As I sit down with Wally Webb to conduct our interview,
one of his BBC Radio Norfolk pals cries out, "Hey Alan, have a good
Wally seems very much at ease with this, yelling
back a badly impersonated "Ah-ha" but he's not fooling anyone.
Ever since Steve Coogan's greatest comic creation
went back to his roots, presenting the graveyard shift on Radio
Norwich in the 1997 series I'm Alan Partridge, Wally Webb has acquired
infamy with the moniker 'the real life Alan'.
"When they began to trail it, and they showed
him sitting there in the studio in front of a radio Norwich sign,
we were lying in bed, and my wife said to me, "Oh look he's
taking you off, he's you!' and since then on I've had to live with
it," explained Webb.
Extract of Live From Five
(Real 56k 1'14")
However, BBC Radio Norfolk's Live From Five presenter
is keen to point out that the comparisons don't hold up under closer
"People dub me as the real Alan Partridge simply
|Alan on the fictional Radio Norwich.
because I'm on early morning Radio Norfolk, but
that's as far as it goes because his style is totally different
"You've got to remember that it's a comedy
character, so he's going to be doing things I've never dreamed of
In the flesh, Webb appears to be more like
a real-life Nigel Mansell than an Alan Partridge. On-air his listeners
are treated to a more calming tone, closer to that of John Peel
than the prat-ish warbling of the King of Chat.
However, he is forced to admit that he does have
"one or two items" of sports casual in his wardrobe.
For a radio presenter, a comparison to the 'chat
show host from hell,' would be fairly difficult to live with, but
Webb takes it all in good humour.
Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge
"I actually interviewed Steve Coogan. When we first
met, you know that feeling when someone's holding back on you, I
think he thought I was going to thump him, but I really like the
guy, and I am a fan of the series.
"Although I did have to tell him that anyone with
any sense would know that a radio presenter has to have the earphones
on with they are talking on-air, not around their neck."
Listening to BBC Radio Norfolk's Live From Five
one can pick up on certain Alan-isms.
Webb admits that it is possible to take his style
and add a comic twist, with his synchronised sip at quarter past
five coming closest.
"Wanna join me. Mine's tea, you can have whatever
you want, as long as it's liquid. We can synchronise that sip, together!
Go on risk it. Oh! Wow, that's hot. Okay, I'm going to risk it.
Here's to a good weekend."
But whereas Webb is self-conscious, his alter-ego
is simply self-absorbed.
"It's just silly things like the sip, something
light because people have just woken up and they don't want me being
Knowing his audience is something Webb prides himself
on. He's been with radio Norfolk for 22 years,
and before that he was doing hospital radio since his move to Norfolk
in 1976, whilst he was in the RAF.
"Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience,"
"Because they will see right through you.
Never falsify any sincerity because you'll eventually be found out."
To his listeners, Webb is perhaps best known not
as the real Alan Partridge, but rather as the inventor the Dyke
"I wanted my listeners to use their imaginations
and so I said that I had spotted something along the Acle straight
on my way to work.
"I spent weeks on the build-up and eventually
I said 'well I'm sure there are little people who live on the marshes
who have come over from Holland.'
"There are loads of fantasy tales about little
people, so I thought well why can't Norfolk have its own indigenous
kind of little person? The marshes are riddled with dykes so they
became the Dyke Dwellers and Deryk was the character I developed,
and I developed him with the audience."
Webb's audience became so involved with his creations
that they even started sending in little cloths and gardening implements
for Deryk and his friends.
"It's very flattering because they are entering
into the spirit of it. You know that they know it's all fantasy,
but they are going along with it, they are enjoying it.
"I think that from a presenters point of view,
you can sit there in all day long in a studio and broadcast thinking
it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, but to have that affirmation
from your audience. That they are involved in it is what it's all
For Wally Webb, a close relationship with one's
listeners is something only local radio can offer.
"You and I can sit here, but you try and get an
interview with Terry Wogan tomorrow. Local radio is local and we
are local as presenters; we live locally, we go out socialising
locally, everything is local, so you get to know your audience."
Whilst Alan Partridge is frustrated by being stuck
in Norwich and milks his 'celebrity' status as much as he can, Webb
is just happy being himself.
"I'm just Wally, I'm just a bloke. Not like Alan
Partridge at all really. Because at the end of the day, if I was
sacked and all of a sudden on Monday there was someone else doing
my job, there might be a few people who would shout and jump up
and down, but by the end of the week it'd be Wally who? And you're
gone, I never kid myself that you last forever, you can be here
today and gone tomorrow. And that keeps your feet on the ground.
"I'm someone who's got a job he's happy doing
and a good, rock steady family life. I've nothing to complain about.
I mean, who's lucky?"
Who's lucky indeed. Alan Partridge is a failed,
homophobic, ambitious, idiot who provides excellent comic entertainment,
and who, if he were real, would provide the perfect material for
a journalist to write cutting and witty character assassinations.
On the other hand, Wally Webb is a relaxed and
charming man with mild eccentricities who provides the perfect material
for an article on the warm qualities possessed by people who are
very real indeed.
If you want to synchronise your sip with Wally,
catch him week day mornings from 5am on 95.1 & 104.4FM on BBC
Radio Norfolk in the UK.
Article published in partnership with Concrete,
UEA's independent student newspaper
From BBC News »
See also Partridge's
Norwich: Fact or fiction?