Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Alan Partridge doppelganger's IRA medley unites This Time viewers in laughter

Steve Coogan as ‘Irish’ Alan Partridge impressionist
Steve Coogan as ‘Irish’ Alan Partridge impressionist
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Comedian Steve Coogan has managed to unite many TV viewers in Northern Ireland with a republican skit that was expected to divide them.

Coogan took watchers of the BBC One show This Time With Alan Partridge by surprise by ending his parody show on St Patrick's night with an Irish farmer singing rebel songs.

The spoof show
The spoof show

The character Martin Brennan, a Partridge lookalike played by Coogan himself, belted out two well-known republican songs - Come Out Ye Black And Tans and The Men Behind The Wire.

On the other side of the studio from the ruddy-faced guest with protruding teeth, a rattled Partridge said: "Oh my God, that was like an advert for the IRA."

After the show ended social media went into meltdown with nationalists predicting that unionists here would go ballistic.

Their general expectation was that unionists would take umbrage at the singing of two pro-republican songs on primetime British television in a week there had been fury at the behaviour of boxer Martin Conlan and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald in New York.

But the anticipated deluge of outrage didn't materialise.

One media analyst said: "It appears that few unionists took offence. Or if they did they kept their anger to themselves.

"After the condemnation of Michael Conlan's entry into the boxing ring at Madison Square Garden to pro-IRA chants and Mary Lou McDonald walking behind an 'England Get Out of Ireland' banner in New York, it would seem that most unionists saw Partridge's show as something of a light relief.

The analyst added: "They apparently didn't take it particularly seriously. Maybe they thought the joke was on the IRA."

Former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison retweeted a number of messages about the show, including a rave review of Monday's episode from The Independent website in England.

He also retweeted a post from Co Down-born broadcaster Andrea Catherwood, who took to Twitter to praise Coogan.

"Irish Alan was fabulous," she said adding. "It's not often you hear the 'Men Behind The Wire' on the BBC."

Former Republic of Ireland international footballer Kevin Kilbane, who's now a TV pundit, tweeted "Peak Partridge".

Radio 1 DJ Greg James said "Oh my god that was the best episode. It's getting better and better. The Irish Alan Partridge lookalike was a stroke of genius. The whole thing is. #ThisTime."

Even a regular unionist contributor to the Nolan Show, George from the Shankill, went on Talkback yesterday to say he thought Partridge was hilarious.

He said he recorded the show and put it out on his Twitter account.

"I have thousands of followers and 100% from Londonderry down to Belfast everybody was laughing," he said.

Presenter Mark Carruthers said he thought unionists would have been outraged but added: "I don't see a lot of that on Twitter whatsoever. And we haven't had statements from political parties telling us it was offensive."

But Carruthers said among the messages the programme did receive was one from a caller who complained that Partridge's songs were disgusting and that the BBC had hit a new low.

On the same show, actor Dan Gordon applauded Coogan. He said: "It's absurdity. It's a parody. There is no line for him to cross. I thought it was funny, bizarre. It will be offensive to some people and I am sorry that that will be the case."

Coogan is no stranger to Irish politics in his comedy. On The Day Today - the old BBC2 spoof news programme in which he debuted his Alan Partridge alter ego - Coogan once played republican Rory O'Connor. Under Margaret Thatcher's broadcasting restrictions he had to take gulps of helium "to subtract credibility from his statements".

On a previous Partridge show Coogan's character had an excruciating meeting with two RTE producers, whom he offended with stereotypical putdowns of Irish people and the Famine.

Normally the depiction of a Sligo farmer as a Paddywhackery-style caricature with a throwback mullet and dressed in an old fashioned suit and jumper would be guaranteed to bring about a torrent of criticism. But Coogan, who earned plaudits for his work on the 2013 movie Philomena about an Irish mother's search for her forcibly adopted son, seems to have avoided the opprobrium of TV audiences in Ireland for his Partridge lampoon.

Coogan himself is half-Irish, as his mother is from Co Mayo.

He once told RTE: "A lot of the humour I do as Alan is British prejudice against the Irish, which can sound just like jokes against the Irish, but it has to be put into the context of Alan's ignorance, which is why we get away with it."

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