Monday, 14 March 2016
354 The Fall And Rise of Reginald Perrin
First viewed : August 1978
It may have only come 35th in 2004's Top 50 British sitcoms poll behind shite like dinnerladies and As Time Goes By but for me the first two series of this are up there with Fawlty Towers and Dad's Army as far as bulletproof TV comedy goes.
Based on a novel by David Nobbs the first series concerned the mid-life crisis of a middle-aged businessman played by Leonard Rossiter whose dissatisfaction at everyday frustrations and progressive mental deterioration leads him to fake his own death in the fifth episode. Love of his family eventually brings him back and he re-marries his wife Elizabeth ( Pauline Yates ) under a new identity ( which of course doesn't fool her ). Unlike The Good Life's Tom Good , Reggie seems plagued by real demons and the first episode ends with him frozen in a Munch scream.
The success of the series ( boosted by the coincidental similarity with the real-life John Stonehouse scandal ) prompted Nobbs to write further Perrin novels to order. The second - and for me, the best - series was less dark and more satirical with Reggie turning the tables on his one-time oppressors at Sunshine Desserts with the success of Grot, a company that sold nothing but rubbish.
The idea for Grot emerged at the end of my favourite comic scene of all time when Reggie discovers his military-minded brother-in-law Jimmy ( Geoffrey Palmer ) is part of a secret army preparing to fight the "forces of anarchy". Jimmy lovingly lists them - basically a tick list of every Daily Mail folk devil of the period , Tony Benn, Play For Today, punk rock etc.- and then Reggie responds with a list of the undesirables he's likely to attract , Paki-bashers, Queer-bashers, sacked policemen etc. It encapsulates the whole politics of the late seventies in a couple of minutes and was inspired by tabloid reports of retired colonels plotting a military coup as the ill-fated Callaghan government staggered towards its demise. It emerges out of nowhere in an episode that hitherto has been largely about Elizabeth's emancipation from her matriarchal role, a sudden left turn that switches the whole focus of the series.
Perhaps that's one reason why it didn't feature more highly in the poll; there is too much of the late seventies in there for people who've no idea who Clive Jenkins was. Certainly corporate culture has moved on from the days of Reggie's appalling boss C.J. ( John Barron ) whose pompous self-adoration - "I didn't get where I am today" and sadistic deployment of whoopee cushions was enough to put me off working in the private sector for life. These days you're more likely to encounter a character like Reggie's ghastly son-in-law Tom ( Tim Preece then Leslie Schofield ) a Guardian reader concerned with outward political correctness but really just a venal hypocrite. The series is also very male-centric ; there's nothing misogynistic about the portrayal of the female characters - the ones we meet anyway - but they're not very interesting either.
I think the main reason though was the fact that it didn't quit while it was ahead. Nobbs wrote a third book "The Better World of Reginald Perrin" and this was dramatised as the third series at the end of 1978. Where I came in was a repeat of the earlier series to build up anticipation for this third instalment. Unfortunately it was only OK-ish. Reggie gathered all the other characters together to set up a commune called "Perrin's" for distressed middle age people. It had its moments but the concept seemed a bit tired ; we were at the wrong end of the decade for a satire on communal living. The setting was claustrophobic and the catch phrases seemed tired.
Worse was to follow. Rossiter died in 1984 and that seemed to rule out any return for Reggie but twelve years later Nobbs and the BBC contrived The Legacy of Reginald Perrin which gathered together most of the old cast for seven episodes seemingly hell bent on trashing the memory. It was universally derided. The 2009 re-make ( after the poll of course ) with Martin Clunes as Reggie didn't fare much better.