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Knowing Me, Knowing You

Knowing Me, Knowing You
Radio 4
Late 1992/early 1993 (six programmes)

Spin-off project from On The Hour which was, like its parent show, superb.  The series uprooted the ignorant news reporter Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), On The Hour’s most memorable character, and dumped him in the unfamiliar role of chat-show host.  Given that Alan’s performance when restricted to his own specialist subject had left very much to be desired, the task of interviewing heavyweight intellectuals, showbusiness legends and peers of the realm presented a monumental challenge — a challenge he failed magnificently to live up to.

The character of Partridge, whose appearances in On The Hour had all been fairly brief, was considerably fleshed out for the new series.  Carried through from the original were his eye for inaccurate detail, mastery of cliché (“And on that bombshell…”) and unusual approach to the art of metaphor (“Now let’s just nail this… ghost… to the coffin…”).  It was only with the launch of KMKY, however, that the features known and loved by all Partridge fans first became known: his upbringing in, and proud attachment to, the city of Norwich; his unhappy marriage, and possession of a maroon Ford Granada; his ownership of the company responsible for the series, Pear Tree Productions; his politics, his taste in sports/casualwear and — most importantly — his devotion to the music of Abba, whose disco hit provided the show with a name, a theme tune, and the memorable Partridge catchprase: “Aha!

The concept of a parody chat show with a comic presenter is not a new one, but Knowing Me, Knowing You differed from everything which had gone before: the ‘guests’ serving as Alan’s foils were not real people, but painstakingly constructed fictional characters, all played by a supporting cast of four: Rebecca Front, Doon Mackichan, Patrick Marber and David Schneider.  (The five performers, who comprised the entire On The Hour cast minus frontman Chris Morris, wrote the material for this series themselves; it was thus different in style from On The Hour, which had a largely separate team of non-performing writers.  Both series were produced by Armando Iannucci, who has been identified as the ‘moving spirit’ behind the group).  As a rule, these characters were neither stereotypical stock characters nor obvious lampoons of single individuals, but something more subtle: carefully built-up and well-defined composites of different personalities.  There were some interesting combinations — one programme featured a character who showed the influence of both Anita Roddick and Adam Faith, another a misunderstood stand-up comedian who appeared to contain elements of Coogan himself.  Some of these characters were comic in their own right; all were perfectly designed to highlight the presenter’s unique lack of erudition, foresight, tact and understanding.

Knowing Me, Knowing You was, like On The Hour, immensely popular with both listeners and critics: a television version had already been commissioned long before Partridge made his first screen appearance in The Day Today, the TV adaptation of On The Hour.  Slightly retitled at Alan’s request, Knowing Me, Knowing You… with Alan Partridge ran for one six-part series on BBC2.  It too was well liked, although some suggested that the format was becoming unsustainable as Alan steadily lost control (in the case of, for instance, his ever-increasing use of ludicrously tacky props): the character’s badness was perhaps too authentic for his creators’ own good.  Coogan presumably concurred, since his next move was to rest the character for a while before returning in 1997 with I’m Alan Partridge, a new TV series presented in sitcom format, chronicling Partridge’s futile attempts to get his show back on the air and the continuing collapse of his world.  Time will tell whether this series represents the last we will see of the man once labelled “the non-thinking man’s Elton Whelsby”; but, in the minds of a generation, Alan Partridge is destined to live forever.

See also: Knowing Knowing Me, Knowing You

© JB Sumner 1998