With Lynn Benfield confirmed to return to TV, here’s a love letter to the woman who made Alan Partridge the man he is.
Behind every great man is a great woman. In Alan Partridge’s case, it’s his PA Lynn Benfield, shuffling several feet behind and carrying a box of James Bond videos for him because it was cutting into his fingers.
Not that Alan Partridge is a great man by any means. He’s a buffoon and a bully – a man whose insecurities and flaws run so deep, that he’s blissfully unaware of them, and saunters through life with the kind of ignorant, Brexit-faced confidence that afflicts most Little Englanders.
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But Lynn Benfield is a great woman. You’d absolutely have to be to put up with 20-plus years of Alan Partridge, for £9,500-per-annum. Now Lynn has been confirmed to return to TV as part of Alan’s new magazine chat show This Time (his elusive second series of sorts – he’s standing in as a guest host for a week). It’s great news. Lynn isn’t just responsible for making sure he’s fully stocked on Sunny Delight, she’s the real the star – the heart, soul, and minor women’s whiplash of Alan’s career.
Alan has always needed a Lynn: someone to berate, belittle, and bully. In the beginning, it was the guests of his chat show – Knowing Me, Knowing You – before he fatally shot one of them by mistake. Lynn was introduced in follow-up series I’m Alan Partridge. She showed Alan for the monster that he occasionally is: talking over her when she tries to sell him on driving a Mini Metro; mocking the death of Lynn’s obese racist mother; threatening to sack her for having fun in a way that excludes him (her employer); making her walk 20 minutes along a motorway to the taxi rank rather than drive her himself; and even using her cleavage as a means of currying favour with the BBC commissioning editor (“Don’t crush them, Lynn”).
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It’s an essential component of Alan’s comedy genius. Not that Lynn should exist solely to be abused by Alan, of course. Alan would be nothing without Lynn, and he knows it. When he drove to Dundee in his bare feet, she was there for him with extra Toblerone; when he’s bored out of his mind, she’ll sit in the car and listen to him talk absolute shit all afternoon; when he pierces his foot on a spike, Lynn’s there to mop up his mess; if he needs a Bono imposter at an hour’s notice, she’ll find him one; and when he wants to steal a traffic cone at 11pm, she’ll be his accomplice and even lie to the rozzers for him.
Lynn’s not adverse to her own flashes of monstrosity either: she’s savagely jealous of Alan’s love interest Jill, and considers Tony Hayers an incarnation of the devil. It’s possible that Lynn’s in love with Alan, of course; and it’s true that no one’s shown Alan a smidgen of the affection he’s had from Lynn over the years. Few would trust a terminal berk like Alan with the speech duties at their own baptism.
And while the two series of I’m Alan Partridge chronicle the journey of Alan’s downfall, then bouncing back, and downfall again, it’s Lynn who gets the happy ending. From meek, put-upon spinster – trying to juggle the responsibilities of caring for her sick mother and popping to the Linton Travel Tavern with Alan’s fungal foot powder – to being freshly baptised and happy-in-love with ex-fuzz Gordon. Even if their romance is mostly just laughing at the weather. She even gets a nice new hairdo when her mother’s inheritance money comes through.
Partridge has broken new ground with Mid Morning Matters, his Scissored Isle doc, and bestselling books. It’s an era that’s peeled away the layers and revealed a softer, more content, and far-easier-to-emphathise-with Alan. He’s had Sidekick Simon to belittle when he needs an ill-gotten ego-boost, but Lynn – who’s frumpy, nervous demeanour is hardly attention grabbing – has been conspicuous by her absence, aside from a cameo in his movie. But she’s as much a part of the Alan Partridge formula as the driving gloves, monkey tennis, and blazer badge and tie sets.
Lynn shows Alan up for what he really is, but also makes him the man we begrudgingly admire. And though Alan might not be able to admit his true feelings for the only woman who’s ever stood by him, we will. Lynn Benfield, we love you.
This Time is filming now.