Watching Sky Atlantic’s Alan Partridge on Open Books with Martin Bryce last night, it just felt right to see Partridge’s name alongside those of such literary heavyweights as Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and James Corden.
Yes, his new “autobiography” (I add quote marks because the word doesn’t quite cover what Partridge has managed to pull off here) I, Partridge: We Need to Talk about Alan is a fascinating record of an astonishing life but it’s also a masterclass in subverting literary convention and playing with narrative structure.
I, Partridge has, technically, been more of a success than Alan’s previous biography Bouncing Back, which was pulped after failing to fulfil commercial expectations. But as Partridge himself wryly remarked on last night’s show, it was recycled into toilet paper which means the very critics who once panned it may now be wiping their bottoms on it, so the joke’s on them.
Meanwhile, I suspect that the only way readers will end up using I, Partridge as toilet paper will be if they are forced to rip out the pages themselves while caught in a desperate situation in a public lavatory.
But back to last night’s programme. Before the main event, we were treated to a clip-strewn look back at Partridge’s incredible broadcasting career, from BBC chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge to the oft overlooked Crash! Bang! Wallop! What a Video! Such is the breadth of Partridge’s work that the retrospective could easily have taken up the full hour itself (or, in fact, have been made into a series, which when you consider some of the rubbish out there these days, is not a bad idea – are you reading this Rupert Sawyer?).
But of course the evening was about literature, a subject in which self-confessed “bibliophile” Partridge is equally well versed (or should that be “well chaptered?!”), freely admitting to owning in excess of 100 volumes, stored in two cardboard boxes (microwave and crisps) in the garage of his fully detached four bedroom house – and having been keenly interested in books since the age of “a half”.
Of course, I could (and happily would) quote Partridge until the cows come home, but what I cannot hope to reproduce here are his many, lengthy readings from I, Partridge – that would be copyright infringement (although, interestingly, I could, absolutely legally, print the entire output of, say, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Jane Austen – which perhaps indicates the esteem in which Partridge’s work is held).
It was clear during those intensely powerful readings that Partridge was really connecting with the studio audience – most were simply too stunned to contribute to the debate, while others could only gibber nonsense. After all, it would take serious talent to do Partridge justice in words – and I like to think I have managed it.