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TV review: Doing a Reggie Perrin

Gerry Corner on the resurrection of a sitcom which didn't get where it is today without a Man Behaving Badly

Published on April 27th 2009.

TV review: Doing a Reggie Perrin

MARTIN Clunes is a brave man, accepting a role that (Liverpool) actor Leonard Rossiter and writer David Nobbs instantly established as one of sitcom's greatest creations, while both were at the peak of their powers.

Rossiter's comic genius was given free rein as the man tipped over the edge by the twin prisons of middle England and middle management.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin has become, for our informal times, plain “Reggie Perrin”, and while Nobbs is still involved, the scripts are much the work of Simon Nye, reunited with Clunes for the first time since Men Behaving Badly finished more than a decade ago, and yet to repeat its success.

The story has been updated for the modern world: Mrs Perrin is not only there to ensure Reggie remembers his briefcase; she now has a proper job and feminist friends. Reggie, meanwhile, says “shit” and talks about “my penis”, which he certainly didn't do in the 1970s, but probably would have done if the censors had allowed him.

He doesn't work at Sunshine Desserts any more, either, but next door at Groomtech, a manufacturer of male grooming products, where his big new challenge is to “make pumice sexy”. In case viewers don't know what pumice is, Reggie handily gives a whole presentation on the subject.

I found myself trying to guess which bits were Nye's and which Nobbs'. My guess is that “penis” is not Nobbs, if you see what I mean, but “pumice” is.

Nobbs loves nothing better than having fun with words, the sillier sounding the better (with a name like his, this is just as well). Hence, Reggie is urged to attend “a pumice brainstorm”, while Reggie's love interest, Jasmine, suggests “there's a seminar on stubble on the 15th. Perhaps we should go?”

But when Reggie attempts to ingratiate himself with his wife's women's group by declaring “anyone who can bleed for five days without dying deserves a

bunch of flowers now and again”, you sense Nye's pen at work. Except it sounds more like a line he would have written for Clunes, as Gary, in Men Behaving Badly.

Back in the 1970s, the portrayal of Reggie's fantasies – commonly involving sex, violence and the abuse of his fellow commuters – must have looked pretty high concept alongside more sedate sitcoms. But comedy, and office life, has moved on and it is hard to see what this “re-imagining” (as TV executives call it) of the original has to offer new viewers.

For those with affectionate memories of the prototype, comparisons are inevitable. For all the discussion of disposable razors at Groomtech, the sharpness of Nobbs' original script is missing. Much of the humour in both versions relies on Reggie's contempt for his colleagues, many of whom turn up this time round as close approximations of their 1970s counterparts. And one of the first things you realise watching the new show is how brilliant the casting was first time round.

Reggie's original underlings, the splendidly sycophantic Tony (“Great!”) Webster and David (“Super!”)

Harris-Jones have been usurped by a couple of caricatures whose slapstick antics only make you want to slap them – with a stick. Likewise, the homicidally incompetent Doc Morrisey is gone; in his place the company's Wellness Person, a weak send-up of holistic healers, who is intended to be irritating in an amusing way, but is just irritating in an irritating way.

The same applies to Jasmine whose obvious appeal is not unwelcome but lacks the subtlety of Sue Nicholls' prim, bespectacled secretary, Joan. When Jasmine enters Reggie's fantasies by crawling across his desk on all fours it is to less effect than when he fondly imagines Joan shedding her specs and tonguing an ice cream cornet.

Part of the problem for Clunes is out of his control. lt is a bit like getting a new stepfather; however likeable he is, he just isn't your dad. Reggie Perrin owes its life to its predecessor but will be haunted by it while there are those of us around to remember Rossiter's barely suppressed mania.

It's early days but this Reggie is a shadow of his former self. Clunes is a solid comic actor with genuine talent but he is not Reginald Iolanthe Perrin. RIP Leonard Rossiter.

*Reggie Perrin, BBC1, Fridays, 9.30pm.

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Derek Acora Cora PuddytatApril 27th 2009.

There are quite a lot of TV programmes that would benefit from a deceased castDead Cars Cadava QCThe Smell of Wreathes and Mortality. "You wouldn't let them lie!" Dead Dwarf Will & GravesDoctor Was (Produced by Rigor T. Mortis.) Cold Feet and everything else Jonathan Croaked Stiff WomenFalcon at RestPosthumous PatJack Dee Dead at the ApolloTop of The Popped OffsI’m an Obituary Get Me Out of Here. But I couldn't be bothered to mention them.

ViennaApril 27th 2009.

It was embarrassingly derivative.

Not so sureApril 27th 2009.

Not always the old is best. Doctor Who was much better for Russell T Davies's intervention.

Steve MartinApril 27th 2009.

At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I think Martin Clunes is either very brave or confident to have undertaken this role. Why bring it back? Other people like Ricky Gervais have made sitcoms about the office their very own, no doubt inspired by characters in Nobbs' original creation. I cannot think why they have done this, and affection or nostalgia for the original isn't good enough. What can they bring to a new generation that the original didn't have???

Professor ChucklebuttyApril 27th 2009.

Actually that could make a very good game show. The Crypton Factor or the Xpired factor, win a spectacular funeral as the star prize, Barbara Winsdor could read the Eulogy dale Winton doing the Service at the end - well why not we exploit every other weak minded individual and humiliate them on TV. There is only the dead left to rip off. Whats Simon Callows number anyone? Going for Mould, Bob's Full Hearse, Double Your Mourner, Bruce Forsyth and The Cremation Game...shall I stop, is this in bad taste

DigApril 27th 2009.

What's next? Only Fools and Horses? Leave the comedy classics alone thank you. You can't improve the classics so why produce an inferior version? You will only get criticised for it.

SargonisApril 27th 2009.

Nonsense to say Rossiter was better.Leonard Rossiter was the least talented actor ever, famous for one part only! The dreadful Rigsby.Rossiters laborious gurning and high pitched incredulity never made me laugh.Clunes brings real intelligence and sympathy to this role. His portrayal was genuinely moving and touches the heart of every middle aged business executive.Clunes has the added advantage of being powerfully sexy unlike beaknosed Rossiter with his terrible teeth and stooping walk.No - Clunes has the greater comic talent by a country mile.

The MasterApril 27th 2009.

You're right to be Not so sure ! The new Doctor Who has a lot more money spent on it, but it has been reduced to a flash-bang-wallop pop video for butterfly-minded chumps with no capacity for appreciating suspense.

AnonymousApril 27th 2009.

Or Inspector Mort

Professor ChucklebuttyApril 27th 2009.

Dig is right this wasn't a patch on the original. Miss Jones had none of the vulnerability of the wonderful Frances de La Mere Forrest and where was Vienna? On top of that the boarding house was far too clean. Eric Chappel should have let it go. You don't want another Last Of the Summer Wine where almost the entire cast are dead and the producer just puts the bodies in a tin bath on wheels and shoves them down a hill. That's not comedy!

BokApril 27th 2009.

Or plot or character development!

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