This Week with Alan Partridge

February 26, 2019

Image via Wikipedia of Coogan in character as Alan Partridge at a 2011 book signing


A Review

Steve Coogan’s new mini-series for the BBC started [25 February, 2019] in a blaze of pre-publicity. His defining character Alan Partridge returns in half-hour comedy chunks just before the ten o’clock news, in weekly chunks.

Coogan’s success in grounded in his believable gaucheness, in his professional role as the hapless radio presenter. He has elevated the cringeworthy to a comedic art form. Come to think of it, he over-sensitises viewers to the possibly of ‘doing a Partridge’.
For example, the mockery in the programme of the competitive tensions between Partridge and co-host Susanah Fielding shows him in full-on cringe-making action, as he blunders through a scene intended to wring the last drop of ooh factor from baby seal images.

Reviews have varied from the good to the Guardian’s hysterically good. Unsurprisingly,
the BBC assesses the programme as five star, although this has a whiff of doing a Partridge about it. Interestingly, BBC Radio’s Five Live earlier today was rather more open to the accusation, with a not-to-subtle hint of disapproval sheltering a ‘balanced’ reading of readers who raved and those who ranted about the first episode.

It reminds me of an episode from my next book

A radio sports programme is reporting the first day of the Masters in Atlanta. A golfer had hit his ball repeatedly into a lake. The Interviewer manages to work the story into her next item, about a gold-medal winning athlete at the Commonwealth games in Brisbane. 

“How would you have kept out of the water,” the interviewer asks. 

The question puzzles the athlete. “Like, I’m mostly in the water. I’m a swimmer.”

“Of course you are. So, what were you feeling, in the water there, when you find out you had won gold for England? I got goose pimples listening to the commentary.”

“So did I,” says her co-interviewer, “do you get goose pimples?”

“Not when I’m in the water,” says the athlete.”

The goose-pimply journalists move on. “We have just lost Eric and Ray “, one says solemnly, not referring to studio guests, as Bernard momentarily thinks, but to the overnight news of the untimely deaths of two sporting celebrities. (and OK, so it already seems I am also ‘doing a Partridge’).  In the relevant scene, two detectives are driving to a possible crime scene, listening to a radio show of Partridge-like nature.

[Extract from The Unnamed Threat, publication date scheduled for later this year]

I leave subscribers to decide whether my fictional broadcasters have any characteristics of any real-life broadcasters of which they have experience.


Newsnight’s Tower of Westminster wins first Bad Idea Award

December 6, 2018

The Leaders We Deserve Bad Idea Award goes to the BBC’s Newsnight programme and its Tower of Westminster representation of the current BREXIT situation.

This week, the annual much-prized bad sex award was won by the novelist James Frey (He faced stiff competition, as the Sunday Times stated, tongue in cheek).

The publicity for the award inspired me to create Leaders we deserve bad idea award, which will be made from time to time, as I come across a promising crop of contenders. 
This week is one such a time. The spotlight is very much on our political representatives and media commentators in the UK, in their efforts to deal with the nightmare known as Brexit. I could have taken a wider bad idea, such as Brexit itself, but that would take far too long to unpack and examine fruitfully.

As I write,  our representatives are half way through forty hours of the time allocated to the proposed method by which the UK will exit the European Union.So my examples are of simpler ideas more typical of case examples often examined within LWD posts and used to illustrate leadership dilemmas.

No such thing as a bad idea

Former students of mine still loyal to LWD, will remember my insistence that there is no such thing as a bad idea, only  ideas requiring a further act of creativity before their merits become clear.

I mention this to suggest that my nominated ideas for the new award are indeed further examples ideas in need of a bit more imaginative effort rather than complete rejection.

The four candidate ideas

My four candidates all come from one of our national institutions, the BBC.  Three are from Radio Five. This reflects my listening and viewing habits and admiration for ‘Auntie’ rather than evidence of its terminal decline.

On, then to the four candidates.

1 An MP talks on air to a voter
The presenters of the radio five live morning show announce breathlessly a first, namely an innovation in radio broadcasting: An MP is to take part live in a discussion with a voter.Wow. This pitch for the idea did not quite convey to me the excitement it was producing in its advocates. Then the first on-air outing of the idea. Others are planned in subsequent days. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but I couldn’t see what was ‘the difference that made a difference’ in the little question and answer which followed.

2 The good week bad week discussion On the Peter Allen evening current affairs programme, pundits discuss news issues of the week. After each topic, the panellists rate the item either as contributing to a good week or a bad week. There is usually confusion over what this can possibly mean. The format has survived several years (or it seems to me) without attempts to improve on its vacuous nature.

3 The backbencher of the week award. 

Each Sunday morning, Pienaar’s politics presents The backbencher of the week award. An MP appears and receives the metaphorical award. John  Pienaar presents the award with heavy irony implying that ‘this prestigious award’ is all a clever joke shared by each recipient.

4 The cardboard tower of Westminster

This is an innovation introduced this week [December 2018] on Newsnight, (arguably the BBC’s flagship political TV programme, which airs nightly). Various ways of adding interest to panel discussions have been tried in recent months, as the Brexit story unfolds. In the nominated idea, the assorted pundits are invited to stand before a cardboard cutout of the tower of Westminster and stick on it graphics of key individuals and political groupings.  The most influential entities are placed higher up the tower.

And the winner is?

The winner is based on the criteria the voters choose to use.

In everyday discussions these can be finely analysed or based on individual or collective feelings. But closure is soothing thing.  I have chosen my winner as a starting point for further comments and alternative views.

For me (and in the ironic spirit of John Pienaar) I award this prestigious new award to The cardboard tower of Westminster

All four ideas on my long list had aspects which ran the winner close. None of the others had quite the power to provide me with such an excruciatingly  negative response than did the winner. 

I welcome any feedback to LWD or @tudortweet, making a case for candidates for future awards.

Paul Chambers: The case of the malicious tweet

February 6, 2017


The Judge

Paul Chambers, a frustrated air traveller, tweeted in exasperation at the delays to his flight. The tweet was to change his life, and not for the better

Our story starts in January 2010.  Snow was adding to travellers problems’ including those at Nottingham’s Robin Hood airport

A young accountant was in danger of damaging his planned romantic meeting. In heavily ironic tones he tweeted

that unless service improved, he would be back in a week to blow up the airport.

Pause for reader reaction

The cautious me suggests that if security learned of the tweet, it might prompt the mildest of low-cost checking to see if the tweet was intended as. Joke (say 99% probability) or a bizarre early warning of terrorism intentions (say 1% probability).

What happened next

According to the report of the court case, Mr Chambers was en route to Belfast to consummate a twitter romance in real life. Failing to make his flight, the thwarted suiter returned to work when the local police arrived, and hauled him off into custody.

Legal proceedings followed, which resulted in a fine for which the appeal was originally turned down.

Eventually his high court challenge was successful, as The Guardian reported


Paul Chambers, who was found guilty of sending a menacing tweet, has won his high court challenge against his conviction. Outside the court, he said he felt “relieved and vindicated”, adding: “It’s ridiculous it ever got so far.”

He had tweeted in frustration when he discovered that Robin Hood airport in South Yorkshire was closed because of snow. Eager to see his girlfriend, he sent out a tweet on the publicly accessible site declaring: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

He has always maintained that he did not believe anyone would take his “silly joke” seriously.

The lord chief justice, Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams, said:

“We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the crown court that this ‘tweet’ constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it. On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed.”

Twitter to the rescue

As the mills of justice had ground on, twitter had sprung to the rescue. Celebrity twitter comedians such as Stephen Fry offered moral support, the spotlight of publicity, and some bankrolling of legal charges.

Not the only case

The tweeter appeared on Radio Five Live today [February 3rd, 2017]. He seemed a remarkably sanguine victim of wrongful arrest and of the loss of his job. His new wife too has given him moral support. (I’m not sure yet if she was the object of his snow-abandoned flight in 2010.)

I added this case to my collection of stories about twitter going viral over injustices visited on tweeters. Airline passengers have appeared quite frequently in the stories. [See Dilemmas of Leadership .]

Lessons learned

Twitter is a good friend but can be your worse enemy. A lesson there for Donald Trump perhaps?

Oludotun Adebayo, Radio Five’s Night Rider, comes into the light

April 13, 2015

Dotun AdabayeThe distinguished journalist and political activist Oludotun Adebayo has his faithful night-time radio listeners. He is now gaining a wider daytime audience

I am a part-time insomniac, working with a zero sleep-hours contract. My normal remedy is to turn the pesky brain-signals into a blog post. My alternative approach is to listen to the relaxing items on the BBC Five’s Up All Night radio programme master-minded by the amiable Oludotun (Dotun) Adebayo.


Dotun Grew up in Tottenham, and won a scholarship to read Scandinavian literature at Stockholm. He founded The X Press publishing house and has been working for the BBC since 1993. He was awarded an MBE for services to the arts in 2009, and is married to pop singer Carroll Thompson

He has been presenter of Up All Night since Nov 2001.  His books include the cult classics Sperm Bandits (2002) and Can I Have My Balls Back Please (2003)

The Young Entrepreneur

He gives an indication of his background as a young boy whose family moved from Lagos to England [in an article he wrote for The Voice a few years ago] :

I was sent to work at a store at the age of 12 to help with the family finances. I didn’t fool my work colleagues at the time, but I would have sworn an affidavit there and then that I was the requisite age of 16, so proud was I of being able to help my folks out at a time of crisis.

In such circumstances, the superiority of that African heritage understanding of family and duty, and the respect you have to show your parents, shines through. Add to that the improvisation of the poor to make ends meet, and I suppose any child would have gone to court to swear an affidavit that all known birth records were lost in a fire in Lagos, Nigeria.

I would have said: ‘I, Oludotun Adebayo, swear that I was born four years earlier than I actually was, and the fact that I look like I’m not old enough to be a teenager is neither here nor there. And neither is the fact I, unlike any other 16-year-old, haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about when you ask me about my O’ levels.’

Now the Night Rider of Radio 5 has been given an afternoon slot. Will he yield to the temptation to head for the Marmite fame of a celebrity broadcaster?


To Conor for researching into Adabayo’s biography.

Overheard at Wimbledon: The hot and cold nature of French tennis players

June 27, 2014

Wimbledon’s tennis tournament each year provides many examples of discussion suggesting the irresistible temptation for commentators to indulge in national stereotypes. The following is offered for practice in discourse analysis

BBC’s Radio 5 Live [606 Wavelength]re-labels its self as ‘Radio Six Love Six’ for Wimbledon fortnight. The following exchange between two [English] commentators was broadcast today, as play was starting [ 27th June 2014] in a third round match in the Gentlemen’s Singles competition

First English commentator
He’s a beautiful player, so graceful and powerful

Second English commentator
… but he blows hot and cold

First English commentator
Yes he’s like that. But that’s the same with French players

Second English commentator
Yes, they all blow hot and cold

First English commentator
That’s the French temperament isn’t it?

Regular readers will recall equally enlightened discussions initiated by another commentator, John Inverdale, at last year’s Wimbledon

The BBC was forced to apologize for remarks made by John Inverdale about Marion Bartoli, an hour before the match which won her the Wimbledon Ladies singles competition:

Inverdale’s comment came about an hour before the match began as he chatted to former Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport about Bartoli’s technique as a player. He said: “I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. ‘You are never going to be somebody like a [supermodel such as] Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that. You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it’, and she kind of is.”

Inverdale’s comments on Radio 5 live as the French player prepared to face Germany’s Sabine Lisicki provoked anger from many listeners. A BBC spokesperson said: “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologize.”

Learning from experience

Mr Inverdale has learned not to focus on the pulchritude of the players. This year he has found a replacement interest. He has noticed that players are of different sizes. This permits much discussion about how tiny some of the ladies are, and who might have been the tiniest of all time. Many he didn’t quite take on board the messages from his remedial training on avoiding such topics.