Wednesday 21 August 2019

Steve Coogan is right: Alan Partridge's car is a comedy vehicle

Steve Coogan avoided a driving ban because he needs to drive as Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan avoided a driving ban because he needs to drive as Alan Partridge

Stuart Heritage

Not many celebrities could wriggle out of a driving ban on the basis that cars are a central component of their personality. Sure, James Bond likes Aston Martins, but if Daniel Craig was banned from driving, the 007 producers could easily get around it by writing in a scene with a blimp or an invisible car or some sort of impractical windsurfing get-up. Same goes for Top Gear or The Grand Tour. It wouldn't be ideal if one of the presenters lost their licence, but at least it'd make for a more entertaining show than normal.

Not so Steve Coogan. A man with a long history of driving offences, Coogan just managed to talk himself out of an automatic six-month driving ban because he's about to start filming a new Alan Partridge series and, as he put it, "It's an artistic thing that [Alan] drives, and that defines his character".

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It seems like an implausible defence - it seems like a rich TV star is using his charm and heft to squirm out of a punishment he considers below him - that is, until you give it some thought. And then it hits you; almost every iteration of Alan Partridge has had petrol thrumming through his veins.

In The Day Today, Partridge screamed in terror as he accompanied a female racing driver around a rally track. In I'm Alan Partridge, at the depths of his despair, he gorged on Toblerone and drove to Dundee in his bare feet. He made a Police Camera Action rip-off called Crash, Bang, Wallop, What a Video.

His "Dan Dan Daaaan" breakdown happened in a car park. 'Cock Piss Partridge' happened on the side of his Rover saloon. His Christmas in Norwich segment from Knowing Me Knowing Yule quickly descended into an unofficial advertorial for the same Rover.

The list goes on. Alan Partridge refused to drive a Mini Metro when faced with certain bankruptcy. Welcome To The Places Of My Life revolved around a sequence where Partridge infuriated a Range Rover salesman during a protracted test drive. As his confidence grew as host of This Time, Partridge started to ramp up the number of cars he was filmed with, including a convertible Rolls Royce used to illustrate his affinity with the #MeToo movement, and a segment where he railed - ironically, in retrospect - against a recent arrest for dangerous driving.

Cars and Partridge are absolutely wedded, and this is probably because Steve Coogan is also fond of driving. His breakout non-Partridge sketch in The Day Today was his "Is This Cool?" driving awareness spoof, and his Tommy Saxondale character was car-obsessed to the point of sniffing exhaust fumes for fun.

Cars form a central component of each series of The Trip, along with food, impressions and a general sense of exhausted male decay. Coogan himself has appeared on Top Gear in the past, performing adequately in 'Star In A Reasonably Priced Car'.

And so the prospect of a new Alan Partridge series where Alan can't go near any cars seems unthinkable. Especially since, as Coogan revealed in court, the new series happens to be a travelogue where "I'm basically driving around Britain". He added that, "You couldn't put him on a train because that's not who he is. It's part of his character that he drives".

A series where Partridge drives around the country, toadying up to the upper classes and patronising the city-bound youth, sounds amazing. Driving ban or not, the world will be a better place for having this new series in it.

However, it's slightly disingenuous for Coogan to state that Alan Partridge is a driver above all else. Because that would be to ignore Nomad, the 2016 book in which Partridge walked from Norfolk to Dungeness in a doomed bid to secure a television series for himself.

That book was extraordinarily funny, mostly because it tore him from the comfort zone of a heated seat and a Roachford CD, and a TV show of the same subject would be just as good.

However, in terms of Partridge, it's also quite a deep cut. Perhaps if the magistrate had been more au fait with the various strands of non-terrestrial Alan Partridge output, Coogan's ban would have stuck.

Irish Independent

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