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Most big films get a spe­cial level of pro­mo­tion before they are unleashed on the gen­er­al pub­lic – they get what we call a ‘radio preview’.

This is where a couple of hun­dred ran­dom cit­izens turn up at a cinema hav­ing won tick­ets to a film they can’t remem­ber the name of, get jol­lied along by a couple of minor loc­al celebrit­ies in branded appar­el (best known for get­ting up early and talk­ing into micro­phones), get asked col­lect­ively wheth­er they feel “alright” (and answer col­lect­ively in the affirm­at­ive), then have bags of con­fec­tion­ery thrown at them in exchange for answer­ing trivia questions.

Then they are made aware of oth­er pro­mo­tions and prizes – more excit­ing and luc­rat­ive than this one – avail­able to lucky listen­ers who get up as early in the morn­ing as the jolly branded apparel-wearers, reminded that there are already free tick­ets to anoth­er film – also more excit­ing than this one – avail­able “just by listen­ing to Digger and the Toerag on Blah FM in the morn­ing”, then the lights finally go down and the dis­trib­ut­or des­per­ately hopes this charade will turn in to some pre­cious, low cost, word-of-mouth in time for the open­ing weekend.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa posterAs you can prob­ably tell, I detest these events and do my utmost to avoid them, but there will be one com­ing up in December that I would love to be fly on the wall for – the ‘radio pre­view’ for Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. I can’t wait to see the faces of the ‘jocks’ when they see their world of giveaway fun-size Snickers™ pro­mo­tions, late-night phone-ins, traffic updates and microwaved instant cof­fee laid bare by the wit and wis­dom of Steve Coogan and the finest of his alter-egos, Alan Partridge.

The time is the present and sports­caster, and former TV chat show host, Partridge has carved out a mod­est middle-aged career for him­self as host of Mid-Morning Matters on loc­al radio sta­tion North Norfolk Digital. He has a sponsored car (with some of the trim­mings), he’s no longer liv­ing in a cara­van and, frankly, things are look­ing up. But the winds of change are blow­ing through the Broads.

NND has new own­ers and they want a change of format – less talk, more easy listen­ing – and a name change to Shape of all things. Some of the older voices are con­cerned for their jobs but Alan knows how to look after him­self, ensur­ing that lov­able Irish rogue Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) gets the chop first. When Pat returns to the stu­dio bran­dish­ing a shot­gun and takes the staff host­age it’s up to Alan to make use of his not­able tal­ent for empathy and become a siege nego­ti­at­or and hero of the hour.

As a mock­ery of a radio world that I know only too well, the Alan Partridge movie is abso­lutely razor sharp. It’s a world pop­u­lated by not-quite-grown-ups who would stab their best friends in the back for a shot at a drive-time slot. As a satire of mod­ern life and all its drib­bling inan­ity, it is hil­ari­ously painful.

Finally, as a big screen vehicle for one of the greatest com­ic char­ac­ters ever cre­ated, it is without peer. Some of us are old enough to remem­ber when film ver­sions of British tele­vi­sion com­ed­ies meant Are You Being Served? on the Costa Brava. This is not that. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is the fun­ni­est film of the year and fun­ni­est British film since Four Lions.

This review first appeared in the December issue of Wellington’s FishHead magazine.