Last night's viewing - Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life, Sky Atlantic; Walking and Talking, Sky Atlantic
"The more I learn about Hitler the more I dislike him," said Alan Partridge sagely in Welcome to the Places of My Life, his personal guide to "Albion's hindquarters", "the Wales of the East"– or Norfolk, as the rest of us know it.
Hitler had come up because of the Führer's plans to make Norwich Town Hall a centre of regional government in the event of a successful German invasion of England, a historical detail that Partridge the film-maker (his name was on the credits as "director") took as a cue to fade up an echoey Hitler speech as Partridge the presenter stared pensively out over Norwich market. He'd already done a priceless bit of Schama-ing inside the building – storming through the corridors as he vividly recreated the terrible night on which Norwich came within a whisker of getting a blanket imposition of night-time parking fees. And now here he was tackling Norwich's place in global history. Is there nothing this man can't handle?
Steve Coogan can probably now do Partridge in his sleep. The character is fully there, with all its tics and grace notes, from the little sideways skitter of the eyes at the camera that betrays his essential amateurishness to the wildly inappropriate grandiosity. "This is my coalface, my canvas, my lathe," said Alan, leading the camera into the microphone-rigged broom cupboard that is his centre of operations at North Norfolk Digital. If he wasn't such a creep there would be something almost heroic about his determination to finesse his come-down into a professional choice, and the eagerness with which he enlists any detail, however banal, to help him do it. Introducing us to the second of the significant locations in his life, the Riverside Leisure Centre, he noted that it "boasts a controversial swooped roof" and then unwisely conducted an in-pool interview with the resident hydrotherapist, his questions getting increasingly spluttery as his energy flagged.
Real Partridge purists, though, may have felt that offered an image of the programme itself, which started confidently but later had some difficulty keeping its head above water. It wasn't that it wasn't funny – there were wonderful moments all the way through. It was just that it was muddled and a little impure, in a way the Iannucci-scripted series almost never were. So, while you could certainly imagine a Partridge-directed documentary including his pontifications about how to make your own walking stick ("rather than one of those aluminium ones made in China by kids, I prefer a traditional one, made in Britain... by trees"), it was harder to work out why he would have included a shot of him drooling all over the Range Rover salesman. Both funny, but not quite funny in compatible ways. Which, I can quite see, may well come across as unnecessarily picky.
Walking and Talking, Kathy Burke's new series, contains a lot of both, being essentially constructed out of Kath and Mary's walk home from school. Kath has the details of Burke's own childhood – alcoholic father, no mother and a tendency to score higher for Personality than Looks when her friends fill in the teen-mag love questionnaires. But this is played lightly here, not as emotional ballast. Kath introduces herself as a bundle of enthusiasms – for X-Ray Spex, Keith Waterhouse, Kes and Play for Today – and the mood is consistently sweet and innocent. When her friend Mary questions the knowledge of an older boy at school, Kath – the more knowing of the two – replies: "He's 18, Mary. Of course he knows everything!" Like Welcome to the Places of My Life, it's a bit all over the place formally, dropping in animations and sketch-like sequences featuring two nuns (one of whom is played by Burke herself). But the mood is consistent throughout – deeply affectionate for the child she was.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
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