The YouTube Files – Fairly Secret Army.

Fairly Secret Army (Channel 4, 1984-1986)

One of my favourite sitcoms from the 70s is The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (although I must admit I haven’t seen a huge amount of comedy shows from that era). This one wasn’t a spin-off as such, but it was written by David Nobbs, and also starred Geoffrey Palmer as a character that was almost identical to the one he played in that show.

So I was pleased when I saw that all of the episodes of Fairly Secret Army on YouTube, because it’s always a pleasure seeing Palmer do his thing (and he really does have a terrific voice), and also because this is from the time when Channel 4 were still experimenting with their home-made comedy and were struggling to establish a successful format, something that they wouldn’t achieve for a while yet. vlcsnap-00928

Palmer played Henry Truscott, who is a retired army officer, but he still seems to think that he is a significant figure in the army and talks in a rather unusual and old-fashioned style, speaking in short sentences, ending them with “message received and understood”, and making memorable observations like “treacherous chaps, women”. vlcsnap-00929

Henry feels that he needs to find a purpose in life, so he becomes the self-appointed leader of a secret army, in case, as he puts it, “the balloon goes up”, something that he is convinced is about to happen. He’ll try and save Britain all by himself, or with a few recruits at least. Although they are rather hard to come by, not many people can be found who share his rather odd world view, apart from a few old army mates, including Sergeant Major Throttle. vlcsnap-00925

Henry does feel that he has got to grab the opportunity though, but he stumbles from one mishap to the next and is doomed to failure. Fairly Secret Army was made on location and features no laughter, but barely any critics or viewers took much notice of the show at the time, and the ones that did seemed to think that it was a bit of a cock-up on the comedy front. But then, they were always tricky blighters. vlcsnap-00951

That didn’t stop the show returning for a second series, but viewers continued to be rather unmoved which was disappointing, and there has been no DVD release. This was still a better variation on the idea than The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin though. Palmer would have further comedy success though in the long-running sitcom As Time Goes By, and would collaborate with Nobbs again for the enjoyable radio sitcom The Maltby Collection.

The Comedy Vault – The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin.

The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (BBC1, 1976-1979)

I’m not really that big a fan of 70s sitcoms (before my time etc), but this is one of my favourites from that era, and here’s how I discovered it. In the early-90s something rather strange happened to BBC1, they seemed to have run out of comedy shows, and around this time a lot of old ones were repeated in primetime. These included Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and Citizen Smith, well over a decade after they had ended. Another sitcom given this treatment was The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin which I remember had something of an impact on me has I had hardly seen another comedy show like it.

Reggie (played by Leonard Rossiter) works in an unrewarding role as a manager at Sunshine Desserts. His routine is always the same. We see him walking along the same streets, he always arrives to work 11 minutes late because of a problem with the train, he always has to deal with his boss CJ whose observations on life are rather baffling and he uses the show’s most famous catchphrase “I didn’t get where I am today…” by justifying them. He also has to put up with his family including his wife Elizabeth and his brother-in-law Jimmy who has always “had a bit of a cock-up”. vlcsnap-00225

At the age of 46, Reggie is beginning to get rather frustrated with where he is in life. He begins to have increasingly odd thoughts about his wife and his secretary Joan, and he is losing his grip on reality. This leads to some strange fantasy sequences including imagining his mother-in-law as a hippo. He has had enough of being trapped in this never-changing world of nonsense, train delays, and tiresome yes-men who think that everything is “super” for what becomes weeks, months, and eventually years, and he finally decides to do something about it. vlcsnap-00344

So one day Reggie fakes his own death by leaving some clothes on a beach and walking off to a new life. He does eventually return to his family however and starts a new business selling useless items, and the show eventually ran for three series as he struggles to try and make some sense of his life. Around the same time as this show Leonard Rossiter was also starring in Rising Damp (widely regarded as one of ITV’s greatest sitcoms), but I always preferred his performance in this show myself. vlcsnap-00206

After concluding in 1979, in 1996 it was decided to revive the show as The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin. Reggie has died for real now and most of the original cast (and catchphrases) returned to discover that they could only inherit his money if they combined to do something absurd. This series was something of a letdown by comparison though. All of these series have been released on DVD, and extras include the Comedy Connections documentary made about the show. vlcsnap-00322

The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin was based on a book that was written by David Nobbs, who went on to further success by creating more comedy shows including Channel 4’s Fairly Secret Army (starring Geoffrey Palmer in a role very similar to his Jimmy character) and ITV’s A Bit Of A Do (which starred David Jason). He was also behind a sitcom on BBC Radio 4 called The Maltby Collection that I enjoyed listening to recently which again showed how good Nobbs was at capturing the British eccentric and their strange turns of phrase. vlcsnap-00362

In the 80s there was a short-lived version on American TV called Reggie, and about a decade ago the series was revived again on BBC1, this time called Reggie Perrin and starring Martin Clunes in the lead role. This was justified by saying that the struggles that the original Reggie went through are still as relevant today, but it just wasn’t in the same league as the original and it ended quietly after two series.