Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Reggie Perrin was a beacon in the dull, hot days of 1976
- Credit: citizenside.com
The creator of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, David Nobbs, died earlier this month, aged 80. I remembered the series and its anti-hero Reggie fondly if patchily, so I ordered the entire series on DVD. Having watched a couple of episodes, which, incidentally, retain all their comedy currency, I became side-tracked by their period detail and had to re-watch them.
The first series of Reggie Perrin was made in 1976, almost 40 years ago. The year 1976 was a rather strange one, which hardly anyone nowadays remembers for much more than its record-breaking hot dry summer. From the moment that Ronnie Hazlehurst’s melancholy theme tune began, I became acutely aware of how much life had changed since the programme’s first broadcast.
The future, I’ve discovered, does not just sweep down one day from the sky, emerging from a hovercar, clad in a silver space-suit to announce its presence. Firstly, a number of familiar if mundane things to which you’d previously paid scant attention, disappear. Gradually, you notice increasing numbers of youthful aliens walking among you. There may follow a chorus of bleeps, whirrs and hums, the sight of oddly-shaped vehicles, the sugary smell of unsubtle new perfumes, and a noticeable degeneration in speech or manners, until suddenly, you find that you’re a stranger in your own land.
I’m a great believer in the importance of remembering who we once were: not just for sentimental reasons but because if we don’t remember ourselves, then someone in the media will do it for us. In times of rapid social change, this means that we’ll receive an abridged version of ourselves, one which subsequently becomes the official one. I’m not quite comfortable with a TV production company curating my cultural history for me. Because as soon as the resultant programme has been aired, the period will have been glibly summarised, with many of its finer details erased forever.
What then, do we learn about 1976, from watching Reggie Perrin? Firstly, that the fashions were ghastly, consisting of great flappings of denim, check-pattern material, country-star hair-perms, flounces and bows – and collars like glider wings. Sartorially, it’s embarrassing, although Reggie Perrin himself, with his smart suit and silk tie looks incongruously dapper. The mid 1970s are possibly the only era where office management types looked cooler than the trendsetters, many of whom resembled under-5 children’s TV presenters.
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Your misty-eyed correspondent here also recalls that pop music in 1976, was about as bad as it had ever been. Daytime radio was dreadful – they played pretty much whatever rubbish the culturally-bankrupt record industry ordered them to.
Apart from a handful of outstanding acts, such as the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Thin Lizzy, there were only anaemic sounding country-rock bands on offer, along with the bloated bin ends of prog rock. The few pinpricks of light in this benighted world were emerging pub-rock bands such as Dr Feelgood and Ian Dury’s pre- Blockheads combo, Kilburn and the High Roads.
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Telephoning friends was a relatively expensive pursuit in 1976 and most young people who’d left home tried to avoid it, since it often involved a walk up the road to a callbox. Even as I write these words, I learn that our modern “night-economy” is dying, with half of its nightclubs having closed. This couldn’t possibly have occurred in Colchester in 1976 when nearly everything was shut by midnight. I do recall my band’s brief residency at a nightclub in Ipswich. By 2am, it too was closed and we’d be standing in the deserted Buttermarket, forlornly loading the equipment into our van.
Since many people in 1976 still walked everywhere, those seen running in the streets were regarded for the most part, either as health fanatics, criminals, or lunatics.
If you ordered wine in a pub – which hardly anyone ever did – it was uniformly expensive, brackish and warm. At dinner parties, bringing an Austrian Riesling was still acceptable but a bottle of Blue Nun might have been regarded as somehow classier.
Shopping in 1976, was not yet a religion but it still had to be done. Many will recall some of the great shops in central Colchester. Fewer people will remember Caters supermarket in Long Wyre Street, which throughout 1976 did a reasonable deal on Katkins tinned catfood. Just thought I’d bung that one in there, lest they remain unsung.
Athough town centre shops were more plentiful, none of them opened on Sundays. Instead, a few backstreet shops sold essentials like newspapers, cigarettes, loo rolls, white bread and tinned soup before shutting at midday. Luckily this coincided with the pubs opening, prior to closing again at 2pm sharp. It was rarer to see a weekend punch-up, therefore, but probably easier to find the police and ambulance men to deal with it.
Streetlights usually stayed on during hours of darkness and you hardly ever saw potholes. In offices everywhere there was a loud sound of clacking typewriters, remember them? Oh and in 1976 it was still compulsory to smoke, especially indoors.
During the autumn of that year, a Dutch country-rock band, Pussycat, were Number 1 in the charts for what seemed like four years, with a song entitled Mississippi. In short, the whole period was incredibly dull. Why then, as I watch Reggie Perrin again, am I experiencing a quiet yearning for it?