'I didn't get where I am today by missing a sequel,' says Perrin creator
'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin' was a massive success for writer David Nobbs in the 1970s. He explains why it is back from the dead
Sunday 18 January 2009
The suggestion of a modern remake of Perrin came from the independent company Objective Productions. Luckily I was sitting down at the time. Before we approached the BBC, I had a long discussion with Ben Farrell, head of comedy at Objective. It didn't take us long to decide that, with stress levels in the work place and on public transport rising like ocean levels, the plight of the stressed commuter was at least as relevant today as in 1976.
We went to see Lucy Lumsden and Simon Wilson at the BBC comedy department and were much encouraged by their enthusiasm. They asked me what involvement I wished to have, and I suddenly found myself answering with great certainty a question that had flummoxed me.
I heard myself say that there are two strands to Reggie's predicament – the timeless theme of a man in the middle of his life who fears that he is wasting the privilege of existence, and the contemporary theme of the many irritations and frustrations that make up the life of a commuting middle manager now.
I felt that I have lived too long in the deep countryside of North Yorkshire to be up to speed with the details of modern office jargon and behaviour. I couldn't let go of the timeless element, but I needed help with the contemporary aspects. I needed to write the series with a brilliant writer who was nearer to Reggie's age.
Who could possibly fill the bill better than Simon Nye, who is probably tired of being referred to as Simon "Men Behaving Badly" Nye?
We set to work, together with Ben, to create our "Man Behaving Oddly". Our first challenge was to decide what his job should be. Exotic ices were out. In the age of Heston Blumenthal, what's exotic about mango delight, fig surprise and raspberry and lychee ripple. (Is that correct? I can't remember myself!) Ben suggested the rapidly expanding world of male grooming – and it stuck.
The BBC commissioned a first script, and we all decided that, as I had in a way written our first draft in 1976, Simon should write a draft of this new version first. He produced a draft script which contains, in my opinion, a brilliant modern equivalent of all the characters from 1976. They were, miraculously, essentially the same yet utterly different.
Simon had created the new template and I found myself in the strange position of contributing to a series which felt at the same time to be both mine and someone else's. I didn't find it easy at first, but the method seems to have worked, and that is all that matters.
I'm not going to talk about the differences – you'll see them when you watch it. The series is perhaps more different than I expected and probably more different than you expect. But that has had one great advantage, I believe. It has removed the last of the great worries –the dark shadow cast by the brilliant Leonard Rossiter. He was the man for 1976. How lucky we are to have our first choice for 2009 – it already seems to be the only possible choice – Martin Clunes.
The aforementioned Lucy and Simon, plus Jay Hunt, controller of BBC 1, grilled the Objective team pretty thoroughly before they gave the project the green light. I didn't mind this at all. I didn't want to do it unless it had a really good chance of success.
Will it succeed?
"Oh yes," says my English half. "A great cast. Fine scripts. A superb production team. Audiences are laughing at the recordings. It can't fail."
"Who knows?" says my Welsh half. "Oh the possibilities of unforeseen pitfalls. Oh, the unpredictability of the great British public."
We'll soon know.
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