Monday, April 20, 2009

Remaking Reginald Perrin is wrong, wrong, wrong

Reggie Perrin - as The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin has been rechristened for the attention deficit generation - begins on Friday on BBC1.

This is wrong in so many ways.

The original series was very much of the 1970s, expressing the decade's dawning dissatisfaction with corporate culture and - like The Good Life - offered a way of escaping from it.

Leonard Rossiter was an incomparable actor, always on the verge of going over the top but never quite doing so. The early episodes of Rising Damp defy comic gravity by getting funnier as the years go by.

And when I was in the sixth form we conversed largely in lines from Fawlty Towers and Reginald Perrin.

The new Reggie, Martin Clunes, is bullish about the new series:

Still, as useless as he finds comparisons in general, Clunes is prepared to make one himself, between the old Perrin and his new one. “I think this one’s funnier,” he says. “There are more jokes. It’s quicker paced.

If you’re measuring comedy by quantity, instead of anything else… But yes, I don’t think it’s as ponderous and melancholic.”

But the melancholy of the original series, and of the David Nobbs novel on which it was based, was precisely what made it stand out. This is true of many great comedies. Someone once said, rightly, of One Foot in the Grave that, funny as it was, you had the feeling that something terrible might happen at any moment.

David Nobbs is involved with the new series, which gives it some credibility, but the original producer is not impressed.

John Howard Davies - who also produced Fawlty Towers, Steptoe and Son and The Good Life - told the Daily Telegraph:
"My initial reaction to this remake was the same as quite a lot of people: why? I don't like remakes of programmes anyway. It's unimaginative. It's much better to start afresh with a blank sheet of paper. I think Martin Clunes is wonderful and he may save the day, but I'm pessimistic. I probably won't watch it. Comedy is like wine - it improves with age. And Leonard Rossiter [itals] was [itals] Reggie Perrin. He was the catalyst for the show's success."
[The fawlty italics tag is in the original.]

And he agrees about the distinctive quality of the original:
"It wasn't funny ha ha, it was always a thoughtful piece, and I wouldn't like to see that taken away. What made it different from normal situation comedy was that it raised one or two interesting points for the middle-aged man."
For a glimpse of John Howard Davies as a child star now read about Oliver Twist.

6 comments:

Hywel said...

Is it really so hard to write something new?

Still if it means there isn't the budget for another series of "Two pints..." it can't all be bad news.

Andy said...

I half agree with the post. I wouldn't mind someone remaking Reggie Perrin (the original of which I have on DVD and absolutely love, BTW) if they were to simply take out the things that are a bit dated now (probably the running joke about his mother in law, amongst other things) and to update the social commentary a bit (although you wouldn't need to do much, really), whilst keeping the melancholic nature of the original.

What I really don't see the point of is doing what Clunes claims they have done. Why not shit all over something else?

David said...

I shall not be watching it. The humour in FARORP as you say, largely arose from the chasm of despair and hopelessness, of long- littleness and failure that Perrin/Rossiter gazed into (an underlying tenet of so much great English humour - Hancock for instance) and his reaction to/against that. Sounds like the remake - I like Martin Clunes, but he will always be Gary playing disguises - will be all CJ's farting office cushion and very little elsem - gags not humour.

gclot said...

Apparently the farting chairs are not being used. Thats strange what on earth will they they do for jokes? One things for sure it won't be remembered in 30 years time.

Anonymous said...

Simon Nye is the best writer in little Britain, by which I mean that he is not just funny, and acute in his really funny observation - which is what you need to be funny. He is also able to put up with the withering negativity of the average Englishman who feels that everything is always steadily getting worse. In all spheres.
That David Nobbs, the original author is also involved, of course won't help the cause of the show. (The cause is art, by the way). We all know who Reginald Perrin is - he isn't the typical bloody victim of corporate psychopathy. No he was that actor from the seventies with the front-teeth expression and funny rolling eyes.

Jonathan said...

And there was me thinking they were remaking the show because they had run out of ideas.

I suggest you read David Nobbs' original novel, by the way. It is better than the television series.