If you watched This Time with Alan Partridge on BBC1 last week, there’s a good chance you’re still humming “Come Out Ye Black and Tans”, writes Donal O’Keeffe.
Martin Brennan is a middle-aged farmer from Sligo, and a man who loves to sing a rebel song. Last week he came to international fame when he appeared on the BBC1 magazine programme This Time with Alan Partridge. Martin was asked to appear on the programme because of his uncanny resemblance its co-presenter, Alan Partridge.
Now, Martin isn’t an exact duplicate for Partridge. Unlike Alan, Martin has ruddy cheeks, crooked teeth, and what could only be described as a mad look in his eyes. But he does resemble sufficiently the veteran English broadcaster to have received an invitation to appear on This Time. The fact he hadn’t until very recently known who Alan Partridge was (“I said who the hell is that?”) didn’t go down well with the host, and neither did Martin’s thoughtful but illegal gift of a turtle called 'Alun'.
Martin appeared beside a man who prides himself on his resemblance to James Bond actor Daniel Craig. Against Alan Partridge’s protests, Martin insisted on singing a song, and began with a decent rendition of the Fureys’ “Sweet Sixteen”.
Perhaps unfortunately, Martin chose to then bring in his band and to launch into a spirited version of the Wolfe Tones’ “Come Out Ye Black and Tans”, which then morphed into a cover of “The Men Behind The Wire”.
As the picture faded to black, Partridge could be clearly heard to say: “Oh my God, that was like an advert for the IRA. Who are we going to blame? Find out who booked him, and sack her.”
Alan Partridge has always had an uneasy relationship with Ireland. In 1997, he managed to offend two RTÉ producers (Father Ted co-creators Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan) with his comments on the Troubles (“Sunday Bloody Sunday. What a great song. It really encapsulates the frustration of a Sunday, doesn’t it?”) and by suggesting that Ireland has changed from its abiding image as a land of “leprechauns, shamrock, Guinness, horses running through council estates, toothless simpletons, people with eyebrows on their cheeks, badly tarmacked drives, in this country (the UK), men in platform shoes being arrested for bombings, lots of rocks, and, uh, Beamish."
“I think people are saying, there’s more to Ireland than this. Good slogan for the tourist board. ‘Dere’s more teh Oireland dan dis!’”
As they all tucked into a 'Full British Isles Breakfast', Alan enquired as to how many people died in the Famine. When Graham Linehan replied that two million people starved, and a further two million had to emigrate, Alan suggested that “If it was just the potatoes that were affected, at the end of the day, you will pay the price if you are a fussy eater.
“If they could afford to emigrate, then they could afford to eat in a modest restaurant.”
When Alan suggested the men from RTÉ must be sick of things blowing up, “being blown up, bombs,” they pointed out they were from Dublin. “That’s where you make them,” he replied.
Strangely, Alan never did get that series with RTÉ.
There was also the time Alan booked a hotel room in the name of “The Real IRA”, prompting a major security alert, but the less said about that, the better.
In his 2011 autobiography I Partridge: We need to talk about Alan, (co-written with Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan) Alan offers the following insight: “I’ve got a lot of time for Ireland. Its economy was known as the Celtic Tiger, which I loved. Then, of course, it hit the wall, much like that sleeping dog on YouTube. Very funny. Just type in ‘sleeping dog runs into wall’. If you don’t watch it ten times back-to-back, there’s something wrong with you. I also like sneezing panda, keyboard cat, dramatic chipmunk, skateboarding dog, otters holding hands and Don’t taze me, Bro.”
In a promotional video for Alan’s 2013 film, Alpha Papa, Alan began by saying “Let me start by shocking you. I actually like Ireland, and I like Irish people.” He then offered his condolences, because he had recently heard the Celtic Tiger had been shot dead, and went on to concede his film featured a tense hostage situation and a mad, gun-wielding Irishman, played by Colm Meaney.
If Alan Partridge has had a strained relationship with Ireland, the same can’t be said for his alter ego, Steve Coogan. The reverse is true too, with many in Ireland laughing, as Alan might say, like literal drains at Alan’s mortal discomfort as Martin Brennan sang Wolfe Tones rebel songs on BBC television.
Paul Howard, creator of the wonderful Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, tweeted “I’ve watched that Alan Partridge Irish lookalike clip about seventy times so far and I’m not even nearly done”. Best-selling author Marian Keyes changed her Twitter handle to “I said Who de HELL is dat?” Broadcaster Jonathan Healy tweeted: “Me, absentmindedly: ‘come out ye Black and Tans…’ Four year old, without hesitation: ‘come out and fight me like a man..’ How many times have I sung it aloud since #Partridge on Monday?!?”
Many of us old enough to remember the carnage of the Troubles tend to be uncomfortable with the Wolfe Tones and their rebel-rousing ballads, remembering the old joke that there will never be peace on the island of Ireland until such time as the Wolfe Tones’ instruments are put verifiably beyond use. I would be more of a fan of the sublime Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly, a man who – alongside his band the Hairy Bowsies – satirised the Wolfe Tones with infinitely more lyrical and musical talent than they ever displayed. Among other things, Ding Dong sang “The Craic We Had The Day We Died For Ireland”, “Flow River, Flow”, and the tragic Famine elegy “The Potatoes Aren’t Looking The Best”.
The beauty of Alan Partridge lookalike Martin Brennan (also played by Steve Coogan) singing rebel songs on a prime-time BBC television slot, of course, is that Alan, blazered bastion of Little Englander smallness, works best when he is being humiliated. His embarrassment at Martin is excruciating, and thus hilarious.
The son of a Mayo mother, Coogan has long had a love of Ireland. On a recent Late Late Show appearance, he announced that he’s in process of getting an Irish passport.
This Time with Alan Partridge comes to the end of its six-part series next week. It’s been fun to see perpetual loser Alan finally back in his spiritual home in the BBC, but rumour has it that something happens next week which may finish his career once and for all. I doubt it. He’s bounced back before, and then from actually killing a man live on air.
This Time with Alan Partridge, 9.30pm, Monday, BBC1.