Big Beacon by Alan Partridge – Audiobook Review

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By Roger Crow

For the last 30 years I’ve been a bit obsessed with Alan Partridge. It wasn’t Radio 4’s On The Hour which set the ball rolling, but The Day Today, that sublime BBC Two version which also gave us Doon Mackichan (from my other favourite comedy obsession, Two Doors Down).

As we all know, Partridge is the embodiment of professional celebs who have their fingers in lots of pies, no real talent, and will stab their granny in the back if it means they can land a broadcasting deal. All comedy, no matter how extreme, needs a grain of truth, and Partridge is that honest kernel at the heart of the joke. Not that everyone has known it was a joke over the years. Roger Moore was once berated by a parent because they thought he was going to turn up on Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, the BBC Two chat show from around 30 years ago which saw Alan fall from grace after the death of a guest while on air.

Of course, it’s Alan’s attempts to crawl back onto prime-time TV which have provided the real comedy, peaking with I’m Alan Partridge, in which he lived in a travel tavern, dismantled his trouser press during a moment of boredom, and used a large plate to get a bigger portion at dinner. Its petty one-upmanship was comedy gold, as were the gallery of supporting characters, and barely a day goes by when those catchphrases aren’t used either in the office or at home (usually to the reception of a bemused other half).

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“Moments of comedy genius”

All of which preamble brings us to Alan’s life these days. When lockdown meant endless hours on the treadmill, working from home, Partridge’s podcast From the Oasthouse was a terrific mood-lifter. Series one was so good it got a second or third listen, as did series two. But the recent third run felt half-baked as AP delved into the disappearance of Geordie mate Michael, last seen in 2013 movie Alpha Papa. It was an attempt to cash in on the true-crime podcast craze, and was a major disappointment. And now that some time has gone by, I hate to say it considering how expensive the tickets were, but the live show Stratagem was also a massive let-down. Adapting Alan for the stage should have been a compelling affair, and there were moments of comedy genius, but the ending felt rushed, and just when you needed an encore, it was over.

There’s also a feeling of padding with Big Beacon, the latest tome from Norfolk’s champion of extended dining tables. Using a ‘dual narrative’ structure, it tells the story of ‘how Partridge heroically rebuilt his TV career, rising like a phoenix from the desolate wasteland of local radio to climb to the summit of Mount Primetime and regain the nationwide prominence his talent merits’.
It also tells the story of a ‘selfless man’, driven to restore an old lighthouse to its former glory.

Yes, there are moments of hilarity in Big Beacon. Such as a sex scene which is achingly funny, but not as good as the one when he took his love interest to an owl sanctuary and later starts discussing dull things to delay something Strategem was in dire need of – an impressive climax.

Though I get a copy of the impressively weighty book, I also buy the audio version, because sometimes you just need to hear an autobiography in the voice of its author. And occasionally refer back to the book while the audio is playing, because why wouldn’t you?

“You can have too much of a good thing”

Alan’s attempts to find a way out of the showbiz wilderness are naturally the backbone of the story, so it’s partly a self-help book, like those neuro-linguistic tomes by former DJs that shift in their dozens with names like ‘I Can Make You Part with a Tenner’.

Maybe I’ve finally reached that point of Alan overload. You can have too much of a good thing, and saturating your eyes and ears with too much Partridge can lead to indigestion.

Yes, Big Beacon is good, but it’s not vintage Partridge. There are comedy jewels worth mining for, and when you find one, it makes all the other stuff fade into the background. But there are so many other great comedy books out there, including Peter Kay’s superb ‘TV’, and Harry Hill’s autobiography. So don’t expect much and it works wonders. That said, even a mediocre Alan Partridge book is better than many cash-in tomes designed to make you part with your hard-earned cash at the most lucrative time of the year.

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