Alan Partridge is on the run, and someone wants his head. "He's just attacked me with a toffee hammer," he gasps down the line to the police.
As it turns out, the opening of Partridge's first podcast series is a suitably self-serving opening to the newest chapter in the career of North Norfolk's finest. After sports commentary, a chat show, late night radio, early morning radio, and even, as he notes in the first episode, theatre ("with the Partridge Playhouse Troupe, before it soured") there didn't seem to be many more worlds for him to conquer.
Podcasting, though, is a platform that seems purpose-made for Steve Coogan's creation. "It's different," Coogan told Esquire when we asked him about it earlier this year, "very personal, myopic."
The Partridge we meet at the start of the series is feeling particularly disgruntled. Stung by an onslaught of Twitter trolls, he's retreated to his oasthouse – a former kiln in which hops were dried before being used in the beer brewing process – to show them who's definitely not washed up.
It's also an oddly apt way to meet Partridge again after the last six months. Quite fortuitously, we catch him in his own personal lockdown, and the 18 episodes here represent a sprawling journey into the very deepest recesses of Partridge's brain.
Think of From the Oasthouse as Partridge's Unplugged album. Unencumbered by guests, jingles, adverts, sidekicks, producers and Ofcom, he can ramble at length around Norfolk and set the record straight. Other characters pop their heads in – we get a look around Lynn's house, and escape from Seldom, his "250-pound brown dog, can't be any more specific than that" – but for the most part it's a very concentrated blast of the latter-day Partridge's preoccupations, petty jealousies and vanity.
More than 30 years since he first arrived, fully formed, on On the Hour, Partridge has proved to be almost unique. There is what sounds like a little dig at people who only rate early Partridge ("just unhappy people," he shrugs) but he remains a singularly malleable character. The quality of Coogan's outings with Partridge has remained very, very high, and especially so since writers Neil and Rob Gibbons got involved. We're long past the point where you'd assume Partridge could, like most other comedy creations, hit some kind of wall.
So it's not much surprise that From the Oasthouse is really, really, really good. For all that it gets the gabbled, semi-lucid tone of a home-brew podcast spot on, it takes a lot of meticulous finessing to sound so convincingly offhand and underprepared. Especially if you enjoyed the audiobook of I, Partridge – probably the high-water mark of his post-sitcom outings – there's an enormous amount to enjoy here, particularly an Ask Me Anything session in which Partridge finally cracks the question of whether James Bond could be played by a Black actor (split him into two characters: John James, played by Idris Elba; and Bryan Bond, played by Tom Hiddleston).
No, the surprise is that it makes the strangeness and vividness of North Norfolk's finest disc jockey feel fresh all over again. After 30 years in broadcasting, Partridge's return to the radio that he started out from has given him a renewed energy, and more than enough rope to hang himself repeatedly.
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