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.

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