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Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

On Radio 4’s Film Programme recently, Mark Gatiss has been re-examining TV spin-off films from the seventies including film versions of Are You Being Served, On the Buses, and the only one he really rated, Porridge.
The feature-film spin-off has a long history in UK television, although as Gatiss explained it was largely used as a device to be a bit cruder or racier than TV allowed. I imagine that the stars got a slightly larger cheque than TV paid as well. And because the budget was a little bit bigger, they largely had to go somewhere. Invariably it didn’t work – at least not on any quality level. The films were quite frequently profitable though.
Even with the recent highly successful Inbetweeners movie, they had to go on holiday as the staff of Grace Brothers had before them. And notably, I thought that the film was not as good as the TV show, although the box office takings, and the forthcoming sequel suggest that this doesn’t really come into play.
So taking a character like Alan Partridge and putting him on the big screen could be very dangerous. But they’ve got it right. Steve Coogan, Armando Ianucci, Peter Baynham et al have actually given us many different versions of Partridge beginning with On The Hour and Knowing Me, Knowing You on Radio 4, as well as their TV versions. Later there was I’m Alan Partridge, before more recently we had Midmorning Matters for the web, reworked for Sky, alongside a couple of one-off documentaries. I wouldn’t neglect the brilliant memoir either.
Short of Alan Patridge: The Play (and Coogan has certainly performed as him on stage), only the film was left.
In Alpha Papa, North Norfolk Digital has just been taken over by Goredale Media who are renaming the station Shape, with the strapline, “The Way You Want It To Be.” Those of us in the radio industry might see a certain accuracy in this trend, although I must admit that I preferred North Norfolk Digital’s previous strapline: “Sustaining and maintaining our core listenership in an increasingly fragmented marketplace.” I think that really reaches out to the listeners.
When late-night DJ Pat Farrell gets fired following Alan’s shameless attempt to save his own skin upon realising it was one of the two of them, he takes action into his own hands and a hostage situation begins, with Alan as the go-between.
It’s a good mechanic, and it allows Alan to realise that he could become famous once again if he plays his cards right.
Tim Key, who plays Alan’s “Sidekick Simon” gets lots of the best lines, even if he does spend most of the film gaffer-taped up with a cooking pan on his head. And Phil Cornwall’s Dave Clifton who has been there and done it rings a few bells. It’s great to see Lynn and Michael back too.
It’s great fun seeing some bits of Norfolk that I’m fairly familiar with – Cromer Pier and Sheringham High Street both featuring in various parts of the film. I couldn’t help but notice that one of Partridge’s fellow DJs is a certain Wally Banter. This should in no way be confused with BBC Radio Norfolk’s own Wally Webb who has the prime 0400-0630 slot, and who slightly scarily, does seem to think he’s the basis for Partridge. (I should also note that my dad genuinely loves his show including his sandwich-filling based daily phone-in).
And DRUK should be pleased, because never have so many DAB stations appeared on screen in a movie! Go on. Who else was curious to know if someone really did fiddle with the settings of their DLS on DAB to get that Pure radio read the way it did?
Another real joy of the film is the music. There’s an opening sequence of Alan singing along to Roachford that is just priceless, but all the way through it’s beautifully chosen. At one point, Alan, in a panic, puts the Ski Sunday theme tune on.
It’s easily the funniest film I’ve seen this year.
I should mention that I’ve also recently seen The World’s End, the last of the so-called “Cornetto Trilogy” from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright. And while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it nearly as much as I loved Partridge.
The problem with The World’s End is that Pegg’s character is so unlikeable, and is so irredeemable, that the whole thing doesn’t really hang together. I did laugh a lot earlier on, as the “gang” first gets back together and then, somewhat inexplicably, agree to go on the pub crawl that Pegg’s character insists on.
The soullessness of a certain type of contemporary pub is well drawn, and it was amusing seeing the garden cities of Welwyn and Letchworth doubling as the fictional Newton Haven.
The cast is top-notch too with Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman all doing sterling work as fellow classmates who’ve long since grown up. Rosamund Pike is also there, but she really gets very little to do. And I’d have personally liked to have had a bit more of Mark Heap.
I loved the TV series Spaced, and a lot of that attention to detail is still there – especially in the music cues, which those of a certain age will appreciate immensely. But ultimately I was left a little wanting.
And I’m afraid I found the end a bit disappointing. While it clearly had a lot of that John Wyndham-style invasion theme to it, I’m not sure that the it really needed the ending it got. And the coda was just weird and actually made me forget about the far more enjoyable earlier parts of the film.
I’ve no doubt at all, that like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it will be worth rewatching a few times on TV at a later date. And like Alpha Papa, I appreciated the fact that nobody has tried to make the film “accessible” for an international audience. They’ll either get it or they won’t.
Still, if I’m a bit down on The World’s End, it can only be better than something called Pain and Gain, for which I’ve only seen a trailer. It’s a Michael Bay film, and he seems intent on pastiching himself. I’m not sure of it’s supposed to be a comedy, but my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw the trailer. For a start it’s all in that horrific yellow tinting that he can’t stop doing. There’s an entire blog post to be written about what goes for “grading” on some films these days. But Bay is the worst offender, and it’s like you’re watching the entire trailer (or, god help you, film) through a really cheap pair of sunglasses from the early seventies. I suspect that I’ll never, willingly, see the film, so a review of the trailer seems fair. And while we’re at it, I’m not at all sure what to make of We’re The Millers, whose trailer seems to mostly be about letting the audience know that Jennifer Aniston is a stripper who gets down to her underwear in at least two different scenes. Maybe it’s a funny film, but I’m not sure that’s what I got from the trailer. What I do know is that co-star Jason Sudeikis is definitely funny in the recent NBC Sport Premier League promo (even if it’s mostly filmed at Spurs).