“The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin” is a British TV sitcom written by David Nobbs (based on his book) and starring Leonard Rossiter as Reggie Perrin. At 46, Reggie is bored with his everyday suburban life and work to the point that he starts sabotaging himself before faking his suicide with the intention of starting a new life.
Reggie, while making me laugh outwardly, leaves me with a sense of unease at the proximity of his circumstances (and their mundanity) to my own. Reggie essentially rebels – he becomes brash and brazen, even sparking an affair with his secretary which he cannot consummate through guilt. All of this spurs him on to fake his suicide. But starting a whole new life just makes him yearn for his old life.
By his various actions it is evident to that Reggie is battling with his mental health. This isn’t tackled directly in the TV show. The (first) book is much darker than the TV version: while not spelt out, Reggie’s depression is much more evident in my opinion. The book is less humorous because of it. The book even delves into other characters; mainly Reggie’s plump married daughter (Linda) who is lusted after by her Uncle (Jimmy – Reggie’s brother-in-law). Linda is disgusted by Jimmy, yet she allows him to have sex with her several times. He apologizes every time and every time she says it mustn’t happen again. Both are in unfulfilling relationships, both clearly acting out of depression. The darkness and desperation evident in the lives of Linda and Jimmy is probably why that part of the story didn’t make it into the TV version.
The TV show gives only brief coverage of Reggie’s attempts to find himself after the fake suicide. The first book goes into more depth, showing us various personas that Reggie tries on. He settles into a new life as a gardener but before too long he is leaning back towards his old life, realizing how much he misses his wife, Elizabeth. A chain of events leads to him attending his own memorial service as a long lost friend of Reggie’s. In that persona he is introduced to Elizabeth, who appears to fall for the persona but we find out later that she recognizes him (surprise!) and has decided that if he wants to not be Reggie any more it doesn’t matter to her if they can be together.
We are able to continue exploring Reggie’s condition in two subsequent seasons of the TV show (and accompanying books which I’ve not read). He continues to be self-destructive, firstly (season 2) with a business (Grot) selling totally useless/awful items which – against all odds – is a huge success, and then later (season 3) starts a commune which unsurprisingly fails. At the end of season 3, Reggie has no choice but to return to a job very similar to the one he left in season 1, and his realization of this sets him planning another fake(?) suicide.
I often think of one of Reggie’s final scenes. He is commuting to work on a crowded train, saying “Oh God” over and over in a tone of despair. His fellow commuters look at him not with sympathy but with suspicion. Some know his face – some even know his name – but none can bring themselves to offer a kind word or gesture.
No, depression is not funny.
(This post is labelled as “Part 1” to guarantee that there will never be a “Part 2”!)