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7 August 2017

We laughed at Alan Partridge – little did we realise he heralded the age of Donald Trump

In the first part of our week celebrating 90s comedy, we take a look back at the Nostradamus of Norwich. 

By Daniel Curtis

“Funny feeling that backfired a little bit,” Alan Partridge, host of the chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You and Steve Coogan’s best-known comedic creation, comments at the end of a disastrous interview

It all starts pleasantly enough. Partridge introduces his guest Keith Hunt, the fictional new host of This Is Your Life. But his guest quickly wins the crowd over by using his catchphrase and having it completed by the audience. Partridge, wounded, then spends the rest of the segment trying to ruin Hunt.

He brings Hunt’s son on stage, but warns Hunt that he can’t talk to his son, because he doesn’t have custody that weekend. Partridge proceeds to humiliate Hunt live on air, by showing how he has forgotten his estranged son’s birthday. “Don’t despair,” Partridge then comforts the son. “We’ve got you a present. We’ve got you an Alan Partridge tie and blazer badge combination pack – there we go, you take that – and not only that, we’ve got you an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland with your mummy and her partner this weekend!”

The sketch not only shows how close to the bone TV chat shows really are, but serves to illustrate the narcissism and barbarism of Partridge, a failed broadcaster from Norwich, who spends more time settling personal scores and balming his embittered ego than doing a professional job. 

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Partridge, like today’s post-truth politicians, channels the worst excesses of the privileged white man who considers himself nonetheless a victim.

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Nigel Farage famously copied Partridge’s blazer, but the two men’s resemblance is more than sartorial – it extends to the former Ukip leader’s anti-immigration stance and his “traditional” views on women.

When confronted by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood after speaking out against the alleged 60 per cent of HIV-diagnosed UK residents who are not British nationals, Farage protested: “It’s a fact. It’s a fact. It’s a fact. Well, it’s true.” It could be a direct callback to Partridge’s comment about the number of people in China in a 2011 interview he did with Jonathan Ross. “There are loads of them,” he says, explaining his intention to crack the Chinese TV market. “There are! It’s a fact!”

Partridge, too, is a regular chauvinist, who describes his first sexual encounter with his new wife in painful detail. “I was a virgin,” he says. “Whereas Carol had been hymen-free for the best part of six years.” On this evidence, the Farage who said on LBC that women who wished to breastfeed should “perhaps sit in the corner, or whatever it might be”, might well enjoy a pint with Partridge.

The news that Partridge will return to our screens in 2018 as “the voice of hard Brexit”, therefore, makes perfect sense. But, given the international aspirations of some of this country’s leading Brexiteers, you must wonder if Partridge’s ability to embody the future goes further than the under-fished shores of Little England. Farage was an advocate of Donald Trump’s campaign for presidency, and the feeling was mutual. Trump even described Farage as “Mr Brexit”. So will Partridge be a Trump fan?

After all, the veteran broadcaster might feel that their backgrounds are similar. Partridge is, like Trump, a shameless self-promoter. When he appeared on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2011 to promote his autobiography I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan, he called it “the best book I’ve ever written, and one of the best books I’ve ever read”. He has a blasé approach to nepotism (he petitioned his cousin to give him a job after the BBC sacked him for shooting a man dead in the season finale of Knowing Me, Knowing You), and he certainly forecast the rise of the “lying MSM”. In an appearance on Clive Anderson Talks Back, Partridge describes himself as “misled” about participating in the not-entirely complimentary portrayal of his life as a failed BBC broadcaster.

As self-made men who are victims of a biased media, perhaps Trump and Partridge will get along swimmingly. Partridge, as the most abrasive persona of the Nineties, has perhaps inadvertently inspired Farage, and Farage inspires Trump. In fact, all told, Partridge has a lot to answer for. 

More than 20 years on, the one-time presenter of the 4.30-7am pre-breakfast show on Radio Norwich is the populist, Brexit-backing, Make Norwich Great Again seer we never knew we needed. This is great banter. It really is.