TV: Alan Partridge: Why When Where How and Whom?, BBC2

Steve Coogan's monstrous comic icon is all set to return to the BBC next year with a new Brexit-related show, so as a nice curtain-raiser this documentary about Alan Partridge works as both a laugh-packed clips show and a history of the spoof celebrity who put Norwich on the map.

We get the story from the very roots of Partridge on the Radio 4 show On The Hour in the early 1990s. A sketch required a "sports presenter" and Coogan came up with the voice that launched a thousand hapless quips. Writer on the show Patrick Marber recalls warning Coogan that people would be shouting "A-ha" at him in the street. And sure enough, by the time he reached television they were.

Most of the people involved with Partridge in the early days are interviewed. As well as Coogan and Marber we hear from Rebecca Front, Doon Mackichan, Armando Iannucci, Dave Schneider, Peter Baynham, Sally Phillips, Felicity Montagu and Simon Greenall. No Chris Morris (though he is in some lovely clips) or Lee & Herring, the duo who also wrote for On The Hour.

We also get to see some footage of Coogan and the team working on sketches - they would just improvise in the character of Partridge to come up with words and turns of phrase, so that, as Iannucci quips, at times there were three Partridges in the room. Coogan seemed to be able to become Partridge at will. Maybe they share more traits than he would care to admit.

As for the clips it is an indication of how many classic moments there are that the show doesn't include two of my favourite lines. Partridge shopping in Tandy late at night trying out a CD player (remember those?) and saying "nice action". And although we get "smell my cheese" we don't get "monkey tennis" from the same scene.

There is also some analysis of what makes him so car crash compelling. It's the awkwardness. Or maybe his ability to say such stupid things with a straight face. There is pathos there too in watching him down on his luck. I think that if the character was invented now we'd talk about him being somewhere on the autistic spectrum, given his self-centred view of the world.

The programme brings things right up to date exploring how Partridge evolved and became broader and at the same time funnier, culminating in the movie Alpha Papa (that Roachford mime is epic). Yet at the same time he can operate just as effectively in confined spaces, such as tied to the studio in Mid Morning Matters.

To put it simply it's the combination of great writing and a great performance that makes Partridge so great. I've met people who don't like David Brent, I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't like Alan Partridge. That's how good he is.

Alan Partridge: Why When Where How and Whom? is on catch-up here.


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