I like comedy. I like books. I like indexes. I really like comedy book indexes. I’ve recently encountered two particularly good examples of the comedy book index in my out-of-hours reading for pleasure:
I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan by Alan Partridge (authored by Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan) (London: HarperCollins, 2011)
Toast on Toast: Cautionary Tales and Candid Advice by Steven Toast (authored by Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews) (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2015)
Both are fictional memoirs/autobiographies of established British TV comedy characters and both are enhanced by rather fine and funny indexes.
In this blog post, I will focus on the index for I, Partridge. Toast on Toast will be a future blog.
On the book’s blurb, Alan Partridge is described (by himself) as ‘the nation’s favourite broadcaster’. The character of Alan Partridge, sports presenter turned chat-show host, played by Steve Coogan, has been a regular feature in British broadcasting since the early 1990s in radio and TV programmes such as On the Hour, The Day Today, Knowing Me Knowing You (aha) and I’m Alan Partridge. Most recently he has appeared in the feature film Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and the TV show Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge.
As with any good biography and autobiography index, there is a large entry for the primary subject and a host of supporting characters.
The four-page index entry for Alan Partridge himself is where the main fun is to be found. As per good indexing practice for (auto)biographies, this lengthy entry is divided into themed sections (e.g. ‘as author and writer’, ‘awards’, ‘sex, relationships and friendships’, ‘TV career’). Some of these are richly detailed:
- childhood, school and poly
- A-level results 28–30 […]
- shoe-horn/shoe-tree fixation 7
- dress and grooming
- aftershave (Pagan Man) 122 […]
- dressing gown, when alone 132
- food and drink
- interfered-with sandwiches 24
- lemonade preference 40
- omelettes at Travel Tavern 151 […]
- Toblerone addiction 203–4, 213–23, 228–9, 231
- homes and dwellings
- static caravan 254–5
- ‘unstatic’ caravan 260
The subheading wording also offers insight into Partridge’s deluded and inflated sense of self-importance:
- Booker prize (deserved) 233
- Channel 4 100 best catchphrases (84th) 95
- TV Quick’s Man of the Moment 27
- radio career
- ‘Aha’ catchphrase 94–6
- cross-genre mastery 286
- expertise in modulation modes 276–7, 283
- fans and super-fans 169–70, 172–8
More on Partridge’s chequered TV career later.
The entries for Partridge’s parents are brief but give hints of an intriguing backstory:
- Partridge, Dorothy (mother)
- compared to Rover 800 177 […]
- neither nice nor important 141
- Partridge, Snr (father)
- butterfly tennis 7 […]
- death 244, 247
- location post-death 249
Ex-wives and love interests
The entry for Partridge’s ex-wife is quite enlightening:
- Partridge, Carol née Parry (ex-wife)
- body shape, attempted 260 […]
- dog-like hair 37
- jealous of Sue Cook 71
Past and present love interests are treated more briefly and by first name only:
- Jemima ‘Jem’ (first girlfriend) 31–2, 33
- Sonja (girlfriend) 259–64
Partridge’s ‘attraction to Sue Cook’ (a real British TV presenter) also warrants many index entries, such as one for his diary musings from page 124:
15 Dec 1995 – Got drunk and tried it on with Sue Cook. She was so understanding – though witheringly emphatic in her rebuttal.
Several other real British TV personalities appear in the index and the book in fictional encounters, such as former Goodie and birdwatcher Bill Oddie (and his ‘blast-proof underground bird chamber’, p.173), sports commentator and quizmaster David Coleman (with his pioneering ‘it’s-bad-news-ha-no-actually-it’s-good-news technique’ for Question of Sport quiz answers, p.29), and ‘the late, great Des Lynam’ (pp.84–5). Lynam, veteran TV sports presenter, is still very much alive in 2016.
I feel I have to include Partridge’s home county Norfolk and home city Norwich here. I lived in Norwich myself through my student years at the University of East Anglia and it makes Alan Partridge all the funnier for me. Norwich is a fine city. It tells you this on the road signs on its outskirts.
The Norwich entry contains such hugely useful subheadings as ‘bus system, seeking snivels on’, ‘Nando’s’ and ‘Our Price store’. The Norfolk entry goes into a little more detail:
- backward unachievers of 24
- ‘development’ in 15–16 […]
- sex in 2n
- starvation in 228
Odds and sods
Partridge contains references to some splendidly named characters from his fictional world, such as:
- O’Hanraha-hanrahan, Peter 65, 81
[There was a real British BBC TV news reporter called Brian Hanrahan.]
- Jom (Jim or Tom, entrepreneur) 156–7
[This points to a passage describing a ‘local man (don’t recall his name, think it was either Jim or Tom so I’ll call him Jom)’.]
Career and rivals
It all gets rather meta and postmodern here. The shows On The Hour, The Day Today, Knowing Me Knowing You and I’m Alan Partridge were all programmes broadcast on BBC radio and TV channels in the UK. The latest series of Mid Morning Matters is broadcast on the Sky Atlantic TV channel and purports to be a webcam feed of his radio show on North Norfolk Digital (‘né Radio North Norfolk’), which is a spoof radio station. All clear? Good.
The character Alan Partridge has a tricky relationship with the BBC in the shows, reflected in the book and its index:
- bar 64 […]
- compliance culture 210
- execs, TV as inconvenience for 187
His BBC TV chat show Knowing Me Knowing You, featuring Partridge interviewing spoof celebrity guests, comes to an unfortunate end at the close of series one:
And then, live on air in the sixth and final episode of my chat show, I shot a man through the heart with a gun. (p.112)
The unfolding saga can be tracked through the index:
- McAllister, Forbes, death of, 112, 113–14, 116–20, 132, 162, 211, 289
Partridge is ‘hauled in to the BBC for crisis talks’ (p.119) and is given a ‘chance of redemption’ with the Christmas special Knowing Me Knowing Yule (p.132), the BBC being duty bound to honour the rest of his contract. The Christmas special ends with Partridge punching his (fictional) BBC commissioning editor Tony Hayers in the face. Twice. The BBC do not commission a second series.
It seems to me that the index for I, Partridge had input from either a professional indexer or someone with a knowledge of good indexing practice. I asked the authors about this and Neil Gibbons told me via Twitter: ‘Hmm. Can’t remember. Think someone at the publishers did a basic one & we mucked about with it. That’s how we just did the new one.’ (NB: See also ‘Indexer update’ below for more information that has since come to light about the index’s origins.) It works perfectly well as a good index – just one that happens to contain some very funny entries and subheadings, as befits the content of the book. It’s a hoot to read and the book contains some extra gems such as lengthy irreverent/irrelevant footnotes and a ‘mandatory’ soundtrack listing of songs plus directions as to where in the book they should be played. The tracks include such highlights as ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ (of course) by Abba, ‘Portsmouth’ by Mike Oldfield and the theme to Ski Sunday.
A new Alan Partridge memoir, Alan Partridge: Nomad, is published in late October 2016 and I believe this will have a similar index. If so, I will write a separate blog post on this with any further musings. I look forward to reading it in any case. You can read or listen to an extract from Nomad (read by Steve Coogan) here.
There will be a further blog post coming soon on the index to Toast on Toast.
I’d love to hear of any other similar comedy book indexes. If you know of any, please do get in touch by leaving a comment, sending a message via the Contact page or tweeting me @PC_Bain.
Indexer update (28 November 2016)
Following publication of this blog post, I understand from Mark Bolland at HarperCollins that he was the original indexer for I, Partridge. Thanks to Mark, I have now been lucky enough to see his original, unexpurgated index, which was considerably lengthier and even more Partridgean. Unfortunately some of this was cut before publication but I’m glad that the published version still retains much of the humour. Even with the cuts, it remains one of the funniest books and indexes I have read so kudos to Mark as the indexer and the authors. I’m happy to be able to set the record straight here and give proper credit where it’s due for posterity’s sake. It truly is a great book enhanced by a great index. Back of the book – back of the net!
Paula Clarke Bain is a professional book indexer and editor. She likes comedy, books and indexes and really likes comedy book indexes. See more at her website at baindex.org or on Twitter @PC_Bain.
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