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23 November 2004 1724 GMT

Meet the real Alan Partridge
Picture: Luke Wright
The Dyke Dwellers of the Acle strip, local people, and life with Alan. The man they dub the real life Partridge... getting to know Wally Webb.
Picture: Steve Coogan and Wally Webb.
Ah-ha: Steve Coogan and Wally Webb
Wally Webb is forced to admit that he does have "one or two items" of sports casual in his wardrobe, writes Concrete's Luke Wright.

Wally Webb is Live From Five (Real 56k 1'14")
BBC News - Partridge's Norwich: Fact or fiction?
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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 one."

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 scrutiny.

"People dub me as the real Alan Partridge simply

Pic: Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge.  Link.
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 to mine.

"You've got to remember that it's a comedy character, so he's going to be doing things I've never dreamed of doing."

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.

Picture: Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge.
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 too serious."

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," he said.

"Because they will see right through you. Never falsify any sincerity because you'll eventually be found out."

Dyke Dwellers

To his listeners, Webb is perhaps best known not as the real Alan Partridge, but rather as the inventor the Dyke Dwellers.

"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 about."

Listener relations

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.

Graphic: concrete logo

Article published in partnership with Concrete, UEA's independent student newspaper

From BBC News »
See also Partridge's Norwich: Fact or fiction?


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