The tributes to Nobbs, which have centred on Perrin – eponymous hero of a clutch of novels and BBC TV series – have praised the character as an enduring embodiment of the futility of contemporary life. Reggie was a beleaguered everyman – a sitcom Joseph K – trapped in a Kafkaesque system that was both absurd and bent on crushing the spirit of all it touched.
Inevitably Perrin’s been mourned too as an avatar for suburbia – typified by his daily commute from Coleridge Close via Norbiton station to catch the 8.16 to Waterloo- a train forever delayed by increasingly improbable calamities (‘Twenty-two minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden’). But however much he spoke for a certain space Perrin was also a man of his time.
For Reginald Perrin stands as an emblem of the 1970s. It might lack the slickness of Mad Men’s seventh season but the show resembles more closely that era as it was actually lived and looked – at least in Britain: the shabby commuter trains – the tired suits – the tablecloth and doilies at home. It depicted the quotidian tedium of white-collar life. Indeed in its fantasy of escaping the rat race it shared a theme with an equally successful comedy of the age The Good Life.
In this Perrin was a relative of Tom and Barbara Good – only without their optimistic faith in a better alternative.