David Brent: Life on the Road/Alpha Papa

I was a big fan of the TV series The Office (the original British version) and I’m also a big fan of the Alan Partridge character from his various incarnations on British TV and online. The Office was focussed on David Brent played by Rickey Gervais, but also had a great set of supporting characters – the same can be said of Alan Partridge.

Now, both Partridge and Brent have film spin offs. Alpha Papa and David Brent: Life on the Road. But they have more in common than that. Alan Partridge is someone desperate for the oxygen of fame, and in Alpha Papa we find him hanging on to the bottom rung as a mid morning DJ on North Norfolk Digital.

David Brent meanwhile, after a stint as a reality TV star with The Office is now working as a sales rep at another office, but is spending his cashed-in pensions on funding a ridiculous tour around Berkshire with a backing band who clearly can’t stand him.

Partridge ends up in siege when a sacked colleague takes the radio station by gun point. Brent, finally in Life on the Road appears to be totally deluded and a very sad character and he becomes likeably pathetic.

I loved, and laughed hard at Alpha Papa. Coogan is a really good actor, and is very funny as Partridge. The script moves at a zip and finally the film is feel good. Life on the Road is a different kettle of fish. The trademark awkward comedy is there, but finally the film becomes sad, hard to watch, emotional and poignant.

Both Brent and Partridge are desperate to be in the spotlight, even if this may not be good for them. They both only feel self worth with an audience’s eyes on them. Both over reach, both are failing, we laugh at Partridge and cringe and finally despair at Brent.

In an age of cheap celebrity, TV’s Big Brother and reality programmes filling up the schedules we see endless stories like Brent’s and Partridge’s played out in real time across our networks. In Channel’s Five’s Big Brother this summer a reality star entered the house with a clear game plan to be entertaining by causing as much trouble as he could. He did this gleefully and became popular with the public, even sleeping with a fellow housemate on the way.

Big Brother then pulled the carpet from underneath him by bringing in his outraged and clearly upset girlfriend from the real world into the house to confront him face to face. Watching his reaction at the time and his subsequent actions in the house was a bit like watching David Brent.

Having been a script writer for hire for over 20 years I’ve met some genuinely famous people, fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I once had a conversation with a young and popular soap actor who was flying high on the show and in the newspapers. He was working very hard in the show and doing work outside of it. As I spoke to him it became clear that he was very aware that if he didn’t earn as much money as he could now, while he was popular, that he would be in trouble later. He basically said to me, “I need to do all this now and save the money, because I may never work again after all this is over and I need enough money to be able to live without having to resort to getting a normal job.” He was really worried about it. Fame is fine, basically, but fleeting and when it’s over (and that can happen suddenly) the person is fucked for life (or so they fear).

I know actors who find that fame – which seemed a good idea at the time they were chasing it – is suffocating, not just for them, but for their families and children too. I know actors who crave ‘normal’ – find they can’t get it and then disappear into an LA bubble knowing it’s not good for their kids or family…

So, Partridge hangs on by his finger nails and Brent keeps chasing the impossible dream, even though, it looks more ridiculous every year that passes. What are they chasing? Do they have any real idea?

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs. Matthew was winner of the first ever Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge, the Oscar Moore Screenplay Prize and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on matcoop23@yahoo.co.uk