A bold and innovative slant to the traditional BBC middle class, suburban set sitcom, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, was not only both a critical and audience success, but also allowed the impeccable comedic genius of Liverpool born star Leonard Rossiter to add yet another iconic character to his already impressive credentials.
Based on his own novel, 'The Death of Reginald Perrin', David Nobbs sitcom used as its central character a man falling headlong into the calamity of mid-life-crisis. But more than that, the series was an inspired swipe at middle class England, big business and consumerism. Reginald Iolanthe Perrin had worked in the same boring job with Sunshine Desserts for 20 years. Every day he left his boring Norbitan home, took the same boring train journey, arrived at his boring office (always eleven minutes late), and was greeted by his boring secretary (Sue Nicholls), whom he dreamed of having an affair with. His career was going nowhere and he was constantly browbeaten by his overbearing boss C.J. (John Barron), who was forever offering advice beginning with "I didn't get where I am today..." until it all became too much for Reggie and he drove himself to the seaside, threw off his clothes and faked his own suicide in order to start a new life. (British MP John Stonehouse copied this in real life).
Following a spell of wandering around Britain and picking up odd jobs, such as a labourer on a pig farm, Reggie returned to suburbia in the guise of Martin Welbourne, remarried wife Elizabeth (Pauline Yates), and set up a chain of shops called Grot, which specialised in useless objects. Further more, Reggie employed the ex-staff of the now defunct Sunshine Desserts, including his secretary, C.J, Tony 'Great' Webster and David 'Super' Harris-Jones. But things went too well for Reggie and Grot became a runaway success, steering Reggie straight back into the lifestyle that he had previously resented so much. At the end of season two, Reggie and the entire cast staged another fake suicide, only to re-surface for a third season in which Reggie founded a commune for distressed executives.
Now joined by his militaristic brother-in-law, Jimmy (Geoffrey Palmer, who would later almost totally recreate the role in Fairly Secret Army), who would always be on the scrounge for food with the excuse "Sorry, bit of a cock-up on the catering front.' Perrins, as the new company called itself, employed all of Reggie's old cronies including an indecipherable Scottish cook by the name of McBlane. An American version (Reggie) starring former Soap star Richard Mulligan, was broadcast in 1983 by ABC, but inexplicably, the BBC revived the series (The Legacy of Reginald Perrin) in 1996, which took up the story after Reggie had been killed by an advertising hoarding (Leonard Rossiter himself had passed away in 1984), leaving his former colleagues to perform absurd tasks in order to inherit several million pounds from his will. However, stripped of its central character and the all-important presence of Rossiter himself, the show, with the benefit of hindsight, was always doomed to certain failure.
Skilfully and insightfully written, and performed to the peak of perfection by a seasoned cast who delivered perfectly pitched lines with subtle aplomb, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was comedy of the very highest order from a television institution at the very pinnacle of its classic comedy output.
Published on December 11th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH for Television Heaven.