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  • Sean Smith

Hard Sell

In the late 1970s, I became enamored with a British TV series called "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin," and during my year in the UK shortly thereafter, I bought two of the three books by David Nobbs on which the show was based -- and became even more enamored.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the books/series concern Reginald Perrin, a middle-aged, middle-class middle executive leading what he feels is a middling existence. This epiphany causes him to exhibit bizarre behavior not only at his workplace but among family, friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers; early on, the question arises as to whether Reggie is having a genuine mental health crisis or if he is simply ridding himself of filters and inhibitions that have come to seem pointless. Over time, Reggie and those closest to him deal with the many ramifications of his actions and decisions, some of them life-changing.

The TV series was very well done -- especially with the casting of Leonard Rossiter as Reggie -- but Nobbs' books have a greater emotional depth and resonance as well as a pointed but overall gently satirical view of the absurdities in contemporary British society. This was before the mid-life crisis, especially that of males, became a fixture in pop culture, and a pretty one-dimensional one at that.

One major plot element concerns Reggie's decision to open a shop of useless products, which he proudly advertises as such ("All kinds of items for people with no taste") – in fact, the more something costs, the worse it is. A big part of the humor here, as elsewhere in the books and series, is the abandonment of pretense, and a pushback against the blithe, ingratiating smarminess of traditional advertising and marketing.


I was thinking of Reggie the other day as I contemplated how to keep banging the drum for Transformation Summer. I will, of course, continue to champion it as a coming-of-age novel that explores themes like how memories of youth influence our adulthood, or what it's like when, as kids, we realize that adults (especially our parents) are fallible, imperfect and vulnerable.

But in the spirit of Reginald Perrin, here's what I really want to say.


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A sampling of things I've written and stuff I've read of late

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