Open Books With Martin Bryce

Chris Beale: Hello, I’m Chris Beale, and this is Open Books, Norfolk’s foremost forum for lovers of literature. Why Open Books? Well, firstly because our focus has been that most inviting of sights open books. We also hope our guests will speak candidly and be, if you will, open books. And finally we trust that the show’s title will not command but cajole viewers. For goodness’ sake, open books!

Our guest tonight is a broadcaster who’s recently stepped out of the radio studio and onto our bookshelves. Though not literally, I hope.

Let’s take a look.

A montage of Alan is rolled

Chris: My guest today is a broadcasting colossus. He first entered our lives as a sports journalist.

Alan: “Striker!”

Chris: Where he did a great deal to champion the use of women in sport.

Alan: It’s a great model, it goes like a bomb, and the car’s not bad either! Come on, let’s go burn some rubber.

Chris: He was hugely successful

Alan: Smokey lady!

Chris: But soon became disillusioned with sports reporting.

Alan: It’s really quite wet here. It really is quite wet. It’s horrible, really awful.

Chris: Just two years later he found prime-time stardom as a host on his own television chat show.

Alan: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Of course I give a damn.

Chris: But his flirtation with BBC television was to end in an unfortunate incident.

Forbes McAllister: Careful with that.

Alan: Oh, what happens now?

Chris: Having left the corporation, Alan struggled with depression and weight gain.

Alan: Crash! Bang! Wallop! What a video!

Chris: But then a rebirth.

Alan: Um, keep your clubs away from his young. It’s Seal.

Chris: He re-imagined himself as a local DJ on North Norfolk Digital.

Alan: Bang! Pepper!

Chris: Where he’s become a candid and comforting presence.

Alan: I try to maintain a healthy anus.

Chris: Far from being depressed, he says he’s genuinely happier than he has ever been before, and has re-emerged into the public eye.

Alan: Hello. I’m Alan Partridge.

Chris: This time by the written word with the publication of his memoir “I, Partridge We Need To Talk About Alan”.

Cuts back to the Open Books studio where Alan is now present

Alan: You should ask if people want ice.

Chris: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr Alan Partridge!

Chris: Good evening to you, Alan.

Alan: And also to you.

Chris: Now we always start on Open Books by asking our authors about their relationship with literature. First of all, Alan Partridge and literature aren’t ideas that necessarily sit together in the mind’s eye.

Alan: No, but I think they do in the brain’s ear.

Chris: Right. And what would you mean by that?

Alan: Er, good question.

Chris: How did you discover your gift for writing, Alan?

Alan: Well, I was touched, deeply, by an English teacher at school, and I find that very exciting. Er, I knew I was good at literature because, of course, for my work that year I got straight A’s.

Chris: And did that come in useful, as a broadcaster?

Alan: It did. I remember amending marketing material when I was at Saxon Radio in Bury St Edmunds, and I realised I had something special. The blurb about my show was littered with over-familiar references to Alan. I was changed to Partridge, or Mr Partridge. When I realised I was also slightly improving the copy itself, for example, I changed the phrase “latest chart music” to “freshest pop sounds”.

Chris: Right.

Alan: Um, and “the best of our output” to the “cream of our desk charge”. Er, and people really sat up and took notice after that. That’s when I realised I had a gift.

Chris: If you don’t mind me saying, I rather like your choice of clothes. It makes you look like a country gent.

Alan: No, it doesn’t. Makes me look like a writer.

Chris: Great choice of colours, anyway.

Alan: Thank you. I’ve primarily gone for ox blood and mustard.

Chris: Sounds like soup of the month.

Alan: Euch. I’m not sure I’d enjoy the taste of that. I prefer, er, broccoli and stilton.

Chris: Let’s move on now and talk about your book. It’s titled “I, Partridge We Need To Talk About Alan”.

Alan:
That’s my book.

Chris: And as ever on Open Books, we’ve asked a local book club to run the rule over the week’s book. This week’s group are from Bickling near Aylesham. Welcome.

Chris: Hello, there.

Book Club Members: (all) Hello.

Chris: We’ll be hearing from you a little later on to find out, in general, what did you think of the book? Did you like the book?

Book Club Members: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Chris: Right. Now Alan has very kindly agreed to read some selected passages from his autobiography. This is from a chapter entitled “Beginnings”.

Alan is seated, reading a chapter from his book

Alan: Where’s the book? It should be there.

Alan: “Pitter-patter goes the rain on the window, pitter-patter, pitter-patter, while outside cars zoom up and down the road. Some of them dropping down to second gear to turn right into Gayton Road. On the pavement, people hurry and scurry, both to and fro. A clap of thunder, bam!! And some pretty gusty wind. Everyone agrees, it’s a pretty dramatic evening all round. Pan right, it’s a hospital room. A clammy pregnant woman lies spread-eagled on the bed and is about to produce pitter-patter of her own. She’s not going to wet herself, although that is often a distressing side effect of childbirth. I’m referring to the pitter-patter of children’s feet.

“Stand back,” says the midwife. “Her contraptions are massive.”
“Looks like Anthony Eden’s going to be named prime minister,” mutters a nurse as she strolls past the door.
“Chelsea are about to win the First Division title,” replies an orderly, almost certainly not educated enough to follow politics.

In the corner of the room, Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley blasts quietly from the radio. You see, this wasn’t now, this was then. The present tense used in the previous passage is just a literary device. So the next bit comes as a total surprise. The scene is actually unfurling in 1955. The hospital? The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn. The sweaty woman? Mrs Dorothy Partridge, my mother. And the child’s head slithering from her legs? it belongs to me. The child was I, Partridge.

“You’ve done it! Brilliant pushing,” says the midwife.

She holds the newborn baby aloft, like a captain lifting a fleshy World Cup. And then the child throws back its head and roars the roar of freedom. The noise is relatively nonsensical, but no less intelligent than most babies would produce, in fact probably a bit more switched on than average. In many ways, the proud whale that burst forth from my lungs was my first broadcast, delivered to an audience of no more than eight. That still equated to an audience share, in the delivery room at least, of a cool 100%. Not bad, I probably thought. Not bad at all.”

Alan is back on the stage with Chris, discussing his book

Chris: So would you describe yourself as a book enthusiast?

Alan: Yeah, I’m a bibliophile. My house is brimming with books. I’ve got… books in the garage. Er… (clears throat) I’ve got in excess of a hundred books in two cardboard boxes. Um, one box was from the microwave, the other was, I don’t know, can’t remember. Just, you know… Er, yeah, but definitely in excess of a hundred.

Chris: And what would…

Alan: Sorry, I’m a bit nervous.

Chris: That’s OK.

Alan: Crisps. That was what the box, um, I brought before Christmas… Crispsmas. I love word play.

Chris: You sound quite the collector.

Alan: People do often come to my house, they see all the books and say, ooh, who’s the reader? And I reply “I am”.

Chris: I know the feeling, though, Alan. So many books but so little space.

Alan: I know. A lot of them will never read, Martin.

Chris: Chris.

Alan: I know. I mean, Richard Hammond’s autobiography, for example, which I bought from a car boot sale as a favour to him, er, came out of the boot of a car. Much like he did at high speed.

Chris: Are you someone who finds it hard to throw books away?

Alan: You hear of these idiots that… that burn books, but the only book I’ve ever burned is the Karma Sutra. Er, I had a browse, but I thought the women in it were a bit too slutty.

Chris: Right. I can certainly tell you’re an avid reader.

Alan: Oh, yeah. I mean, I’ll read anywhere. I’ll read on the sofa, in the bed, in the bath…

Chris: In the shower?

Alan: No, come on. I mean, the only thing I do in the shower is wash my body and my hair.

Chris: What about the… er, little man’s room, the toilet?

Alan: Yeah, well, we all read on the loo. I mean, I tend to read short recipes, er, from a cookery book, so I can plan what’s going to be the cause of my next visit. Um, as ‘twer. Sorry.

Chris: And some holidays. Are you a big holiday reader?

Alan: Oh, yeah, I’ll take numerous novels with me. And, er, non-fiction. Er, fill the boot with luggage, basically as many books on the back seat and the front passenger seat. Then just head North.

Chris: To? Still, it’s fair to say you’re…

Alan: Dales. Where there are friends.

Alan is back in the chair, reading another passage from his book

Alan: “O-O-Open it,” stuttered my mother nervously.

“Y-Y-Yes, open it,” said Dad, frightened.
“Cool it, cats,” I breezed.

This was the ’70s. In my hand was a golden envelope containing the most important pieces of paper I’d ever clutched. My A-level results.

“W-W-What d-d-d-does it say,” my parents whispered in absolute unison?

I opened it as gingerly as a rocky bomb disposal operative would open a fat letter bomb in a crash. In a funny sort of way, the contents were just as explosive as powder-coated acetone peroxide. They spelt the difference between me attending tertiary education and being consigned to a heap marked “don’t have A-levels”. That was a mound of slag I did not want to be on. Like the bomb disposal man mentioned above, I swallowed hard and began to remove the letter within the ‘lope. A single bead of sweat sprinted down my face, skirting around my temple and pausing at the jaw before throwing itself to its death. (sighs)

“Bad news,” I muttered. “Your son has failed… at failing his exams!”

They were confused, momentarily, by the clever double-negative. So I added, “I passed!” The ex-bad news, ha-ha, no, actually, it’s good news technique is one I’ve always enjoyed. It was really mastered by David Coleman in A Question of Sport when he’d suggest that Bill Beaumont had got an answer wrong, only to reveal at the end of the sentence that he got it right. My parents were elated. My mom patted me and Dad joined in one of the first high fives that Norwich has ever seen.

“I passed,” I kept saying. “I passed them both!”

The exact grading isn’t important. Suffice to say, I was the proud owner of two shiny A-levels, and nobody could take them away from me.”

Alan is back with Chris on the stage

Chris: Would you say you’ve come to books late in your life?

Alan: No, that’s wrong. Erm, I’ve been reading avidly since the age of a half. Er, of course, they were very rudimentary books. Some didn’t even contain words. They were merely squeaked when you squeezed them. They were certainly books, none the less. Um, in those books my task might have been to identify and reproduce the sound emitted by farmyard or domestic animals. Eg, cats, which would be…

Chris: Meow!

Alan: Yeah, but higher.

Chris: Meow.

Alan: Yeah, great.

Chris: And how do you consume books? On good old-fashioned paper or an electronic device?

Alan: Oh, paper. Oh, paper. Paper. There’s something about the smell of a book, isn’t there? The feel.

Chris: The aroma.

Alan: The aroma. The same as smell, that. Same smell. But, yeah, the feeling when you stroke your palm across the page, the sensation of turning the page using a wet-licked finger.

Chris: Oh it’s totally inspiring. I spent a lot of time in the British Library.

Alan: Right.

Chris: When I was researching my novel, “Boy Of Hope”.

Alan: Yes, you said that to me.

Chris: Yes, I did. Did you ever read it?

Alan: A terrible title.

Chris: Well, actually, funnily enough, the choice of the title wasn’t actually my own, so… It’s one of those things in publishing I’m sure you’re aware of. The whole book is about the Crimean War. Many people don’t know that children were used, in vast numbers, to relay messages between central command and the frontline, that suffered appalling treatment. It really is harrowing. The central character is an 11-year-old messenger boy named Thomas Weinford. He is the boy of hope, hence the title. He got through the whole conflict, only to be arrested for stealing carrots, and was ultimately hanged. Tragic.

Alan: Um, I think the best thing about old books is the smell. Er, there’s nothing quite like going up to the bookshelf, with your nose just beneath the spine of an old book, and… (inhales deeply) Breathe in deeply.

Chris: Familiar musty lungfuls.

Alan: Yes. Be careful. I once breathed, er, something that blocked my windpipe for a second. I panicked. Quickly gave myself the Heimlich manoeuvre and coughed up a dead bee. But I love books, I love books.

Chris: A lot of people say technology and books don’t mix.

Alan: That’s true, with the exception of the bookmark with a mini torch on it.

Chris: But these eReaders, they all have internet browsers, as if you need to surf the internet while reading.

Alan: You can’t physically do that with a book. Which means you can enjoy a good novel free from the nagging distraction of, you know, hardcore online pornography, which is great for me. To know that, when I’m reading a book, like “House Of The Spirits” by Isabella Allente.

Chris: Allende.

Alan: Isabella Allende.

Chris: Allende.

Alan: Allende.

Chris: Yeah.

Alan: I simply cannot access images of an explicit sexual nature, however tempting or necessary that may be.

Chris: Right. Time for another extract from “I, Partridge”. It’s 1974, and Alan is about to begin studying for a degree.

Alan is back in the chair reading more passages from his book

Alan: “Yep, 1974 was a crazy, hazy time for Alan Partridge. The ’60s had come to East Anglia. It was a time of free-thinking, free-love and, in my case, free university accommodation. I was quite the man about town in Norwich, striving confidently through the dreaming spires and hallowed halls of East Anglia Polytechnic. Enigmatically, I decided to stay not in the woodworm infested squalor of university halls, but to commute in from my home. My parents’ home. Of course, it meant that I was something of a mystery man on campus, for while my fellow students lived in each other’s pockets and played out their debauched lifestyles for all to see, I was far less well known. I be-glimpsed at the back of lecture halls, ghosting through the student union with a glass of cider, or shushing idiots in the library, and then I’d be gone. All this added to my aura, as did my idiosyncratic dress sense. Thick-knit zip-up cardigans, flared brown corduroys and shiny, black pepperpot brogues set me apart from the long-haired layabouts who bore an uncanny resemblance to the Guildford Four and some of the Birmingham Six, Irish long-haired layabouts “wrongfully” convicted of bombing England.

It was a sexy time, and I enjoyed erotic and informative afternoons with a student whose essays I was writing. I’m happy to recall those eye-opening afternoons with me and Jemima sitting bollock-naked on her bed, me exploring her body with my quivering hands while she coquettishly feigned indifference by reading album sleeves or smoking. Young I may have been but I was confident enough to speak my mind. This strutting, young, cock-certain Alan would often dish out compliments as he perused and felt her body.

“You’re a really busty woman, Jem,” I said once. “One of the bustiest on campus.”
“Thanks,” she said, through her cigarette.

“You’ve got quite a long torso but your legs aren’t in the least bit thick.”

“Believe me, if I didn’t have lectures, I’d love to kiss you from top to bottom and from side to side, also diagonally.”

Things like that.”

Alan is back with Chris on stage

Chris: Alan, let’s turn back to literature now. Do you fear the dumbing down of books?

Alan: Not really. If I see a young woman sitting on a grassy knoll, or on a park bench reading “shopaholic ties the knot”, I don’t think that’s a terrible book or a shit book. I’m just pleased that she’s reading. The good thing about that book, of course, is that the title fully explains the plot so that if you don’t want to, you don’t have to read it.

Chris: I see.

Alan: So you can save a lot of time if, for example, “The Da Vinci Code” was called “Church Puzzle Collection”.

Chris: True.

Alan: Or if they renamed Tom Clancy books, I don’t know, “Harrison Ford Thinks The Government’s On His Side But Actually They’re Not”.

Chris: Literary shorthand, if you will. Dickens was wonderful at that.

Alan: Oh, Dickens.

Chris: Wonderful. Of course, he’d communicate complex characters by giving them such provocative names.

Alan: Yes.

Chris: One thinks of Pip, Smike, Mrs Cruncher.

Alan: Mr Tickle. No, that’s the Mr Men.

Chris: Mr Men. Now, Alan. This isn’t your first book. You previously published another book, “Bouncing Back”. Which was pulped?

Alan: Correct. I mean, you’ll know about that.

Chris: No, my book “Boy Of Hope” was withdrawn, actually.

Alan: Right.

Chris: But does it bother you that Bouncing Back is no longer with us?

Alan: No, I don’t really think it’s gone. It’s like biscuits. If you pop a packet of biscuits, you haven’t lost some biscuits. You’ve gained the base of a cheesecake.

Chris: Right.

Alan: Besides, it was going on to a very excited life as recycled paper. Um, and one particularly unkind reviewer…

Chris: We’ve all had them.

Alan: We’ve all had them. I know you have. But he said he wouldn’t wipe his arse with it. His words, not mine. Er, well, is he buys his toilet roll at Tesco, he may well have done.

Chris: So it doesn’t bother you at all?

Alan: No.

Chris: Right. OK. Well, let’s have a question from the audience. The gentleman in the yellow jumper?

Alan: Primrose yellow.

Chris: Primrose yellow indeed.

Primrose Yellow Guest: I want to know what you think of the book, and if you were a critic, how would you rate it?

Chris: That is a very good question. Alan, how are you going to answer that?

Alan: Ew, a tricky one. Er, probably say “I, Partridge” left me astonished, elated and humbled. His is a faultless piece of work, one which hunts down and dismembers the rule book before brilliantly reinventing the autobiography genre for the Skype generation. Candid and touching yet powerful. “I, Partridge” is truly a book for our times, and at around a tenner for 87,000 words, Partridge is no slouch in the value for money department either. Five stars out of five. Something like that. Are you a twin?

Primrose Yellow Guest: Yes.

Alan: Right. With that man?

Primrose Yellow Guest: Yeah.

Alan: Why aren’t you sitting with him?

Primrose Yellow Guest: We came separately.

Alan: OK. It’s quite distracting, you’re so far apart, that’s all.

Chris: If your parents were still around, Alan, what would they make of the book?

Alan: Books were always very important to my mother as a child. She used to read me bedtime stories. I mean, when I was a child, not her. I wasn’t born. Though she would read to me for about half an hour a night before hitting the stopwatch.

Chris: That must’ve been really wonderful for you. Soothing.

Alan: Well, she tried her best but she struggled with the characters’ voices. Um, I don’t know why. Er, I don’t think it was because she was thick.

Chris: What did she used to read to you, for example?

Alan: I remember a half-hearted attempt at Paddington Bear, which she made sound German.

Chris: Mm.

Alan: The same with Rupert the Bear. She basically Germanised any bear, which ruined it. But on the flip side, she did an outstanding Noddy.

Chris: What about your dad, your father? Would he have enjoyed the book?

Alan: Pop and I had a very difficult relationship. Although, I must say, it’s much better now that he’s dead.

Chris: Right. Was he a keen reader, Alan?

Alan: Martin, he wasn’t.

Chris: It’s Chris.

Alan: The only book I ever saw him read was “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.

Chris: Edward Gibbon. A seminal work.

Alan: Yeah. Except, when I picked it up one day, I found that there was a different book under the dust jacket.

Chris: What was that?

Alan: It was “The Secret Seven”, um, by Blyton. But it was one of the few things that… that was redeeming about my father. In many ways he could be a very cruel, messed up guy. But I loved the fact that he had this secret love of looking at books about children.

Chris: You’re not afraid to settle old scores in the book, Alan.

Alan: Ah, you noticed.

Chris: I did indeed.

Alan: He said, twirling his moustache. It’s actually more distracting that they’re now together. Weirdly. Bizarrely. Yeah, no, I was tempted to call the book, er, “Knee Jerk”. Um, but I thought it sounded like a Geordie saying “not a joke”. Um, you know, “nee jurk”.

Chris: Right.

Alan: Er, there’s knee jerks. But there are jokes in the book, at other people’s expense.

Chris: Was it hard to get the book through the legal team? Were there any things that you had to take out?

Alan: Yeah, some things. Um, Martin Bashir’s (beeps) addiction. Er, the incredible sweat problems faced by (beeps). Um, there’s the whole Toksvig saga. Um, (beeps) addiction to fascism. The time Alastair Stewart was found (long beep) two chicks with dicks.

Chris: Right. And how did the people you mentioned react?

Alan: Not everyone responded. There was a big chunk on Sally Gunnell. I didn’t hear anything from her. But then I never do. I’m beginning to think she’s changed her number. Then again, when I do call her up from a payphone she does pick up briefly…

Chris: Right. And, um, anyone else in particular?

Alan: Er, Eamonn Holmes sent me a jpeg of a mutilated squirrel.

Chris: I saw that too, actually.

Alan: Yeah. But, er, big Eams is in a bad place.

Chris: Yeah, he is. And your ex-wife, Carol, what does she think of the whole thing?

Alan: Actually, the book gives a fair portrayal of our time together, not least the beautiful moment of how we conceived one of our children against a big rock.

Chris: Time for another extract from “I, Partridge”. Alan explores the breakdown of his marriage.

Alan, is back in the chair, reading another extract

Alan: “Truth be told, I knew it was probably curtains for me and Carol in 1989 when I asked her to act more demurely at a Radio Norwich summer roadshow. She responded by downing her glass of wine and getting another one. You don’t piss about with a guy’s career like that.

I first got wind of Carol’s infidelity when she came home from the gym wearing a pair of black Asics cycling shorts after having gone out wearing blue Adidas ones. Also, the Asics pair were for men. Suddenly, things that had seemed innocent, the snazzy new hairdo, the packet of condoms in her glovebox, reported sightings of her in nightclubs with a man, started to collect in my craw. What was she up to? I began to keep a diary.

30th August, 1995, Carol smells of a new aftershave. L’Homme, I think. But I’m still using a giant bottle of Pagan Man. It was an ex-display model off a ferry.

26th October, 1995. Carol 40% less randy than this time last year. Menopause, or sourcing sex from an alternative supplier?

8th December, 1995. Struggling to find a spare moment to confront Carol. She’s always at the ruddy gym.

21st December, 1995. Had a long chat with Bill Oddie, an experienced birder. He lent me his binoculars and gave me some advice on how to remain still for long periods of time and go completely undetected in undergrowth and shrubbery.

22nd December, 1995. Told Carol I was off to the office, then set up a vantage point opposite the house. Binoculared her entering the premises with a man, then shutting the bedroom curtains. This French smelling sex provider was Carol’s fitness instructor. Far from being French he was actually from Luton. His only Frenchness was his cowardly duplicitness and the kissing he did with my wife.

I was waiting for Carol when she got back from the gym this evening. She breezed into the kitchen as I sat at the table with a bottle of wine. I hadn’t drunk from it or opened it, drinking during the day makes me nauseous. I think the effect worked.

“Being enjoying yourself?” I said. With loads of emphasis, so that it was quite clear that “enjoying” might have a double meaning.
“Mm-hm,” she said, like she didn’t have a bloody clue.
“Have a nice time at the gym?” I said, making inverted commas around the word gym with my fingers.
“Yes,” she said. Her knowledge of mind punctuation was pitiful.
“Have a good workout,” I said, slotting my right forefinger in and out of a hole I’d made between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand.
“Yes,” she said. Not a flicker.

Who doesn’t understand the finger sex mime, for God’s sake? I lost it, throwing my empty wineglass crashing to the floor. But it landed in the carpet of the hall in one piece.

“Careful,” she said, suddenly irritated. “You nearly broke that.”
“What, like you broke my heart?” Silence.

I was particularly pleased with that line. It’s the sort of thing I usually think of long, long afterwards, and then admonish myself for not having come up with it at the time.

“I know, Carol, I know!”

But then she turned to face me and looked so sad that I started to cry on her behalf. She picked up the wineglass and handed it to me so I could have another go. This time it clattered onto the lino, where the stem snapped. Still not the smithereen effect I wanted, but better than before.

“Thanks,” I said.

The doorbell went. Bill Oddie was there. I opened the door to him and was just saying, “This isn’t a good time, Bill,” when he saw Carol. He could see I’d been crying and was clearly doing the mental maths. No one spoke for a while and then Carol gathered up her things, brushed past us and headed back to the Micra. She turned on the ignition, and a blast of “Winner Takes It All” came through the speakers before she could switch it off. I began to cry. And she looked at me through the windscreen and reversed, very proficiently, onto the road. We watched her go until she disappeared round the corner. At which point, we stopped watching. I noticed Oddie was just standing there.

“Not a good time, Bill.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I just wanted my binoculars back.”

Alan is back with Chris, taking questions

Chris: OK, so time for another question. Oh, hello, sir, yes, you in the front row.

Gentleman: I… I really enjoyed the book, Alan. It made me cry.

Alan: Oh. Sorry.

Gentleman: My son came in and, um, I was crying. Er, and he said to me, “Dad, why are you crying?” I said, “It’s the book I’m reading. It’s making me cry.” So he said, “Stop reading the book, then.” And I said, “Just cos it’s making me cry doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.” “You know, you can still cry and be happy.”

Chris: Authors often tell us that… Thank you. …their state of mind plays a big role in how they write about the world. So how about you? Are you in a happy place Alan, at the moment?

Alan: I’m in a delighted place. I’m so happy I sometimes wake up laughing, erm, cos I’m doing so well. Um, my career’s strong, er, I’ve got a good group of friends and, crucially, I live in a large detached house. The other day I went into my double garage, stood there and thought, my garage is bigger than some people’s entire flats. I wasn’t bragging, cos I didn’t say it out loud. And it’s a fact, you know? It was just a factual thought.

Chris: Right. OK, well, time for another question. Anyone in the audience? Um, anyone else?

Alan: What about the chap with the hat on?

Chris: Chap with the hat.

Alan: Did you like the book?

Chap With The Hat: I-I’ve come with him.

Alan: Right.

Chris: Question from you.

Gentleman: Yeah, the guy who bullied you at school, he was horrible, wasn’t he?

Alan: Yeah. Is… Is that your question?

Gentleman: No. Y-Yeah, that’s a question.

Alan: Er, yeah, he wasn’t too nice. I wasn’t too keen on him.

Gentleman: He was horrible.

Alan: That’s true.

Chris: Let’s examine your…

Gentleman: Really horrible.

Chris: Examine your writing process, Alan.

Gentleman: I haven’t done anything.

Chris: There’s an incredible level of detail in your book. Most writers say that the research takes way longer than the writing. How do you feel about that?

Alan: That’s a very… That’s… a very good question.

Chris: Did you decide which bits to include and which bit to omit, to leave out?

Alan: Well, I began by mapping the major events in my life on a large whiteboard, that I bought second-hand from special needs school. Er, I got a very good deal, actually. They gave me a discount cos I said I’d come back and give a talk to the kids of the history of fire.

Chris: And where do you like to do your writing? Roald Dahl famously wrote in a converted shed at the bottom of his garden, of course.

Alan: Yeah. Um, I did think about that. Um, that’s much better, by the way. I did think about that, but there’s so much stuff piled up in my shed, if I try to open my door, the Black & Decker Workmate will fall on me and it will kill me.

Chris: I imagine that it must be hard to summon up the feelings you felt at the time when, there you are, Alan Partridge, just sat there in your study.

Alan: No, no. If I want to summon up anger, I’ll eat an entire bag of Skittles. After a brief sugar high, I’ll usually fall asleep with my forehead on the computer’s track pad. Er, later on my assistant will come and rouse me, see the rectangular mark on my head and say, “You’ve fallen asleep with your forehead on the track pad again.” I’ll say, “Yes,” and then she’ll… she’ll just open a window.

Chris: Right.

Chris: How many words would you write a day?

Alan: Generally I aim for 1,500 words a day, although I count long words as two.

Chris: Frederick Forsyth does the same.

Alan: Yes. That’s why he calls himself Frederick instead of Fred. Cos, straightaway, that’s two words instead of one.

Chris: And would you write for long stretches? How does it all work for you?

Alan: I try to take a break every couple hours. It’s good to get the blood pumping. Um, so I might to press-ups, shadow boxing, sometimes shadow judo. Or, if you like, shad-dow. Oh, that’s the same as shadow. I love word play.

Chris: Do you make sure you eat regularly? When I was writing I “Boy Of Hope” used to eat carrots.

Alan: Right. Like The Boy Who Was Hanged?

Chris: Yes.

Alan: Is that where you got the idea from?

Chris: No, that was historical facts from the British Library, etc.

Alan: Mm. You didn’t make it up?

Chris: No, not at all. But moving on to you, what’s your regime, eating-wise?

Alan: I keep boiled eggs, in a bowl, in a drawer.

Chris: Do you?

Alan: Yeah. For snacking. It’s important to keep one’s eye on fibre content. Early on in the writing of the book I got that badly wrong. I spent four days without going.

Chris: It’s a long time.

Alan: The cleaner said I turned yellow.

Chris: Sheesh.

Alan: In the end, I was so desperate I just knocked back two pints of Milk Of Magnesia.

Chris: And did that work?

Alan: Oh, yeah. Christ, yeah. Be careful what you wish for. I mean, I passed out. Just thank God I was in a forest, by a river. Er, I burnt my clothes, waited till it was dark, and then just ran home.

Chris: Moving on to a question of literary style, at moments in the book you switch to the present tense.

Alan: Yeah.

Chris: I just wondered why you decided to do that?

Alan: This is a technique I borrowed from Andy McNab, who was actually the first person ever to do it in a book. So instead of saying “at midnight they started shooting at me”, he’s say “it’s midnight, they’re shooting at me”. It makes you sit up and go, oh, my God, is this happening now?

Chris: Mm.

Alan: Yeah.

Chris: Um, OK well, let’s join our book group now to see what they thought of this device. Over to you.

Woman in Book Group: Yeah, good I thought.

Alan: Thank you.

Man in Book Group: I wasn’t quite sure… I didn’t think it was all that helpful the, er, device, having read the book, Alan.

Alan: You haven’t read the book? It’s a bit rich to start criticising it if you…

Man in Book Group: I said having read the book.

Alan: What?
Man in Book Group: Having read the book.

Alan: Oh. Right. Carry on.

Man in Book Group: I mean, the one thing that leaps out is this… is this… Your preoccupation with form, in the sense that there’s this constant tinkering with the, er, author’s voice. It sort of lurches between styles of, you know, tone and sentimentality. Er, it’s almost schizophrenic…

Alan: Schizophrenic? Right. I’ve been called… Well, what, like someone who dresses up as the mum and stabs people in the bathroom?

Man in Book Group: No, schizophrenic in the sense…

Alan: I don’t want to stab anyone to death. Well, I… I’d quite like… ..to stab you to death. Sorry. I take that back.

Chris: I think what he’s asking, Alan, is have you put on an antic disposition? Is there a method to your madness?

Alan: “To be or not to be”. Same play. Yeah, you two should get together. You sound like Rosencrantz and Guildenstein, a couple of Danish Jews. Sorry. I take that back.

Chris: Um, well, you seem to pour a lot of yourself into the book. Um, would you say you’re an emotional person?

Alan: Sure, sure. I can cry for all sorts of reasons. Sadness, onions, racism, not blinking. Um, mainly sadness. And onions.

Chris: OK, let’s have a question. Um, yes, you, the lady over there.

Young Lady: Who would you like to play you in a film?

Alan: Er, ooh. I can’t pretend I haven’t thought about this. Damian Lewis, the ginger actor. Or gactor. Er, I love word play. Er, dye his hair, make him slightly less smug, that’s me ten years ago.

Chris: Thank you. Next question, please. Yes, please.

Woman: How did you celebrate when the book came out?

Alan: Ten-pin bowling. Next question?

Chris: You, sir.

Man: The title “I, Partridge” has been called needlessly grandiose.

Alan: Thank you very much.

Chris: Um, the lady second row from the back. Yes?

Lady: Are you planning on writing any more books?

Alan: I am planning on penning a novel about the Titanic, which I’m hoping will be ready for the 110th anniversary of the disaster.

Chris: It does feel like a story that’s quite well-worn.

Alan: One asks what if.

Chris: Mm.

Alan: What if the ship hadn’t crashed? In my version, someone’s gone back in time and insisted that the boat be built with a double hull. Er, so even if the iceberg penetrates the outer hull, the boat will still be afloat. But a double hull also means the cost of the boat will go up. What would that mean? Higher ticket prices, therefore fewer passengers and, of course, fewer fatalities.

Chris: But surely if it has a double hull, there’d be no fatalities anyway?

Alan: They get to New York in record time, but the captain is arrested
for breaking the speed limit. And in court the captain says, “I know I was breaking the speed limit, but what if I’d gone slower and hit, say, an iceberg?”

Chris: Right.

Alan: And he tells the authorities that he had a nightmare in Southampton.

Chris: Which is where the boat left from.

Alan: I know. About the boat sinking, and that is what we know to have actually happened. But to him it’s a dream.

Chris: It’s rewriting history. It’s about how we should take a more epicurean approach to life.

Alan: Yes, and… and it’s also about the UK government’s attack on motorists through the willy-nilly use of speed cameras.

Chris: So it’s both epicurean and anti-speed camera?

Alan: Yes.

Chris: Now in our next extract from “I, Partridge”, Alan realises…

Alan heads back to the chair when he stands on his glasses

Alan: Shit…

Chris: ..that fame has a dark side.

Alan: I’ve stood… I’ve broken… I’ve stood on my glasses.

Alan: This is an account of a real fight I had with a mad fan.

“Maxwell twists my arm and fixes me in a headlock. Clever. He knows that one wrong move from me and my head will be ripped clean off. I have to act fast. Quick as a flash, I elbow him in the nuts, nodding as I hear the satisfying thud of bone on gland. I’ve turned his testicles into a couple of bollock pancakes, and it feels good.

“Would you like lemon juice with them, sir?” I roar inside my head.
“No, Maxwell, Alan Partridge isn’t ready to die, not just yet.”

Despite the fact my wife has left me and my kids won’t take my calls, I have a wife and kids to live for. At this point he’s still doubled up. I charge over and bang, bang, headbutt him twice in the back. He screeches like an alleycat.

“Looks like I’ve got the kidneys then,” I roar. still inside my head.

I quickly consider my next attack. Time for a bunch of fives me thinks. Looking around, I see Maxwell catching his breath. Then, like an animal rearing up on its hind legs, or like a human being standing up, he stands up! I send a command to my brain. Instantly, the fingers on my right hand start to curl inwards. Within seconds a fist has been formed. I launch it directly at my assailant’s eye.

“Delivery for Mr Maxell,” I roar, this time remembering to say it out loud.
“Really? What is it?”, his furrowed brow seems to ask.

“A knuckle sandwich,” my fist replies. Somehow recovering from the force of the blow, Maxwell picks up a chair and swings it at my brain. I duck, thwarting him with the sheer speed of my knee bend. Now on my haunches, I have an idea. I tuck my head into my chest, I launch into a ferocious forward roll. It skittles the insane superfan in the blink of an eye.

For several minutes we thrash around on the floor like Tarzan and that crocodile. I’m Tarzan, he’s the croc. If I’m honest, the rolling around does little to advance the fight and causes neither of us any injuries. We get back to our feet. Maxwell now has me by the throat. We both know we’re entering the endgame. He seems to think he’s got me. I can see it on his ugly mug. But he’s not counted on one thing. Pow! I floor him with
a classic one-inch punch. Textbook stuff. A real gut-buster.

With Maxwell fighting for air, I see my chance and make haste for the exit. Before I can catch my car he’s giving chase, in his hand some sort of weapon. I don’t get a chance to look properly, but my hunch is it’s either a gun or the brush from a dustpan and brush.

By now Maxwell is almost upon us. I swivel on my heels and begin to sprint, leaping over a 6ft style like it isn’t there. I just manage to stagger to a public phonebox. I call my assistant and tell her to A), collect my car, and B), deal with Maxwell personally. Hanging up, I slump against the side of the phonebox and slide into a heap on the floor. The calling cards of a hundred local whores raining down on me, on top of me, like big drops of prostitute rain.

I begin to weep. I have cheated death. I am free.”

Chris: One of the people you acknowledge at the start of the book is Prince Charles. Why is that?

Alan: Well, HRH is always someone I’ve felt great affinity with. I fully support his views on architecture, whatever they may be. And I love his Duchy Originals vanilla ice cream. At first I thought it was too sweet, but I was wrong. It’s not too sweet. Of course it’s not. Why would he do that?

Chris: A lot of recent autobiographies contain explicit portrayals of sexual encounters. Yours less so. Um, what I wanted to know is, are you adverse to writing about sexuality and sensuality?

Alan: I’m not preoccupied with sexuality and sensuality, nor do I shy away from sexuality and sensuality.

Chris: So do you explore sexuality and sensuality?

Alan: Certain passages broach sexuality and sensuality, yes, with women. And that’s all it is, really.

Chris: Well, you say that though, but apart from episode with Glen Ponder.

Alan: How’s that to do with sexuality and sensuality?

Chris: You spent the night with him.

Alan: That wasn’t sexual.

Chris: Was it sensual?

Alan: I don’t… I don’t think so. But these days, if I see an attractive woman on a petrol station forecourt, I’ll think nothing of striding over, inviting her for coffee and, er, if she agrees I’ll park up by the cash machine until she’s filled up, then I’ll head to the nearest Starbucks and she’ll trail me there.

Chris: And women actually agree to this, do they?

Alan: No, not generally! But when you’re over 50 you have to accept a degree of humiliation. It’s a numbers game, isn’t it? If you run into a chicken shed with a truncheon and a bin bag, you’re not gonna get them all.

Chris: Would you care to give us one final extract from your book? Alan Partridge, thank you very much indeed.

Chris: And I’m afraid it’s time to close Open Books for another week. Join us next week, when our guest will be agricultural historian Andrew Beaston, and there’ll be another exciting opportunity for you to win £50 of book tokens in our ten-second review competition. Last week’s prize was won by Giles Fisher, in Holt, for his review of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. He wrote “as addictive as drugs, this is a novel which will obsess you, possess you, distress you and undress you”. An unworldly treat. I’ve been Chris Beale. Goodnight.

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Open Books With Martin Bryce — 1 Comment

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