set the ruddy record straight. It's all here, from the highs of hospital radio (‘In my time at the hospital, I was broadcasting live during the deaths of some 800 patients. It's a record that stands to this day’) to the lows of Toblerone addiction, which saw him gain an alarming amount of weight (‘Like a good-looking John Merrick, mine was a face that looked really shit’). It's also rewarding for the fans to find out previously unknown details, such as the fact that his deal to return to radio was signed in the Symphony Café, Norwich (‘now, at long last, a Nando's’), or to gain a greater appreciation for Alan's love of the Highway Code (‘people forget that it doesn't just save lives, it's also a damn good read’).
Those of us who love him will be hoping he'll be back in our living-rooms soon. (Not in person – that would be time-consuming and borderline inappropriate – but through the medium of televisual broadcasting.) Until then, we'll keep tuning in to hear his ‘award-worthy’ mid-morning broadcasts covering the whole length and breadth of the North Norfolk area.
Essential reading for anyone who wants to discover the Alan behind the Alan, this handsome volume is taking its place on my shelf nestled proudly between Nelson Mandela's A Long Walk to Freedom
and Saint Augustine's Confessions
. It really is classic autobiography.