The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin: Rise, Rise, Fall


Portrait of a middle-aged man suffering from severe depression

I was first introduced to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin in hospital in the summer of 1977, whilst in pain.
I’d been unhurriedly rushed in on Saturday to have my appendix removed, and I spent the next week recovering to the extent that I could be let out. I had a big slit under my belly, held together by stitches, which hurt when I moved, and that included when I laughed.
On the Tuesday night, a couple of mates I’d known since school came to visit me, bringing with them another of our old schoolmates, who was already making a name for himself as a gifted musician. Oggy was also a natural comedian in private, his whole conversation being witty, sarcastic, bitchy, ironic and insulting in various degrees: he could say the most awful thing to your face and you wouldn’t take the slightest offence because you were laughing too hard at what he’d said. Even my mother.
For an hour, I underwent torture by Oggy, who was his usual self, whilst I lay on the bed, gasping and wincing, with one hand clasped either side of the bandage against the seeming possibility of it all coming apart.
Having survived that assault without physical injury, I decided I could risk a television sitcom, and the one that was on BBC1 at 8.30pm was The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.
Apart from the fact that it was the first series, in repeat before the second series appeared, literally weeks later, I can’t remember what episode it was, but I quickly got to grips with the set-up, and had enough of a laugh to stick with it for the rest of the series, and the two which followed.
Reginald Perrin is one of those sitcoms that sticks in the mind as classics, remembered to this day. It starred Leonard Rossiter, who was already known for the part of the cheap, sleazy, bigoted landlord Rigsby in Yorkshire TV’s Rising Damp, and who became a national star for this role, and was written by David Nobbs, already a veteran television scripter and novelist, who adapted each series in turn from his own Reginald Perrin novels.
I still have fond memories of the series, but my feelings about it were mixed by the third and final series, which was flat and unfunny until it’s literal last five minutes, which were suddenly hilarious but which exposed to a greater degree than was comfortable the mechanics of the series, shattering the illusion of the comedy for me, right back to the beginning.
Thankfully, this was an isolated case, but it was like the traditional line and about sausages and the law: things we can enjoy until we see how they are made.
So, what was Reginald Perrin and what burst the bubble?
In the beginning, it was a novel, The Death of Reginald Perrin, though I suspect that David Nobbs wrote it with television in anticipation: he certainly spoke at one point about writing it with Ronnie Barker in mind for the title part, and the paperback, renamed after the series, carried a quote from Barker, “I have read this book in one sitting. I laughed 283 times and cried twice. three days later, I still feel I am Reggie Perrin”.
Perrin was a middle-aged, middle-class executive, head of sales for Sunshine Desserts, a company making ices, mousses and trifles. He lived on an estate in a commuter suburb, travelled into London by train each day. He was married, with two adult children. He was permanently fatigued, unmotivated, bored, depressed and (in the book) impotent.

I didn’t get where I am today by eschewing catch-phrases

As the story progresses, Perrin’s depression worsens. His life is a series of pointless repetitions, he is surrounded by idiots: his boss, CJ, the incompetent company medic Doc Morrissey, his assistants Tony (‘Great!’) and David (‘Super’). He fancies his secretary. He imagines his mother-in-law as a hippopotamus every time her name is mentioned. His son-in-law is a boring Estate Agent with a fund of dull pet-names for daughter Linda, advanced ideas on parenting, political correctness and a habit of making nettle wine and other atrocities. His brother-in-law is a terse-speaking Army man forever borrowing food.
So Reggie decides to commit suicide. Or rather to fake his own suicide by leaving his clothes on a beach, and creating a new life for himself from scratch. After some failed attempts, he drifts along to his own memorial services, disguised with a beard, pretending to be an old friend of Reggie, just returned from South America.
Everybody praises Reggie to him. No-one recognises him (except Linda and, silently, Elizabeth). As Martin Sheppard, he is offered, and takes, Reggie’s old job at Sunshine Desserts.
A sitcom about middle-age depression, especially such a severe case, was revolutionary for the late Seventies. Naturally, in many ways, the TV series was softened from the novel, but it remained surprisingly faithful to the original story.
Apart from Rossiter in the title part, the series benefited from a very strong supporting cast, playing characters who were, in their differing ways, as set in their grooves as Reggie, except that they are not aware of the trap they are in, and see no problem with it.
Notable amongst these were Pauline Yates as Elizabeth Perrin, playing an anchor role as the caring wife who seems oblivious to her husband’s despair, but who is sensitive enough to recognise how unhappy he is, and to play along to his new identity, hoping it makes him happier. John Barron, a sitcom veteran, played Reggie’s boss, CJ, and Geoffrey Palmer played his first distinctive role as brother-in-law Jimmy.

I’m not a repeated lines person

The second series was based on the sequel novel The Return of Reginald Perrin. It began with Reggie, still disguised as Martin, living Reggie’s life but content with it. No-one at the rapidly failing Sunshine Desserts has recognised him, until he has to have an examination by drunken, incompetent Doc Morrissey.
The Doc immediately recognised Martin as Reggie and reported him to CJ, who sacked Martin on the spot, along with Morrissey.
Reggie tried to pick up one of his interim lives, as a pig-herder, but found his public exposure barred him from that. Rejected by a society he’d originally determined to reject, Reggie – with Elizabeth’s support – out his efforts into one last absurdity: Grot.
Grot was a shop that would sell only completely useless things: square hula hoops, stringless tennis rackets, Tom’s wines. It was rubbish and it was meant to be rubbish, but to Reggie’s horror it was looked on as cool, and in. Grot became a massive success.
In an attempt to destroy his unwanted success, Reggie took on everyone from Sunshine Desserts, which had recently collapsed. He brought in Tom and Jimmy. But every one of these natural square pegs formed square holes around themselves, talking Grot higher and higher, and all deeply grateful to Reggie for their chances to matter, to succeed.
There was only one possible ending. As Grot mounted higher, Reggie decided on another fake suicide, this time with Elizabeth in hand. They left their clothes on a beach, dressed up as tramps and walked away. But when they looked back, the beach was full of people, leaving piles of clothes and dressing as tramps. If it worked for Reggie Perrin…

Bit of a cock-up on the catch-phrase front

The second series saw Reginald Perrin at its peak. The characters were all well-defined and beautifully inhabiting their roles, the lines were funny, the underlying setting and its unwanted success was ingenious, and the ending both inevitable and satisfying.
But things come in threes, and Nobbs was already hard at work at the final Reggie Perrin book, The Better World of Reginald Perrin, and adapting it for the third and final series.
I can’t remember if I read the novel first, or watched the series: either way, I was not impressed with book or television adaptation.
Because the third series was so much of a disappointment, I retain fewer memories of it. In essence, with the money derived from Grot, Reggie tried to do something worthwhile, creating a kind of University for the middle-aged, the mature, enabling them to learn, grow, develop.
This University was set in a middle class house, in a middle class neighbourhood, surrounded by middle class residents who, frankly, disapproved and resented this monstrosity in their midst, and eventually rioted against it.
Having lost all his money, Reggie is forced back into employment in London, at Amalgamated Aerosols , this one run by FJ (John Barron in a curly wig, with sideburns), the elder brother of CJ. FJ pretends to be totally different from his brother with his verbal foibles, only to be a virtual copy, and the new company was a virtual replica of Sunshine Desserts.
For the last ten minutes of this episode, I laughed like a drain, to the climactic scene as Reggie, in his mind, sees the beach where he will leave his clothes, this time, impliedly, for real.
Why didn’t the last series work? Why did that last ten minutes work so well?

Great!

I couldn’t immediately answer the first question, although it didn’t take me too long to work it out. In the majority of the thirds series, Nobbs reversed the flow of the entire series. Reginald Perrin was based on depression, and negative feelings and situations, people caught in repetitive and ultimately meaningless roles. The humour was appropriately negative, snide, sarcastic and ironic in various degrees. The second series had worked so brilliantly because the whole purpose of Reggie’s actions was to fail, with success as an unwanted, to-be-feared outcome.

Super

But the third book/series was about Reggie doing something that he saw as good, as helpful, as meaningful, something he wanted to succeed, unreservedly. But the humour was built upon, and remained consistent with the negativity underlying the first two series.
Furthermore, Nobbs undermined the fictional reality of his world when he worked all the supporting cast into Reggie’s new venture. They were idiots, and not just idiots but Reggie saw them as idiots. A series before, he’d brought them into Grot specifically to destroy it, yet here he was bringing in the same characters to make a success of something in which he believed. It really didn’t fit. Everything undermined the very heart of what made the series funny.
But the other question was easy to answer: too easy, in fact, and too revealing. It worked because Nobbs reset the defaults. He put Reggie back full circle. A new, attractive secretary. An idiotic, self-important boss. Two phoney assistants, who, instead of saying ‘Great!’ and ‘Super’ to everything, said ‘Magnificent’ and Terrific’.
It was funny because it was the start of the series, unchanged. But in itself, it was very simple catch-phrase comedy. The new characters were nothing but a collection of catch-phrases.
The horrifying thing was that everybody else who had populated the series from the beginning stood exposed as the same. Tom with his ‘I’m not a (    ) person’. Jimmy’s ‘Bit of a cock-up on the catering front’. CJ’s ‘I didn’t get where I am today by…’. Tony’s ‘Great!’ and David’s ‘Super’. Reggie’s daily ‘I won’t’ to Elizabeth’s ‘Have a good day’, and his daily announcement to Joan, ‘Eleven/Seventeen/Twenty-two minutes late’ before reciting BR’s latest absurd reason for delay.
Catch-phrase comedy from beginning to end.
And that spoiled it for me. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin not only ceased to be funny but, in an odd, backwards sweeping sense, ceased to have ever been funny.
Sadly, Leonard Rossiter died in 1984, denying us any further performances of the quality of Reggie Perrin (the series may have turned to ashes in my mind, but, like Rising Damp, Rossiter’s performance remained a gem). An American version, titled Reggie, starring Richard Mulligan, formerly of Soap, as Reggie Potter was a one-season flop, as was a 2009 revival starring Martin Clunes, which got two series despite substantial critical and commercial disdain for the first.
Even Nobbs himself tried a revival with 1996’s The Legacy of Reginald Perrin, with virtually all the supporting cast repeating their roles after Reggie’s death, but it was like a lion-tamer’s show without the lion, and I bailed after one episode.
I suspect that, if I were to watch repeats of the first or second series, I would find little to amuse me. Having seen through the mechanics, the constant repetition of the same phrases and sayings would merely be dull, and it would be a question of whether those moments when the series took off in an individual direction were sufficient to sustain interest. Yet it has to be said that The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was a landmark series for its subject matter, and deserves credit for making genuine comedy out of such things.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1982


Justice League of America 207, “Crisis Times Three!”/All-Star Squadron 14, “The Mystery Men of October”/Justice League of America 208, “The Bomb-Blast Heard ‘Round the World!”/All-Star Squadron 15, “Master of Worlds and Time!”/Justice League of America 209, “Let Old Acquaintances be Forgot…” Written by Gerry Conway (Justice League of America) and Roy Thomas (All-Star Squadron), art by Don Heck (pencils Justice League of America, inks 209), Adrian Gonzalez (pencils All-Star Squadron), Romeo Tanghal (inks JLA 207), Sal Trapani (inks JLA 208), Jerry Ordway (inks All-Star Squadron) edited by Len Wein.

Another year has come round and the Justice Society prepare to transport to Earth-1. Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Starman, Power Girl and Huntress arrive first and go on ahead of their team-mates. But on the Justice League satellite, it is the Earth-3 Crime Syndicate who appear and attack Superman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Firestorm and Zatanna.
The battle is brief and the victorious Syndicate steal a rocket to descend to Earth-1. They discuss evening the score with Per Degaton, an Earth-2 foe of the JSA.
Who, meanwhile, have found themselves in the interdimensional limbo prison the Syndicate have occupied since 1964. The bubble was designed to defeat equivalents of Green Lantern and Superman, but not of Starman or Doctor Fate, whose powers eventually free the JSA. But instead of landing on Earth-1, they find themselves on Earth-Prime, in a New York devastated years ago by some kind of holocaust. Green Lantern’s ring detects the emanations of Degaton.
Back on the satellite, the JLA come to, rescue each other and repair the satellite. Rather than pursue the Syndicate, they transport to Earth-2, to discover what’s happened to the JSA. But their headquarters are in ruins, neglected for years: forty years to be precise. Outside, Earth-2 is ruled by the fascist hand of Degaton: the appearance of the League causes the frightened population to scream for Degaton’s police.
After a brief battle, the victorious JLA decide they must go back to 1942 to find out how this has happened. They arrive at a pristine JSA HQ just as five costumed characters open the door: they are complete strangers to the League but we know them as five members of the war-time All-Star Squadron.
End of Part One


On Earth-2 in 1947, Per Degaton dreams of being an Emperor, ruling a coliseum in which, at his order, the superheroes of the Golden Age battle each other, until his employer, Professor Zee, stumbles into the stadium, shouting to the heroes that Degaton is their enemy: they turn upon him and he wakes up, sweating.
But the dreams has unlocked Degaton’s memories of his previous battles against the JSA, battles lost in time-loops that left them as never-happening. Determined not to fail a third time, Degaton arrives at Zee’s laboratory, where his Time Machine is (again) ready for its maiden journey. Shooting, and this time killing, the Professor, Degaton prepares carefully for conquest.
He travels forward to 1982, via a slight sideways lurch caused by a timestorm, which takes him to Earth-Prime, where superheroes are only comic book characters. Returning to the timestream, Degaton discovers the timestorm pulling him into limbo, to the Crime Syndicate’s prison.
Anticipating an attack, Degaton protects himself then offers the Syndicate a deal: do his tasks and he will release them. The Syndicate agree, and Degaton transports everyone to Earth-2 in October 1962 – the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By having the Syndicate steal the Russian missiles from Cuba, Kruschev cannot remove them in accordance with President Kennedy’s ultimatum, nor does the young statesman believe the Russian Premier’s implausible tale of flying strangers in colourful costumes taking the missiles away.
Degaton tows the missiles away with the Time Machine, intent on threatening Earth-2 with them. The Syndicate try to attack him but he is once again prepared, and returns them to their limbo prison.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2 in 1942, three members of the All-Star Squadron, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle and the new Firebrand, get back to New York from San Francisco just in time to tackle Nuclear the Magnetic Marauder. With the aid of fellow members Robotman and Commander Steel,  Nuclear is overcome.
The quintet decide to hold an informal meeting. With the JSA enlisted in the Services as civilians, Hawkman has authorised them to use JSA HQ, but as Belle unlocks the door, they find five costumed strangers inside.
End of Part Two


Naturally, the two sides believe each other are interlopers/enemies and fight, until Superman silences everyone with a shout. Calmed down, explanations are exchanged.
Once everyone is up to date, a phone call summons the Squadron to meet President Roosevelt at the White House. The League accompany them, and FDR takes the idea of them being from a parallel Earth in his stride: there are more important things to worry about. Using future technology, Degaton issues a video ultimatum to all the world leaders, warning them that he has the already-sought nuclear weapons and will demonstrate one the following day.
History is supposed to be unchangeable, and the League know Degaton didn’t win in 1942 on Earth-2. But given the presence of the timestorm, maybe he could…
Meanwhile, the JSA are touring the devastation of Earth-Prime New York, dealing with its deformed and animalistic inhabitants, until they find one old enough to tell them what happened in October 1962, and how the fearful Kennedy finally pushed the button, leading to nuclear destruction. Doctor Fate correctly deduces that somehow Degaton was behind the missing missiles.
Back on Earth-2 in 1942, the heroes convene at Degaton’s observation point, above the Atlantic Ocean. A nuclear missile is detonated and the 1942 heroes are astounded at its unprecedented force. Suddenly, a bubble appears in the middle of the blast zone, containing the JSAers en route from Earth-Prime 1982. The heroes rescue them, the Squadroneers seeing some familiar, if aged faces.
Degaton, in his bunker, is content if not pleased. The bomb did not destroy the heroes but it has demonstrated his power to the World Governments, who will have to surrender to him. Then he will crush the hated Squadron.
End of Part Three


Fifteen heroes from two worlds and different times gather and trade explanations, then return to the White House in time for Degaton’s second broadcast, in which he demands that all the world’s governments cede complete authority to him. Given the destruction Degaton can rain on America, Roosevelt decides that, unless the heroes can prove to him that all the missiles are gone, he will resign the Presidency to Degaton.
The heroes split up (at last). Superman, Doctor Fate and Robotman track down Degaton’s space satellite only to find Ultraman defending it, the Syndicate having apparently agreed to assist him again. Despite Ultraman using Kryptonite (which enhances his powers) the trio render him unconscious and out of the fight.
In the Pacific, near Japan, Aquaman, Starman and Liberty Belle destroy three missiles in a hidden base of Degaton’s, despite opposition from Superwoman.
In the midwest, Hawkman, the Huntress and Johnny Quick find three more disguised as grain solos and dismantle these whilst battling Power Ring.
Degaton fulminates against his three failed minions, but he still has the most impregnable base of all, and if he can’t conquer Earth-2, he will destroy all of them.
End of Part Four.


Nine successful heroes return to the White House to remind each other of the stakes in play, not only here but on Eath-Prime. Two teams are still out there.
In Geneva, Firestorm, Power Girl and Commander Steel enter neutral territory to neutralise Degaton’s next little missile nest, succeeding despite the efforts of the Syndicate’s Johnny Quick.
With all twenty-seven rockets now accounted for, everything turns on Degaton’s next move. His headquarters has been identified, in a daring location very near Washington, but the final team is currently working on saving Earth-Prime, and the risk of new paradoxes is very high…
What Zatanna, Green Lantern and Firebrand have done is to go to the JSA’s scientist friends, Professors Everson and Zee, who are working on trying to build the Time Machine. Zee is astonished to hear about the bumbling, ineffectual Degaton (who has not reported for work today).  Between them, Green Lantern and Zatanna complete the machine and use it to travel ahead to 1962, and cross to Cuba on Earth-Prime. They are there to see the sky tear open and the Syndicate emerge.
But back on Earth-2 in 1942, the remaining heroes converge on Degaton’s secret base, on the banks of the Potomac, underneath the construction work going into building the future Pentagon. They not only take out the would-be dictator, whose men surrender abjectly, but the Huntress prevents Owlman from escaping too.
Then, on Earth-Prime, the last trio battle the Syndicate and defeat them. Degaton tries to run, to get back to 1947 in the Time Machine but Zatanna halts him. Whilst the others send the Syndicate back to their limbo, the smashing of Degaton’s plans has the same effect it always does. History reverts, everyone returns to their rightful place in time and space, all memory of the incident fading as it is, once more, contained within a timeloop.
The All-Star Squadron return to New York. Degaton goes back to work in Zee’s lab with the same words as always, the Syndicate in their timeless limbo, and the JSA turn up on the satellite for the annual get-together. Only Power Girl seems disturbed by anything, enough to let Firestorm get his arms round her at last.
* * * * *
Surprisingly, for the longest team-up story ever, involving five issues, two series, two creative teams, three super-hero teams, three time-eras, three parallel Earths, a reference to an earlier team-up and enough real and counterfactual history to stuff a chicken with, this story is actually surprisingly sensible and straightforward. It is, of course, another Degaton story, to add to the one from All-Star Comics 35, and the one Thomas had already written for All-Star Squadron 1-3, which means that any literate comics reader knew how it would end from the moment Degaton’s name was mentioned by the Crime Syndicate.
I’m not going to pick this effort apart to the extent I have been doing in respect of recent stories, because there is less to complain about. Despite the fact that neither Gerry Conway nor Roy Thomas, for different reasons, impress me as writers, and despite the fact that, without ragging on him in the unmerciful way so many did, I don’t like Don Heck’s art. Despite the fact that, after complaining about the growing elephantiasis of the recent three-parters, this is actually a five part story. Because, for once, the writers have given themselves an adventure of genuinely epic proportions, and even though the latter part is just a series of missions intended to keep all the fifteen heroes visible, this time the space is a necessary element of the story’s breadth.
What I will say is that, yet again, the Justice Society play the minor role in all of this. When these team-ups began, this was due to the fact that, as guests, the JSA were not allowed to outshine the stars, but once the team-up was opened to a ‘third force’, gradually the Society slid into becoming the junior members of any such threeway. They became staid, old hat, the emphasis now shifting to the newbies.
This is further emphasised in 1982 by the fact that the ‘third force’ not only has its own series, but that the story involves that series in a crossover. The tone is struck by the story having twin opening episodes, one in each series, showing how the League and the Squadron come to their first meeting from both directions.
The Society, who lack a series base of their own, are second banana in both introductions, a point emphasised subsequently by having the majority of the story based in 1942 on Earth-2, the Squadron’s home turf. The JSA start off by being diverted into imprisonment, from where they go on to discover the devastation that’s affected Earth-Prime, but their adventures are not merely a sideshow, a parallel track, but a wholly uninteresting and uninvolving one: they fight deformed humans and killer vegetation but it has no ultimate purpose other than to spin wheels until they can be integrated into the main story, which is not until three issues of five have gone by.
Another of the key instances affecting the later team-ups  is the limited number of slots available for the JSA, and the consequent rigidity of roles. Involving a ‘third force’ led to the situation where numbers had to be rationed (especially as the changing mores of the superhero comic demanded more emphasis on character rather than plot, a development welcomed by the inrush of fans-turned-writers and -artists, who had no concept of the strict professionalism of their forerunners.)
What was worse was the continuing insistence on exact matches, so that there had to be the same number of Leaguers and Squadroneers as there were JSAers, an artificial, rigid structure that added to the sense of formularisation.
This reaches a kind of nadir here when the heroes break up into teams. Five from each team dictates five missions, each with an exact spread of teams, further compounded by there being exactly five Crime Syndicate members, spawning one villain per mission. The natural fluidity of life is dispensed with,and it’s impossible not to envision the authors ticking boxes.
And again, how do you choose teams? What, for instance, was the rationale for putting both magic-wielders together and pairing them with the incongruous Firebrand? Is there an internal logic to this or is it all done by the equivalent of dealing out Happy Families cards?
Having raised that, I have nothing else to say than to applaud Conway and Thomas on a decent story, done decently, though I can’t pretend that I warm to this adventure as I do to those of Fox and Wein, which fill my criteria for the kind of League/Society team-up I want to read. I have problems with the writings of each, but Conway’s laziness in construction is barely in evidence, whilst Thomas’s frequently sterile obsession with past continuity is, for once, put almost wholly to the service of the story instead of being allowed to accumulate in lumps, tripping up everyone all over the place.
In terms of post-Crisis viability, the main story could be almost wholly retained as a purely time-travel adventure, although the Earth-Prime element would have to either be deleted or else in some way absorbed into the single timestream. And if it were not, where would the Justice Society fit in?

A Bloody Embarrassment: Don’t Wait until Saturday


As anticipated, Droylsden were tonight beat at home, 2-1 by King’s Lynn Town. But the unexpected 1-0 victory by Barwell over play-off place chasers Ashton United has ended any significance for Saturday’s game at FC United of Manchester: withh eleven games remaining, Droylsden are now 35 points behind 20th place Barwell. As at Tuesday 25 February, Droylsden are officially relegated from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division.

I haven’t actually checked, but I’m assuming that that’s the first official, confirmed relegation of the 2013/2014 seaso, and the first settled outcome in English football this season – hell’s bells, it isn’t even the League Cup Final until Sunday!

There’s nothing to actually say. Tonight’s crowd was apparently 118, presumably all Droylsden fans and my sympathy goes out to them, especially old friends. I’ve said all I intend to say about Dave Pace.

This is a ridiculous time to start planning for next season.

Salamander: Further Appraisal


An unsurprisingly disposable wife

Two further episodes of Salamander were broadcast last night, taking up to the halfway point of the series, and I wanted just to record a couple of thoughts to supplement my piece last week.

I said that the worst thing about the programme was that it would never do anything to surprise me and – SPOILER ALERT – it totally didn’t surprise me with the ending of episode 6. Frankly, was anyone going to be the least bit surprised that there was a car bomb in Gerardi’s new, snazzy car, and that it would go off with his wife behind the wheel, killing her but not him?

In the first week of the series, there was a Guardian interview with writer Ward Hulselmans, contrasting his work with the Scandi-dramas, and with some disdain. “In Belgium they reached a very small public, they were scheduled late in the evening. They were very serious, very dark. I write for a big audience.” Well, Mynheer Huselmans, they don’t give their audience the kind of tired cliches you’ve been trotting out for us so far.

To be fair, the series did manage to avoid one cliche in episode 6. Karin Dasenberg made it increasingly clear that she wanted to shag Gerardi in a pretty enthusiastic manner. Gerardi had saved himself for the moment by agreeing to work for the secret, state-preservation cell, P9, a name chosen presumably for the echoes of the infamous Italian Maonic Lodge, P2. They’d told him about Sarah’s infidelity with Cassimon, and they encouraged him to fuck Karin’s brains out, to keep her onside.

Gerardi went as far as getting Karin’s tits out (a brave performance by actress Ann Ceurvels, who is no longer young) before deciding he couldn’t go through with it, that he loved his wife too much to cheat on her. The maverick detective doesn’t shag around: well, I never. Though it’s just another part of establishing Gerardi as the only moral person in this entire affair.

Incidentally, there was more nudity on display in episode 5, from the rather younger Sura Dohnke, playing Sabrina, a casual pick-up of Joachim, the bank robbery leader, who discovers that he’s not what he seems and is promptly murdered for it. A direct steal from The Day of the Jackal, the Jackal and Colette de Montpellier (Huselmana even steals the method, strangulation).

And, having returned to this subject, let me also say that I find Filip Peeter’s almost-emotionless portrayal of Gerardi to be exceedingly dull, leading to the series having a lifeless feel to it.

Nevertheless, I’ve started so I’ll finish, much as I did with that heap of shit, The Tunnel. Mynheer Huselmams is already writing a second series, so I’m mildly curious as to what he’s going to leave by way of set-up, but he really is a dull writer, without an original idea in him to support that self-aggrandising, “I write for big audiences.”

A Bloody Embarrassment (updated)


Since writing about Droylsden’s predicament four weeks ago, things have got better, and worse, for the Bloods.

On the good side,a week ago today, the club scored its third point of the season, and its first away from home, with a 2-2 draw at Barwell, bringing to an end a run of 27 straight defeats in all competitions. And it could have been better, but for conceding a 94th minute equaliser after being 2-0 up with less than ten minutes to go.

However, the Bloods were back to this season’s norm with a 4-0 home thrashing by Marine this afternoon which leads them trembling on the official brink.

Droylsden entertain Kings Lynn Town on Tuesday night (a hell of a drive for their fans). If they were to lose that game, that will remove any margin for error. Lose to Kings Lynn on Tuesday, and lose again next Saturday, and Droylsden will be relegated – mathematically and officially – on 1 March 2014. They will probably be the first team in the country, at any level, to be relegated this season.

And, by an odd coincidence, I plan to be there, because Droylsden will be away to FC United of Manchester, and i booked that day as leave months ago, never expecting that it would have this kind of significance.

It might not be significant at all. Droylsden might beat Kings Lynn. They might beat FC. And Frickley Athletic might beat Barwell at home next Saturday afternoon, in which case not all the wins in the world can save Droylsden.

The first year I went back to Droylsden, the Bloods were relegated from this very Division: that was the other season of conceding 100 League goals. Though I’m going to support FC United – the very last team under the sun that most Bloods’ fans would want to be sending them down – the coincidence of the occasion will leave me with very mixed feelings indeed.

Theatre Nights: The Face


The Face: Sandman Mystery Theatre  5-8. Dramatis personae: Matt Wagner (writer), John Watkiss (artist).
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
The Face develops an immediate change of pace by relating Dian Belmont’s thoughts as its narrative device. With few exceptions, for most of its run, the Mystery Theatre‘s plays would follow this alternating pattern between Wes and Dian.
Though we don’t immediately learn this, some weeks have passed since the events of The Tarantula, during which Dian – who has not seen anything of the enigmatic Mr Dodds – appears to have slid back from her ‘awakening’.
Dian’s thoughts read more like her diary account of what happens. Certainly, the beginning echoes the first play: she and the girls are out for the night but, instead of the more familiar Harlem setting, Dian has taken her friends to an older haunt of some years before, Chinatown. And immediately she is confronted with the reason she used to come here so often, and the reason she has avoided this place for three years: Jimmy Shan, lawyer, former lover, Chinese-American.
Jimmy’s here on legal business, though he presses her to call him, something about which Dian is definitely uncertain, though her friends, seeing only the exoticism of so different a man, are far more sure of what she should do.
But Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao, to give him his real name – is here representing a family, or faction, or, dare we whisper it, Tong, the Lei Feng, at a meeting with their rival, the Huo Yubai, over bad blood developing between the two Tongs, bad blood based, it seems, on the vulgar, racist comedy of a Lei Feng stand-up whose act consists of jokes about the Huo Yubai. Jimmy is a peace negotiator, his eye set on a future in which his people can enter more fully into American life, and gain from so doing.
What he doesn’t know is that it is already too late. As the girls leave the restaurant to return to America, on a cold, misty, February night, one admires a face-mask attached to a telegraph pole, a culture so alien to her. Against Dian’s advice, she takes it down to study more closely. It was holding in place a severed human head.
So it begins. And though Dian knows it not, a familiar gas-masked figure is already on hand, eavesdropping on Jimmy’s meeting.
Let’s say it now: racism. Racism, which, as we have already seen, can exist between the two Tongs, but mostly the every day, unchecked, unconsidered racism between white skins and yellow. And at the heart of this play is Zhang Chai Lao,who calls himself Jimmy Shan when he is in the white world. Zhang/Jimmy: who believes himself to be part of both worlds, who wants to be a bridge by which his old world can merge into his new world, but who will find himself, ultimately, lost to both. The Face is built on his story, and it is a tragedy.
Overt racism is represented by Larry Belmont as much as, if not more than others. Larry seems to hate the Chinese, and loathe having to have to meet them, and he certainly hates Jimmy (it is never disclosed to what extent this is to do with Jimmy’s relationship with Dian, though that element is clearly important). For the most part, though open, it’s casual, such as the girl’s innocent ignorance in the opening scene, but a much more covert racism underlies the whole story.
This takes the form of the charitable drive, spearheaded by white businessmen Herbert Ross and Avery Benson, to build a new school in Chinatown. Ross is the mover and driver in this, and whilst he’s clearly sincere in his purpose, in the atmosphere of this story, it’s impossible not to see Ross and Benson as patronising of the inferior and heathen Chinee.
Though it’s not a conscious part of their thinking, Ross and Benson are clearly undertaking their part of Kipling’s ‘White Man’s Burden’.
It’s at the fundraiser that Dian meets Jimmy/Zhang for the second time in quick succession. Jimmy is Ross and Benson’s lawyer and liaison to Chinatown, and here we see him as the man with a foot in both worlds, smooth and confident, especially in his approach to Dian.
Dian is also re-united with Wesley Dodds for the first time since The Tarantula, impliedly several weeks ago (Dian’s ‘diary’ commentary specifies that this play is taking place in February 1938, whilst Wesley’s narration eschewed any dates).
There’s clearly an interest between the two, though we ‘hear’ nothing of Wesley’s thoughts at this stage. The relationship has no romantic elements yet, especially in the face of Dian’s emotional confusion over Jimmy/Zhang. He does seem to be mildly disapproving of Jimmy, though not on racist grounds: having spent most of his life in the Orient, Wesley tells Dian that in many ways, she’s more strange to him than Jimmy (a wonderfully seductive moment). No, it’s not Wesley that’s suspicious of Zhang, it’s the Sandman, who has eavesdropped on the Chinatown meeting at which Jimmy seeks to play peacemaker.
Because this is Dian’s story, we see nothing of Wesley’s dreams, an odd omission, given that it is the premise of the Mystery Theatre. Interestingly, though there is plenty of Sandman without Dian, the audience stands back from him, watching without entering into the motives of his actions, except to the extent he speaks them aloud.
Because there is a Tong War brewing, and being brewed by an agent provocateur, apparently at the hire of Herbert Ross: but what game is Ross playing if, fervent in his charitable purposes, he is at the same time undermining their chance of success?
This agent is the Face of the title: for the majority of the plays in this series, this will be the case. Like Roger Goodman, he is the perpetrator though not the mind behind the crimes the Sandman seeks to end and punish. He’s a hired killer, name unknown, his title recognising that he is a master of disguise. When stripped of his false faces and make-up, we never get to properly see him, beyond the fact that his hair is wispy, and patchy, and his face looks as if he has suffered a chemical accident some time previously.
But the Face has a curious relationship with his body, talking to himself as if to a lover, praising his beauty and his strength until we are clear that this is someone whose marbles aren’t all in the ring.
This narcissistic regard for his body and face, the endearments addressed to himself as if to a lover, is in total contrast to his brutish, cynical behaviour with others. A killer who decapitates his victims with an axe, who displays open contempt to his employer, who brutalises a young prostitute, physically ruining her so that she can only give blow jobs after, he is a nasty piece of work. In a sense, though, he’s not the same kind of monster as the Tarantula, or others who follow: he is ‘simply’ a brutal sadist.
In the end, having been trailed by the Sandman and believing he has been set-up by his employer, he’s responsible for bringing down the real villain: not Ross but his partner Benson, ironically wearing a face as false as the Face.
And Benson’s motive is, ultimately, racist: he has a touch of Asian in his ancestry, enough to have him blackballed from a prestigious, exclusively white club he wishes to join. One man only, in the Lei Feng, knows this: by fomenting war, Benson hopes this man will be killed, preserving his secret.
The Face may be a ruthless, possibly mad killer, but Avery Benson is the monster.
His real victim, however, is Jimmy/Zhang. Despite their goodwill, Dian and Jimmy cannot stand up against the times. It takes almost the whole story for Dian to begin to see even a fraction of what Jimmy experiences, caught between the world of his culture that imposes so much upon him, and the white world that represents the only feasible outlet for his abilities, whilst refusing to allow him any status in that world commensurate with his ability. As he points out to Dian, first in bitterness and then in apology, his name is not Jimmy Shan: Dian does not even know his real name, even as she is prepared to enter into the very heart of Chinatown to give him help he cannot accept. Even Dian is touched by the racism of her times: born of innocence and ignorance in equal measures.
For Jimmy/Zhang, the moment is one of destruction. Though he awakens to a sense of rationality, though he appreciates Dian’s misunderstanding, stumbling but genuine concern for him, he’s seen too much of what he is and what he faces. Where he goes is unknown, but the life he has led to date is ended.
For Dian, it is another stage of growing. The need to become involved, allowed to diminish into quiescence, is re-awakened. She is growing towards the woman she will need to be to become the companion of Wesley Dodds, of The Sandman.
Set design for this play is by English artist John Watkiss, whose main career lies in commercial art and storyboarding. I’ve only seen his art elsewhere in two separate issues of Sandman, and whilst his style has been criticised, I like it. He’s a more conventional artist than Guy Davis, operating with a stylised photorealistic approach that shows the characters as being closer to the superheroic ideal, whilst retaining the key elements Davis had established.
Though Wesley retains his relatively short stature and glasses, he is drawn thinner and sleeker, his hair slicked back in a manner Davis did not employ. In contrast, Watkiss makes more of an attempt to copy Dian’s rounded face, though his eschewal of any hatching or character lines makes her look ugly on a number of occasions.
His style is deliberately anachronistic, and he conveys the atmosphere of 1938 with economy and flair. Overall, I’d happily have seen him return for a future production, but though Guy Davis was already being slated to become the regular artist, the policy of the Mystery Theatre was still to broaden its stage to other visions.
Thankfully, the colouring error in the original series issue 5, that had all the Chinese characters coloured a 1940s yellow, has been corrected for the Graphic Novel.
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a play entitled The Brute.
Break a leg.

Rosie: Of Silent Dog-Whistles and Adjustable Underpants


When his obituary is published, Roy Clarke will be held up as the creator and writer of three classic sitcoms: Last of the Summer Wine, Open All Hours and Keeping Up Appearances.
Other works will be mentioned in passing, but the same prominence will not be given to the 1970s sitcom that Clarke wrote, based on his experiences in the Police Force, Rosie which starred Paul Greenwood and Tony Heygarth, and which seems to have dissolved out of memory.
The central conceit behind Rosie was that Greenwood, as the eponymous PC Michael Penrose, looked so young that nobody – the general public, criminals and especially his own fellow-policemen – could take him seriously as a copper, to the unending frustration of his career.
Rosie is a prime example of the difference between the BBC of the Seventies, and the BBC – and television in general – of the last twenty years or so. When it first appeared, in 1977, it was billed as The Growing Pains of PC Penrose, and was set in a North Yorkshire Police Station, where the newly-transferred Rosie was trying to get people to take him seriously. Greenwood, a newcomer, was paired up with veteran comic actor, Bryan Pringle, as his Station Sergeant.
I can make no comment on The Growing Pains of PC Penrose. I would have watched it on the strength of Clarke’s name, but it was broadcast on a Tuesday night, when I was always out, years before video-recorders were feasible, and was never repeated. Everyone who commented upon it agreed that it simply didn’t work.
Nowadays, that would be it: move on, next idea please. But the BBC had faith in Clarke, and had faith in the idea. And faith in themselves. They were prepared to write off the time and money that had been invested in The Growing Pains of PC Penrose, and to give Clarke the chance to re-think the concept and make it work.
The series was re-named Rosie, to demonstrate its distance from the first, and failed, version. Greenwood was retained, but everyone and everything from the first series was replaced: a brand new scene, and a brand new supporting cast, including Tony Haygarth, who proved invaluable to the new series by giving it an overtly comic second lead, to supplement and support Greenwood’s essentially serious leading character.
The reboot was justified very simply: Rosie had been posted back to his home town of Scarborough (allowing some very scenic settings for outdoor shots), and has returned to live with his family picking things up again with his girlfriend, Gillian (played by Frankie Jordan).
Haygarth, an actor noted for portrayals of down to earth Northerners, was perfectly cast as Rosie’s partner, Wilmot, a lazy, slovenly copper intent on doing as little as possible with even less effort. Wilmot was separated from his wife and pretending not to care, whilst on the look-out for a bird, but in his turn was pursued by the hapless WPC Brenda Whatmough (pronounced Wotmuff), a generous performance by Penny Leatherbarrow as an overweight and plain woman aware that she was regarded as a figure of fun.
The Station staff was completed by the vastly-bellied Paul Luty as Inspector Dunwoody, who had no great opinion of his two most troublesome car patrol constables.

Tony Haygarth as he was (though not as Wilmot)

Wilmot, whose faith in Rosie lay more in his belief that he would educate him into being every bit as uninvolved as himself, was a basically realistic character, whilst girlfriend Gillian, amused and tolerant of everything bar Wilmot’s treatment of WPC Whatmough was virtually a straight role.
However, Rosie’s family were drawn on the eccentric side as soon as they were introduced in series 2, and it was no surprise to see them pushed firmly into the background in the fourth and final series.
Rosie’s household consisted of his mother, Millie, her elder sister Ida, and Ida’s husband, Norman. Millie was an ageing hypochondriac vamp who spent most of her time elegantly laying in bed. Mrs Penrose was forever trying, languidly, to persuade her son to leave the Police Force because she felt that it was beneath him, socially.
In contrast, Aunt Ida was a hysteric, in a constant state of panic about the danger to Rosie out there on the mean back streets of Scarborough, prone to such things as trying to press the bread knife on him when he went out on patrol, for self-defence. In contrast, Uncle Norman was a phlegmatic individual, who spent most of his time in his garden shed, the kind of man who knows that he’s married to someone who, in everyday reality, is a dingbat, but who has decided just to live with it.
As with all the best comedies, the more the characters became established in the audience’s mind, the further situation slipped into the background, leaving the comedy to be generated by the  personalities of its leading pair.
At this point, let us address a fairly obvious subject. Let us go back to WPC Whatmough. Plain, overweight, yet constantly hopeful, Whatmough is a figure of fun, the butt of the joke. Given that Wilmot isn’t that much of a capture, her pursuit of him comes from the less-than-comedic recognition that a) she’s not going to get much better and b) his repulsiveness to other women will one day leave him so short of options that he’ll have to turn to her.
Nowadays, we’d recognise this portrayal as emotionally cruel, and no-one would write such a character such a way. At the time, the joke that was being depicted was Wilmot, and his delusion of being attractive to women, and Whatmough was mainly an element in that.
But look at Rosie’s family: of three relatives, two are eccentric figures of fun, and the third is sensible and normal: guess which is the man?
It would be too harsh to call this misogyny: it’s not a case of malice but rather unenlightenment, and a reflection of times that were only slowly beginning to recognise that such things were not necessarily fair.
Overall, according to Wikipedia, twenty-seven episodes of Rosie were made between 1977 and 1981: six in the first series as Growing Pains and seven each in the three succeeding series.
Not having seen anything of Rosie since that final series, over thirty years ago, I have little in the way of specific memories. One sticks out as an encapsulation of not just the show’s humour, but that of Clarke in general. The opening credits of one episode were shown over a lingering pan across the bay of Scarborough on an immaculate summer morning. The pan ends on a headland overlooking the bay, where a Police Car has parked. Rosie and Wilmot, are stood side by side, against the skyline, silently admiring the beauty of the view. As the credits end, Wilmot reaches behind himself and adjusts the crotch of his underpants.
The other is, I think, one of the finest pieces of sitcom writing I have ever been privileged to watch. It was the opening episode of the final series, one that saw the supporting cast cut back drastically. Rosie had moved in to share Wilmot’s house, removing his family from the picture, whilst he’s also has broken up with Gillian and is, like Wilmot, looking for a new love.
During the course of the episode, our heroic pair are trying to chat up a pair of fit, if not necessarily hyper-intelligent birds. Their efforts are hampered by the fact that they, despite being off-duty, have become responsible for an abandoned baby, which, naturally, they are trying to both protect and keep from the two birds.
It’s funny in itself, but it reaches its comedic climax (as recognised in the episode’s title) when Wilmot, trapped on the doorstep by ‘his’ bird wanting to know why she can’t come in, and carrying the baby’s dummy, makes one last desperate effort not to have to tell the truth by sticking the dummy in his mouth and pretending that it’s the new design for Police silent dog whistles.
What made that scene so gloriously funny is that every moment of the episode, from its inception twenty-five minutes earlier, had been so carefully crafted that, instead of the moment being absurd and unrealistic, you were utterly convinced that this fantastic claim was the only serious possibility that Wilmot could take in the circumstances!
If I watch that episode again, it probably won’t be remotely as funny because I know what’s coming, but the structure of the writing would be worth studying.
Surprisingly, Rosie‘s never been available on DVD. The Growing Pains of PC Penrose was released in 2007, but there’s been nothing of the more successful and popular reboot. No doubt Growing Pains flopped, and despite the past evidence and confidence the series was shown when it was needed, there are no second chances in the Twenty-First Century.
Rosie never enjoyed the success of  Last of the Summer Wine, Open All Hours or Keeping Up Appearances, but in my mind it deserves to be regarded alongside them. If only for that episode, ‘Tune on a Silent Dog Whistle’.