The Reginald Perrin Page
Where did it spring from? Well, as a schoolboy David used to catch the 8.16 from Orpington to Chislehurst in Kent every weekday, and saw the same men in the same clothes with the same newspapers every day. The seed must have been planted then, to ripen when he read an article in a magazine about the launching of a new flavour of jam. It seemed so very, very boring for all the people involved.
The name Reggie came to him from his M.P. when he lived in Barnet – Reginald Maudling - and Perrin was the name of a boy in his prep school.
Perrin is quite a common name in France, especially in the wine trade in the Rhone area. You may remember the scene in which Reggie orders ravioli, followed by ravioli, followed by ravioli. When David went to Nice, he saw, on a hillside above the old town, a large factory with the name Perrin’s Ravioli! He had never been to Nice before, but had he once seen a French lorry with that on it? We’ll never know.
In the early 70s David was asked to contribute an idea for a series of half hour plays to be produced by BBC Pebble Mill. His idea about a food executive going bonkers was turned down. This was the luckiest moment in his career, though of course he didn’t realise it at the time. If it had been accepted, that is all it would have been, instead of three novels and three television series.
Filming of the first series was done largely in Dorset. The beach on which he left his clothes is West Bay, near Bridport. The safari park scene in which he gets out of his boiling car and approaches three lions was shot at Longleat Safari Park in a blazing heatwave. A coach party of Welsh pensioners entered tha park just as filming had started, and saw the lions. The coach pulled up, and they all took photos. What they didn’t know was the lions were actually BBC props men in lion skins. At that moment the director said ‘Cut’, and the props men did what props men do when directors say ‘Cut’. They lit up. As the pensioners took their photos, plumes of smoke emerged from the mouths of the three lions.
The shows were recorded in front of a studio audience at the BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane, London. The warm up man was Felix Bowness, who played the jockey in Hi-de-Hi. Each week he asked if there were any large parties in. One week there were 66 German textile manufacturers from Hamburg, and 62 Japanese shipbuilding executives from Kyoto. Fearing for the show’s fate, Felix asked, ‘Aren’t there any English parties in?’ ‘Oh yes,’ came a flat, whiny voice. ‘There are 59 of us. We’re the Milton Keynes Funeral Directors’ Association.’ It was one of the best audiences the show ever had. So much for stereotypes.
David remembers vividly the moment when he realised for the first time that he had a success on his hands. He was staying in a hotel in Leeds, called the Dragonara. Reception was on the second floor, and all there was on the ground floor was a large, bare foyer with some lifts at the end. Three men were waiting for the lifts. One of them said, ‘I’m going up the stairs. I didn’t get where I am today by hanging around waiting for lifts’ and the other two said, ‘Great’ and ‘Super’. David felt like dancing.
When the BBC asked for a second series, Leonard Rossiter said that he would only accept if David wrote another novel and he liked it. He felt that the show had a quality and richness which derived from the fact that it had begun life as a novel. David found the writing of the second novel quite difficult. He wanted it to be a tale about success and failure, in this instance about Reggie’s failure to stem his success! Clearly his success had to stem out of something absurd, and David made a long list of absurd products, none of which seemed strong enough to sustain the idea. Then he had the idea of selling them all, and the Grot shop was born.
The same process was applied with the third novel. Len was particularly excited by this, which, he felt, read extremely well, but in the television production, while it contained a few marvellous and even memorable moments, it seemed patchier than the first two series, less realistic in its portrait of a man in agony.
David feels now that the Legacy of Reginald Perrin, so many years later and set after Reggie’s death, was probably a mistake, but he had such a good time during the making of it that it is hard for him to regret it.
What amazes him is how the series has lived on in the memory, how the phrase ‘doing a Reggie’ is still used, how ‘I didn’t get where I am today’ still resonates. In 1976, at the outset, he would not have believed it possible.
Objective Productions revived Reginald Perrin in 2009, written by David with Simon Nye and starring Martin Clunes. While ‘Reggie’ wasn’t as successful as the original, David felt that it gave a new, modern take on the idea and was sorry that the BBC limited it to two series.