David Nobbs Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin, The Reviews

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“Most people over the age of 35 who watched telly in...”


written by raehippychick on 05/06/2006

Most people over the age of 35 who watched telly in the 70's can probably quote from one of the late, great Leonard Rossiter's best roles; the inimitable Reginald Iolanthe Perrin. You youngsters may well have suffered an overuse of the axiom beginning "I didn't get where I am today " from your parents. This wonderful BBC adaptation seemed to ooze its way into the nations psyche with schools across the country resounding with people saying "great" and "super" in response to a variety of situations. All this was started by comedy writer David Nobbs with his 1975 novel The Death of Reginald Perrin, retitled The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin

Whether or not you have seen the television series, the book is worth reading, although having watched the magnificent actors makes the reading more fun, as you can hear their inflections on every page. Set in the 70's Reginald Iolanthe Perrin is a 46 year old bored and frustrated middle class middle manager. He lives in stultifying suburbia with his pleasant wife Elizabeth, Ponsonby the cat and is ready to snap. Seeing the fruits and freedoms of the sixties and free love all around him, with his hippy daughter and her lackadaisical family, his scrounging, cheerful, carefree actor son has made him want to breakout from the straitjacket of his humdrum life as walks the same streets to the same train each morning

The first sign of the slow descent into eccentricity and escape is when each time his mother in law is mentioned he pictures a hippopotamus. Working at Sunshine Desserts he is plagued by a despotic boss, CJ, who talks in fractured clich s and is forever declaring he "didn't get where I am today " insert any phrase remotely appropriate to the situation of the moment, or ask your mum for some examples. Reggie's stress is added to by chairs in CJ's office which emit pneumatic noises (fart noises to you), an overwhelming desire to engage in relations with his secretary, especially her knees and a couple of irritatingly fawning young executives, who brought us the "great" and "super" mentioned above. The eleven-minute delay of his train each day helps to push him to the edge of his sanity

Home life for Reggie seems at first glance a haven from these pressures, but although we can laugh at his morning ritual of his wife handing him his briefcase and exhorting him to "have a good day at the office dear" his sighing response of "I won't" shows that he finds this domesticity dull and wearing. The first cracks begin to appear on a trip to a safari park with his wife, daughter, son in law and grandchildren. Freedom loving peaceniks, Tom the bearded prig and exasperatingly good Linda object to all restrictions on the behaviour of their children resulting in a simmering then explosive reaction from Reggie. As the book progresses we feel for Reggie as he battles to cope with his desire to breakout from the sensible life has lived

Frustration with his lot causes mirth and mayhem as Reggie's symptoms become apparent to all and sundry, his feeling that words have no true meaning ("parsnip is good a word as any"), a disastrous speech whilst under the influence of a liquid lunch where he can no longer contain his views. There is an underlying sadness to the story but the wit and absurdity of Reggie's outlook and behaviour are often hilarious. A visit to an Italian restaurant for a three course meal of ravioli, ravioli and ravioli where he manages to incite first amorous looks and then slaps between a couple sharing his table is a classic giggle, not least because it highlights the characteristic desire of the British not to be embarrassed or to be seen to be different

The pivotal moment of this story is when, after humiliating his boss and others Reggie throws off his clothes and former life on a beach to start a fresh life. This became known as 'doing a Reggie Perrin' after the infamous incident where MP John Stonehouse faked his own suicide in a similar manner. Sadly Reggie's new life and independence is not the utopia he dreamed of. He still adores his wife, misses his children. Even the thought of his boring son in law's appalling homemade wine brings a pang. After trying out various personas Reggie opts to become Martin Wellbourne, a fictitious old friend of his and attending his own memorial service he realises he has to find a way to get back

This book is set in the 1970's so naturally a lot of the jokes are topical but it is so well written that the comedy shines through and I defy anyone to read it right through without laughing out loud. One big difference from the television series is a plot line involving Reggie's daughter Linda and his brother in law Jimmy, the story of their two characters underlines the confusion of both the young and older generations in the 70's as they cope with a fast changing world of new morals and ideals. I won't go in to this in depth, as it would spoil things for new readers, but suffice it to say I can see why the BBC chose not to include it in the dramatisation, although perhaps today they probably would just for sheer shock value alone. The writing is fast paced and easy to read, with a core of sentiment that captures the mood of ordinary people in an important decade in British history

The 368 page book is not currently available on Amazon, but the Complete Omnibus of Reginald Perrin is, from a little over £8.00 used. The complete collection is well worth getting Reggie's story goes on and is just as funny almost to the end, although the final stages do become a little repetitive and lost. The first two books in this series are definitely the best as they are sharp and pithy. I picked them up in a charity shop for under a pound each, definitely a bargain as these books bear rereading. Suitable for anyone over the age of twelve who enjoys a good laugh mingled with pathos and also for anybody interested in the life of the 70's. Anyone under 25 should get a copy and start quoting catchphrases at their parents - you'll be surprised how quickly it all comes back to the poor senile old dears!

Incidentally David Nobbs has written his autobiography and titled it "I didn't get where I am today" and I shall be getting based purely on reading his RIP series

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