Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Alan Partridge The Movie: Do those from (north) Norfolk get the gag?

Fans of north Norfolk's finest radio and TV star will have cheered at the sight of a portly Steve Coogan braving the elements on Cromer pier in photos taken of the filming of the new Alan Partridge film.

As Partridge's silver hair hits the silver screen in August it will be a fitting culmination to the 22-year evolution of a character which has gone from radio to live shows and TV and an autobiography gathering obsessive fans like a driving-gloved snowball. Partridge's influence on modern comedy and a generation of fans who've spent their time hunting Castro GTX jackets and visiting owl sanctuaries cannot be underestimated. For Coogan, Alan's big screen debut comes almost a decade after his last BBC series for the character and a year after Sky aired Mid Morning Matters, a series of short episodes of Alan's North Norfolk Digital radio shows.

But do the people of (north) Norfolk get the joke? In his book, I Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan, he speaks of the vitriol he has for London-based media types, his love of Ginsters pasties and his desire for broadcaster Sue Cook. Alan's relationship with Norfolk, from his discussion of the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre mid-sex to his insults of local farmers (who he believes eat infected spinal columns in baps) has always been one which remorselessly takes the piss out of a region frequently on the end of snobbish jokes. This culminated in recent one-off TV programme Welcome to the Places of my Life in which Alan cites the Riverside Leisure Centre and a ski centre as crowning glories of the county. 

In releasing images of the filming of the new film today, local media entered a frisson of excitement as the seaside town of Cromer became the focal point for the much-anticipated feature length. The film culminates in an armed standoff on Cromer Pier after a car chase out of Norwich and huddles of locals gathered to watch Coogan shimmy round the age-old structure in  a creme jacket. 

Local site EveningNews24.co.uk reported lamp sales have rocketed as the crew have hit town. Randalls Electrical owner Richard Leeds said crew members had bought several lamps and lamp shades for scenes which would be shot in London while Leeds had received £500 for scenes filmed which were not taken in the end. Cromer Chamber of Trade Peter Stibbons praised the crew for battling freezing conditions on BBC Look East and said: "We feel Steve Coogan’s commitment to Norfolk is great.” Meanwhile, hilariously the pier's manager Ian Hall believes the film could bring a swathe of tourists to the town. "Even sort of small productions who have been here over recent years have then had a response that have last two or three years with people coming along saying 'oh we saw Cromer on the TV, we saw the pier,'" he said. 

Stacey Hannah, a barmaid at the Red Lion Hotel in which the crew have stayed, said the 30-strong team had "brought a bit of summer back" to the seaside town gripped by the winter season.
So does the town's excited reaction to its wittiest TV export evidence exactly what Manchester-born Coogan has always satirised? Whether it's analysing (north) Norfolk's most prestigious figures or angering its farmers, Coogan has always sought to strip any glamour from the region. In singing his praises, are the local residents and media endorsing his satire which gives the area a kicking?

The answer is most likely no. Of course, the vast majority of East Anglians who have watched Partridge's various series will understand that his jokes are largely harmless and he represents a frighteningly large number of right wing, arrogant middle-aged men who exist throughout the UK. They will also doubtless find them hilarious. The Norfolk Tourist Authority have always labelled the show "great fun" and claim Partridge has boosted interest in the city. And in reality Norwich itself is as pleasant a city as you'll find in the UK with medieval architecture and plenty of interesting independent shops to set it apart from clone towns around the UK to worry to much.

Whether everyone in the region finds his gags funny remains in question (not least as Coogan's own indiscretions are not to everyone's taste). But with a vote of confidence from the locals of Cromer, as well as his adoring fan base, Alan will doubtless celebrate with a ladyboys as he strolls on to Sheringham and Norwich Market Place in the next week.

Alan Partridge co-creator Armando Ianucci on Alan's return

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