Broadcast during Steve Coogan’s golden period, this Christmas edition of Alan Partridge’s comedy chat show, filmed in a mock-up of the interior of his own house, is true TV gold.
Reintroducing audiences to Partridge’s unique style of interviewing and adding some insights into his life outside of his chat show world, plus adding a Christmas tune and even an appearance by Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall for good measure, this delivers big laughs, a huge fall from grace, and a smattering of sympathy for the Norwich-born host.
First off come the big laughs, of which there are many. The fake guests are as top draw as any to have appeared on the show. Starting off with Tony Hayers, commissioning editor of BBC television (who also gets to smell Alan’s cheese in the first series of I’m Alan Partridge), the set-up for the entire episode is made clear – Alan’s gunning for a new series and he knows this is a make or break show. When interviewing Tony, Alan is on edge and all the better for it, his questions and comments coming out even more muddled and awkward than ever (“My show is your bell. Please peal it. Peal my bell.”). Alan even finds himself asking Tony directly whether or not the decision on commissioning the second series of his chat show has been made, not being able to stop himself in the face of the axe.
Next up is Mary, a bell ringer from Norwich Cathedral with strong views on Jesus and what the festive season should mean to us all. Not technically a sofa guest, she gets herself involved at the request of Tony Hayers, and to the obvious discomfort of Alan – “How did this happen?” he ventures out loud at one point. The ensuing discussion, about Mary’s objection to the ‘graphic depiction of onanism’ being broadcast on the Beeb brings a curt response from Partridge (“Listen love, the BBC might be many things, but porn it ain’t. The only way you can access hardcore pornography is if you mail off for a satellite smart card decoder.”) It’s these wonderfully off-the-cuff moments, with Partridge so at ease with himself yet ill at ease in his current situation, that shine throughout the show.
His other guests include Fanny Thomas, a foul-mouthed transvestite chef played superbly by king of comedy, Kevin Eldon, and the Herons, a golfing couple that have succumbed to a terrible tragedy (Gordon Heron was struck by lightning, paralysing him from the waist down). Both encounters throw up more classic lines but it’s the events outside of these that raise most interest.
Some VT showing what Alan gets up to at Christmas gives what, at the time, was the first real insight into Alan’s personal life, and what a treat it is. We see him walking round an electrical store testing out the CD player (“It’s a quality action.”). We see him making deals while out jogging (“If Raquel Welsh doesn’t want to stay in a Trusthouse Forte, then we’ll stick her at a youth hostel and see if she likes that.”). We even see him delivering Christmas toys to sick children. It’s all now classic Partridge, but at the time these were first glimpses into his private comings and goings.
Not to be forgotten is Alan’s penchant for product placement (fans of the first series will remember the appearance of soft drink Sprünt). This show frequently includes mention of Rover cars and there’s even an appearance from a salesman from the Norfolk Rover dealership, dressed up as Santa. This predictably blows up in Alan’s face when Tony Hayers catches on to what’s happening, forcing a last minute change of plan for a Christmas cracker joke (“What make of car goes ‘woof woof’? It’s not a Rover. It’s a Vauxhall Labrador.”)
The show’s crowning glory comes in the final five minutes. Exasperated at the failure of the show’s big production number (a massive burning Christmas cracker puts paid to that) and humiliated by the quick-witted Fanny, Alan, hand stuffed far up a turkey, loses his patience and ruins his career by punching Tony Hayers in the face, first accidentally, quite on purpose the second time. Just as you’re still reeling from that masterstroke, Alan’s brought to his senses with a slap from Mrs Heron and then, shaking directly to camera comes the moment of realisation (“Aaaaargh. I will never work in broadcasting again.”). Too true Alan. Too true.
At the time, none of us knew just how big a character Alan would play in Coogan’s career, but this Christmas special took Partridge to new heights and prepared audiences for a new sitcom style of comedy that was still to come. Knowing Me, Knowing Yule… With Alan Partridge fleshed Partridge out and gave him more of a personality than ever before.