The Guardian newspaper is currently reprinting as booklets "great speeches of the 20th century"; Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, that kind of thing. As important as all these speeches have been, the Guardian has made a real howler, egg on faces all round because they have failed to include Reggie Perrin's legendary Bilberry Hall speech.
For those of you who don't know, shame on you, Reggie Perrin was the central character in the 1970s BBC sit com The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. The comedy follows the main character's fall into total alienation from the middle-class grind of his surburban life and middle-management job - culminating in his fake suicide on the beach. Already utterly disenchanted Reggie is asked to make a key note speech at British Fruit Association seminar:
Thank you. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you, Mister... whatever your name is. When my boss said to me "Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, you are a senior sales earwig at Sunshine Desserts, and they are holding a seminar on instant puddings at Bilberry Hall and I want you to talk on 'Are We Getting Our Just Desserts?'", my first thought was: 'What a pathetic title for a talk!' (C.J. scowls). But then I thought again (C.J. loses his scowl). My second thought was: 'What a pathetic title for a talk!' (C.J. finds his scowl again). But I come here anyway because I have something very important to say to you all. We are told that we need more growth: 6% per year. More chemicals to cure more pollution, caused by more chemicals. More car parks for more tourists who want to get away from more car parks. More food, to make us more fat, to make us use more slimming aids, to make us take more pills, to make us ill, to make us take more pills, to make more profit. More boring speakers, making more boring speeches, at more boring conferences.
(mutters to Mr. Watkins): This is rubbish. (Reggie overhears).
More rubbish, that's a very good point, thank you Hump. But what has all this growth done for me? Well, I'll tell you. One day I'll die, and on my grave it will say: "Here lies Reginald Iolanthe Perrin. He didn't know the names of the trees and the flowers, but he knew the rhubarb crumble sales figures for Schleswig Holstein." Look outside at those trees - beautiful. But soon they will all be cut down to make more underground par carks (sic). But I have got good news for you, because half the parking meters in London have got Dutch Parking Meter disease.
(to Elizabeth) I wish he'd stick to the point! I didn't get where I am today talking about Dutch Parking Meter Disease.
In the audience, my boss C.J. Let's have a big hand for C.J. (there is scattered applause as C.J. half-rises in acknowledgement). OK, that's enough. Ladies and gentlemen. You see, we become what we do. You show me a hero who makes fondue tongs, and I'll show you a happy man who earns his living perforating lavatory paper. "But what do YOU believe in?" I hear you ask. Do I hear you ask? Well I'll tell you anyway: I know that I don't know. I believe in not believing. You see, for every man who believes something, there's somebody who believes the opposite. What's the point? How many wars would have been fought, how many people would have been tortured if nobody ever believed in anything? Have you ever heard of 'The Wars of the Apathetic'? Or 'the persecution of the apathetic by the bone idle'?
(Mutters to Mr. Watkins) I think we've heard enough of this!
But if we try and complain about it, we're told we're standing in the way of 'progress'. Progress! There's a word that begs the pardon. I beg your parsnips. I'm sorry, it doesn't beg the parsnips, it begs the question.
I think he's drunk.
That's funny, so do I. [Doc Morrissey stands up and leaves the room]. Oh, there he goes, Doc Morrissey, 'the wizard of the aspirin'. Off to the bog 'cause he's frightened of C.J.'s fishing contest. He's gone to practice his flies!
Get rid of him Watkins!
Old 'baldy Hump' here. You know why he's bald, don't you? Made a right cock-up. Put pesticide on his hair, hair restorer on his plums. Now he's as bald as a coot, got a garden full of hairy plums! Anybody here from Canada? Anybody here from Australia? Tarporley? Anybody here from Tarporley? Stand up, all those from Tarporley and shake hands with the person on your right.
Come on, Perrin! I didn't get where I am today shaking hands with the person on my right!
Oh C.J., I want to help you! What use has life if it isn't for the people who have to live it? [Several people rise to remove Reggie from the podium, including Dr. Hump] Oh, here he comes, old 'baldy Hump'. 'Lecturer in Applied Manure at the University of Steeple Bumstead'! [Reggie is removed, and Mr. Watkins tries to restore order.] Get your hands off me! Oh God, he's got me right in the balls!
He didn't call you 'baldy'!
I'm not bald!
Elizabeth drives Reggie home, stopping for him on the way at a public lavatory in the town. Reggie leaves by another exit, catches a taxi to Sunshine Desserts, where he borrows a lorry of loganberry essence and drives it to C.J.'s country estate. After a threatening letter to C.J. promising that 'blood will flow', he releases the loganberry juice into the river from which C.J. and his guests are all fishing. Having completed his last 'snook' at society and the people who have made it hell for him, he drives to the Dorset coast and dons a new disguise, leaving Reggie's old clothes on the beach.
We look forward to the Guardian correcting this stunning omission!