Anthony Clavane: Why I'm ready for my second course of Partridge
There might not be any second acts in American lives, as F Scott Fitzgerald famously observed, but British lives, even those tarnished by bigotry, misogyny and manslaughter, appear to be a different matter. Despite his gaffes, his cringeworthy stunts and an unfortunate Toblerone addiction, Partridge appears to have been forgiven.
Alan’s flaws are many but he has clearly been on a journey of redemption since accidentally killing one of his guests during a particularly tense episode of the cult 1990s chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You.
I realise, of course, that he is a spoof character played by Steve Coogan. But this has been a confusing week. The lines between fiction and reality have become blurred. In America, a reality TV president defended a comedian whose sitcom was cancelled because her fictional avatar tweeted some racist comments. Or something like that. In the Ukraine, a government minister compared the surreal resurrection of a Russian journalist to the classic Sherlock Holmes episode where the fictional detective stages his own death.
And, in Blighty, Richard Madeley went Full Partridge when he covered for his great mate Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain. Like Norfolk’s finest broadcaster, Richard has a tendency to share with viewers whatever thoughts happen to pop into his head. Like Alan, he suddenly embarks on surreal flights of fancy, hilariously mansplaining as his female co-presenters stare stoically into middle distance. And, like Partridge, he has returned from the showbiz wilderness to speak truth to power.
Indeed on Tuesday morning he out-Partridged Partridge by cutting off Gavin Williamson when the Defence Secretary refused to answer a question. “Right,” snapped an exasperated Richard. “You’re not going to answer, are you? Okay. All right, interview terminated because you won’t answer the question.”
Alan’s new vehicle, This Time With Alan Partridge, will be shown later this year. It has been described as “a heady mix of consumer affairs, current affairs, viewer interaction, highbrow interview and lightweight froth”. The primetime comeback of a man who, in his own words “ascended the career ladder like a shaven Jesus ascending to his rightful place in the kingdom of heaven” – but then crashed and fell after that tragic on-air shooting – cannot come too soon.
In the meantime we shall have to make do with Judy’s other half. As Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark explained, after showing a clip of the bizarre Madeley-Williamson spat: “Richard Madeley cracked. Cue lots of comparison to a well-known TV parody character.”
Some viewers thought she was cheekily referring to her predecessor Jeremy Paxman who had become, in his final months as Newsnight anchor, a neighing man-stallion, huffing and puffing away at the great and good – and Boris Johnson – for no apparent reason.
Paxman’s retirement had, some of us hoped, created a vacancy for either Madeley or Partridge to fill. Richard, in particular, would have been an ideal replacement for the sneering Paxo. “Do you find that people patronise you?” Richard once asked a guest. “That means,” he helpfully explained, “they talk down to you.” There is no doubt, as he proved again this week, that he would have given all those robotic, question-evading politicians a torrid time. Who can forget him shaking his fist at his daughter’s mugger on live TV?
There is clearly a mutual, if grudging, respect between the two broadcasting legends. In a recent interview, Richard said of Alan: “He came out of the womb a presenter. He’s a presenter born, not made, and second to none.” They are both, as Coogan might say, clutched to the nation’s breasts.
The BBC have already forgiven Alan for his past misdemeanours. Now they should go a step further and give Alan’s great mate the Newsnight gig, completing his evolution from slightly-barking chatshow host to the most feared interviewer in broadcasting. And on that bombshell…