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Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The (1976-79)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The (1976-79)
BBC, tx. 8/9-24/1/1979
22x30 min episodes total, 3 series, colour
DirectorJohn Howard Davies
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerGareth Gwenlan
WriterDavid Nobbs
MusicRonnie Hazlehurst

Cast: Leonard Rossiter (Reginald Perrin), Pauline Yates (Elizabeth Perrin), John Barron (C.J.), Sue Nicholls (Joan Greengross), John Horsley (Doc Morrissey), Trevor Adams (Tony Webster), Bruce Bould (David Harris-Jones), Geoffrey Palmer (Jimmy)

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After decades of drudgery for Sunshine Deserts, Reginald Perrin suffers a mid-life crisis.

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Most great sitcom walks a thin line between comedy and tragedy, and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (BBC, 1976-79) is as potent a depiction of suburban desperation and a Britain on the verge of social and economic meltdown as it is a brilliantly funny comedy series.

Reggie's nervous breakdown, shown in disturbingly convincing detail, is genuinely moving, and his attempts to return to his old life, following a faked suicide, are witty and poignant. Leonard Rossiter's remarkable performance emphasises the comic hopelessness of the character, outrageous one moment and touchingly introspective the next, but retains an edge of credibility that keeps the series from descending into farce. Seeing the character through a mid-life crisis and a range of disguises and jobs, to rebirth as a successful industrial magnate and finally, a happiness counsellor, Rossiter never loses sight of Reggie's essential humanity.

Surrounding Reggie is a memorable array of characters: CJ (John Barron), spouting ridiculous clich├ęs; brother-in-law Jimmy (Geoffrey Palmer), who is always suffering a "cock-up on the catering front" and dreams of fronting a private army against the permissive society; humourless estate agent Tom (Tim Preece); over-enthusiastic sales managers Tony (Trevor Adams) and David (Bruce Bould). Broadly played by gifted comic actors, these caricatures possess enough recognisable facets to make them all too familiar. Balancing the stereotypes are warm and generous portrayals of long-suffering wife Elizabeth (Pauline Yates) and secretary Joan (Sue Nicholls), eagerly available but eternally frustrated.

Over the course of three series, the storylines by David Nobbs become increasingly contrived, although his skill for comic dialogue remains in evidence. Once Reggie has faked his suicide and returned to marry his wife again, he is sacked by Sunshine Desserts and decides to create his own business empire. This empire turns out to be Grot, a chain of shops selling patently worthless goods. Finding himself, once again, successful but hopelessly frustrated, he and Elizabeth both fake their suicides and find that this has become a common pastime. In the third series, Reggie opens a community for disenchanted members of the middle-class, staffing it with most of his acquaintances from the first two series. However, by the end of this final story, he still feels somehow inadequate. This third series is generally considered inferior to its predecessors, but it is considerably more satisfying than the 1996 attempt to continue the story without Rossiter, The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin (BBC).

Mike Sutton

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Video Clips
1. C.J. (2:30)
2. Hippo-in-law (1:01)
3. Doc Morrissey (3:39)
Complete first episode (30:08)
Production stills
Topical Budget 874-2: A Hippo in Harness (1928)
Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95)
One Fine Day (1979)
Room in Town, A (1970)
Terry and June (1979-87)
Rossiter, Leonard (1926-1984)