Modern Life Is Rubbish

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It was eerie the first time I watched The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin because it all felt so familiar. I’d bought a DVD box-set on a whim. Suddenly my parents’ baffling banter made sense. When I thought they were speaking gibberish they were in fact quoting Perrin. My mother would say ‘great’ and my father would say ‘super’. My father would say things like ‘I didn’t get where I am today’ and my mother would say ‘I’m not a committee person.’ If lunch was going to be late my father would say ‘bit of a cock-up on the catering front’. They’d been doing it so long that I doubt they even knew they were speaking Perrinese. It’s difficult to overstate how thoroughly Perrin has seeped into popular culture and language.

The TV series starring Leonard Rossiter was based on a novel, The Death of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs, published in 1975. Its eponymous hero is Reginald Iolanthe Perrin (Iolanthe because his mother was meant to appear in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta but had to bow out when she became pregnant). You’ll note the initials, RIP. Reggie’s inane job as middle manager at a convenience pudding company, Sunshine Desserts, is sending him slowly mad. He lives on a neo-Georgian estate where all the roads are named after famous poets in the (fictional) South London suburb of Climthorpe. He’s married to Elizabeth and has two children – Mark, a failed or rather failing actor, and Linda who is married to Tom, an estate agent whom Reggie dislikes. Linda and Tom have two children, Adam and Jocasta. Reggie catches the same train with the same people every day. At work his boss is the overbearing CJ who says things like ‘I didn’t get where I am today without recognizing a favourable report when I see one.’ His colleagues are Tony and David who say ‘great’ and ‘super’ respectively after everything anyone senior says, and he fantasizes about seducing his secretary Joan.

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About the contributor

Henry Jeffreys is a wine columnist. He wrote Empire of Booze, a history of Britain told through alcoholic drinks.

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