Norwich must have a love-hate relationship with Alan Partridge. He (along with maybe Delia Smith and Stephen Fry) has done more to put the city on the map than any other figure in current popular culture. And yet Partridge’s parochial persona seems a world away from the vibrant Norwich of 2016 with its chic boutique Lanes and impressive glass-fronted Forum.
It’s at the Forum that we start our Partridge Pilgrimage, a venue recognisable from the Alpha Papa movie because it stands adjacent to City Hall, the scene of Alan’s short taxi dash to the local police station. The art deco City Hall also featured in the TV special Welcome to the Places of My Life, although our guide needs to have this pointed out to him by one of the Partridge devotees.
It’s not the only gap in his knowledge (the London Street location where Alan did his after-hours shopping at Tandy also has to be highlighted by fans), but no matter because there’s plenty for the aficionado to enjoy.
We see Norwich’s labyrinthine open-air market (selling “monkey hats and tat” according to AP), which has actually served shoppers since the 11th century. And later, we take in the awe-inspiring cathedral whose monastic cloisters once formed part of Partridge’s jogging route (“£300k or we take it to Sky” he famously barked while hammering out a business deal on his mobile).
But those who want the full experience may want to venture to locations not covered by our 90-minute amble around the city centre. The local railway station was the venue where Alan tried to flog his book Bouncing Back (now, of course, quite rare thanks to it being pulped), while the Hollywood Cinema in the run-down Anglia Square had the honour of premiering Alpha Papa in 2013. Those needing a break from city life may even like to venture to nearby Mousehold Heath where Alan introduced his own tour of Norfolk (or “the Wales of the East” as he put it).
Where our own guide comes into his own is when he uses Partridge as a springboard to look at the history of Norwich. One highlight comes when we visit cobbled Elm Hill, the chocolate box beauty of which has featured in many guidebooks to the “fine city”. It’s hard to believe now that the street – with houses dating back to the 1520s –was set to be demolished in the 1920s to make way for “light industrial units”.
In fact, thanks to such sights as Elm Hill and the Norman castle (founded by William the Conqueror sometime between 1066 and 1075) which stands sentry above the Castle Mall, you might well come away more swept up in the 900-year history of the city than the Partridge ephemera. Sorry to bruise Alan’s ego even further than it already is, but the true star of East Anglia must surely be Norwich itself.
Private guided walks can be booked with the Norwich Tourist Information Centre located at The Forum. Pre-booking is essential: call 01603 213999. The cost for taking an ‘Alpha Norwich’ tour costs £48 plus VAT for any number of people up to 20.
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