Books

Alan Partridge: Big Beacon review – pure, undiluted Partridge

The Norfolk-based broadcaster's latest is the perfect way to explore the full unreliable narrator comic potential of his complex psyche

Alan Partridge: Big Beacon cover

Alan Partridge is undoubtedly one of the greatest characters in the annals of British comedy. Over the last 32 years, Steve Coogan and his collaborators have created a richly textured inner and exterior life for the oft-thwarted Norfolk-based broadcaster, hence why fictional self-authored books such as Big Beacon – his third volume of memoirs – work so beautifully.

They’re undiluted Alan, the perfect way to explore the full unreliable narrator comic potential of his complex psyche.

Big Beacon employs a straightforward dual narrative technique, which Partridge naturally regards as an innovation (he spends most of the prologue needlessly explaining how it works). 

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Timeline # 1 follows Alan in the wake of his 2021 expulsion from BBC One magazine show This Time, and his subsequent obsession with renovating a derelict Victorian lighthouse on the Kent coast, an entirely altruistic project which should in no way be regarded as a heavy-handed metaphor for resurrecting his career and sense of self-worth. He’s very clear on that point.

Timeline # 2 begins in 2011 and charts Partridge’s methodical – some might say ruthless – plan to leave ailing local radio station North Norfolk Digital for a second bite at the TV cherry. A roaring success, those plans come to fruition within a mere eight years.

Connoisseurs of Partridge’s memoirs will know what to expect in terms of prose style. The Gibbons brothers have mastered that very difficult trick of parodying the work of bad writers in a hilarious yet fundamentally believable and readable way. Alan’s ridiculous literary flourishes, his tortured similes and pedantic digressions, are never overused. They always serve the character.

Big Beacon is densely packed with great gags and commendable attention to detail. Partridge is a petty, devious, spiteful, selfish egomaniac. He’s also vulnerable, scared and occasionally self-aware. The authors understand him, glaring faults and all. They’re as fond of this sad, terrible yet weirdly endearing little man as we are.

“I never, ever look back, not my style,” Partridge boasts at one point. “That way you have no regrets and it stops you crying in the shower.”

Paul Whitelaw is a book, TV and music critic

Alan Partridge: Big
Beacon cover

Alan Partridge: Big Beacon by Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons and Steve Coogan is out now (Seven Dials, £12.50). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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