It can be safely said that world premieres are a rarity at Norwich’s Hollywood Cinema. It was therefore fitting that the venue should finally get its own dubious slice of glamour courtesy of Norfolk’s – sorry, North Norfolk’s – most famous son, Steve Coogan’s fictional DJ Alan Partridge.
As the shameless comedy character “came home” for the debut screening of his new film, Alpha Papa, today’s gala event was held – in true Partridge fashion – amidst an unloved 1960s shopping precinct, and at the unglamorous time of 12.15 on a Wednesday afternoon.
For a town and a county used to being the butt of jokes, was this taking things a bit too far, or would residents be proud to revel in Partridge mania?
Judging by those who had camped out since the early hours of the morning, some were only too keen.
They were rewarded when Coogan arrived, in-character as the hapless Partridge, wearing a pale-blue, short-sleeved safari suit replete with buckle and pink tie. “This is my love letter to Norwich,” he told the 1,000-strong crowd. Appearing in the city thanks to a Twitter campaign by fans, he added: “The people have spoken in the biggest petition since the clinic started handing out johnnies to 13-year-olds; £4m has gone on this film, which could have gone to a brand-new antenatal unit or Help for Heroes, but we spent it on this film.”
It remained difficult to quite know where the genuine naffness of the situation merged with the contrived naffness created by Coogan and his PR team. A life-sized sculpture of a gorilla bearing Partridge’s face was on display, while a bearded man wandered around with a small and bewildered-looking owl – in a nod to an episode in which the DJ takes a date to a local owl sanctuary. There was even graffiti which said “Smell My Cheese” on an opposing car park wall.
But Partridge fever has now gripped the East Anglian city, with tourism officials launching a tour of filming locations.
Donna Thompson, 53, who was born in South Africa but has lived in Norwich for eight years, told The Independent of her glee at securing a kiss from Partridge on the red carpet. “I just asked him for a kiss and he was a real gentleman and just gave me one,” said the self-styled poet, model and actress – dressed in a leopard-print dress and Zulu headpiece.
Not everyone was overawed by all the razzmatazz. One gentleman sitting outside a shop, who preferred not to be named, said: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I’ve never heard of him.” But Rob Wilkes, who organised the campaign to bring the event to Norfolk, said: “Visit Norwich told us they’ve had a massive increase in people contacting them and wanting to visit the city on the back of this campaign. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but it’s a good thing for Norwich.”
It remains to be seen whether some of the locations used in the film will become as famous – or infamous – as the Thamesmead Estate did through its part in A Clockwork Orange. But as the punters left the cinema, they felt the film would certainly do no harm. Glynis Clark, 57, who owns a local B&B, said: “Because it was local, it was great fun. He is cringe-making, yes, but he raises the profile of Norwich and Norfolk which is great.”
Despite the display of local love, Coogan did not watch the film in the 400-seat cinema but instead flew back by helicopter to London for a second showing.
Partridge once said: “Go to London, I guarantee you’ll either be mugged or not appreciated.” Even with his swift departure, it was obvious which city appreciates him most.