The Brittas Empire

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The Brittas Empire
BrittasEmpire3.jpg
Created by Andrew Norriss
Richard Fegen
Directed by Mike Stephens
Christine Gernon
Starring Chris Barrie
Pippa Haywood
Julia St. John
Mike Burns
Russell Porter
Tim Marriott
Harriet Thorpe
Judy Flynn
Andrée Bernard
Anouschka Menzies
Jill Greenacre
Stephen Churchett
John Carrigan
Theme music composer Frank Renton
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 7
No. of episodes 53 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Mike Stephens
Producer(s) Mike Stephens
Running time 30 mins
Broadcast
Original channel BBC1
Original run 3 January 1991 (1991-01-03)  –
24 February 1997 (1997-02-24)
External links
Website

The Brittas Empire is a British sitcom created and originally written by Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen. Chris Barrie plays Gordon Brittas, the well-meaning but incompetent manager of Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre.

The show ran for seven series and 53 episodes — including two Christmas specials — from 1991 to 1997 on BBC1. Norriss and Fegen wrote the first five series, after which they left the show.

The Brittas Empire enjoyed a long and successful run throughout the 1990s, and gained itself large mainstream audiences. In 2004 the show came 47th on the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll,[1] and all series have been released on DVD.

The creators Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen often combine farce with either surreal or dramatic elements in episodes. For example in the first series, the leisure centre prepares for a royal visit, only for the doors to seal, the boiler room to flood and a visitor to become electrocuted. Unlike the traditional sitcom, deaths were quite common in The Brittas Empire.

Plot summary[edit]

Gordon Brittas (played by Chris Barrie) is the well-meaning but incompetent manager of Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre. He trained at the fictional Aldershot Leisure Centre. Completely tactless, totally annoying and forever coming up with 'half-baked' ideas (and oblivious to all of his aforementioned faults), Brittas is frequently upsetting his staff, public, and his frazzled wife Helen, often bringing confusion and chaos into their lives.

Helen Brittas (Pippa Haywood) finds it increasingly difficult to cope with Gordon, and often turns to pills and affairs with other men to maintain her sanity. She is also helped by supportive friend Laura Lancing (Julia St. John), Brittas's calm and efficient deputy. Laura (though she is fully aware of his incompetence) has a grudging admiration for Brittas whom she regards as honest and decent - unlike her former husband (who in one episode tries to buy his way back into her affections by making a large donation to the centre).

Brittas's other deputy — the dim-witted Colin Weatherby (Michael Burns) — has several skin allergies and an infected hand. Though he is technically an assistant manager, he works as the centre's janitor. Carole (Harriet Thorpe) is the unfortunate and often tearful receptionist who keeps her three children in the drawers of reception. Amongst other members of the team is Julie (Judy Flynn), the fiery-tongued secretary who hates her boss and refuses to do any work. Lively Linda (played by Jill Greenacre), gentle-hearted Gavin (Tim Marriott), and his paranoid partner Tim (Russell Porter) are more co-operative members of the team.

Carole's son Ben was played by Jonathon Norriss.

Outside the staff is Councillor Jack Drugett (Stephen Churchett), who fails to sack Brittas, despite numerous attempts at doing so.

Cast alterations in the series sees character 'Angie' (Andrée Bernard), who appears as a main character in the first series, being replaced by ‘Julie’ from series two onwards. 'Laura' left the show after series five, at the same time as the creators. She is replaced in series six by character 'Penny' (Anouschka Menzies), who did not return in series seven.

Episodes[edit]

The Brittas Empire was broadcast for fifty-two episodes between 1991 and 1997, spanning seven series and two Christmas Specials, along with one short episode for Children in Need. Series one, two and three in 1993, and series four and five both aired in 1994. The Brittas Empire then returned to BBC1 for three final series, and the cast also performed in the 1996 Royal Variety Performance. Chris Barrie played Brittas again in the short fitness series spin-off, Get Fit with Brittas.

For the first five series the show's creators Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss co-wrote the show, after which they left, along with actress Julia St John who played Laura. Series five was originally meant to be the final series, and Norriss and Fegen killed off Brittas at its end, when he was crushed to death by a falling water tank.

However, the show's popularity meant the BBC resurrected Brittas and brought on a team of new writers, who carried the show on for a further two series, including one further Christmas special in 1996. These writers were: Paul Smith (who also wrote the series seven episode 'Malcom ex' for Andrew Marshall's 2point4 children), Terry Kyan, Tony Millan, Mike Walling, Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent.

'Curse of the Tiger Women' is the final episode in 1997. This ending claims all seven series were part of a dream that Brittas is having on his way to the job interview for manager of the leisure centre. It is an ending that is regarded as poor by many critics and viewers, and contradicts the 1994 Christmas Special by Fegen and Norriss, showing what happens to the staff post-Whitbury Leisure Centre.

In 2014, Chris Barrie reprised his role as Gordon Brittas for a brief appearance in the Sport Relief music video, 'Word Up' by Little Mix.

DVD and VHS releases[edit]

All seven series were released on DVD in the United Kingdom by Eureka Video, and also in Australia by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Eureka releases are now out of print. Prior to these DVD releases, the BBC brought episodes to VHS in the 1990s.

  • The VHS title: Brittas Empire - The Stuff of Dreams was released on 7 August 1995, and features the episodes: 'The Christening' (from series four), 'The stuff of dreams' (series three) and 'Not a Good Day' (first of series four).
  • Then on 2 April 1997, The Brittas Empire - Laying the Foundations VHS was released; it features: 'Laying the Foundations' (first episode of series one), 'Back from the dead' (first of series two), 'Set in Concrete' (series two), 'An Inspector Calls' (also series two) and 'The Trial' (first of series three).
  • From 2003, Eureka Video began bringing the entire series to DVD, in single series box sets. The Brittas Empire - Complete Series One was released on 21 July 2003,[2] followed by series two on 20 October 2003, and then series three was released on 29 January 2004. Series four was released in the same year on 29 July, and the final series by Norriss and Fegen, series five, was released on 4 October 2004.
  • The Brittas Empire, Complete Series Six was released on 21 February 2005, and the final series along with the 1997 Christmas Special, was released on 23 May 2005.
  • The Brittas Empire, Complete Series One-Seven, a set comprising the entire series, was released on 8 October 2007. However the complete series DVD set is no longer in production and is now OOP (Out Of Print). But due to the popularity of the show the boxset fetches upwards of £50 on eBay, almost three times the price it was usually sold for.

DVD release dates[edit]

DVD Episodes Year Release date
Region 2 Region 4
Series 1 6 1991 21 July 2003[n 1] 4 August 2004
Series 2 7 1992 20 October 2003[n 1] 6 May 2005
Series 3 6 1993 19 January 2004 3 August 2005
Series 4 8 1994 19 July 2004 2 March 2006
Series 5 9 1994 4 October 2004 6 July 2006
Series 6 7 1996 21 February 2005 7 March 2007
Series 7 9 1997 23 May 2005 3 July 2007
Series 1–7 52 1991–1997 8 October 2007 N/A
  1. ^ a b This series was also released in region 2 on a single disc DVD on 7 January 2008

Critical response[edit]

Critics John Lewis and Penny Stempel commented that:

In its positioning of an incompetent in charge of others, The Brittas Empire mined the traditional vein of TV humour (e.g., Dad's Army or Are You Being Served?). Yet it also had an element of absurdism....which gave it an appeal to younger viewers. At a stretch the show could also be viewed as a critique of the managerial class which expanded in the Thatcherite eighties. A show for all the couch.[3]

Influence[edit]

The show has been credited with having an influence on Alan Partridge and The Office.[4]

Setting[edit]

The exterior shots of 'Whitbury Leisure Centre' were filmed at Ringwood Leisure Centre, Hampshire. The interior shots of the swimming pools seen in the show were also shot there.

References[edit]

General
Specific
  1. ^ "The Top 50 British Sitcoms". British Sitcom Guide. Retrieved 15 April 2008. 
  2. ^ Amazon.co.uk: The Brittas Empire: Complete BBC Series 1-7 Box Set [1991]
  3. ^ (book) "Cult TV: The Comedies- The ultimate critical guide", 1998, Jon E. Lewis and Penny Stempel
  4. ^ The Britas Empire at Digital Spy

External links[edit]

Review sites[edit]