The Brittas Empire (BBC1, 1991-1997)
This was a great sitcom that starred the talent of Chris Barrie and was created and written by Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss. One day the enthusiastic Gordon Brittas arrives at the newly-opened Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre to become the manager. He has a dream that soon people who enjoy sport from all walks of life will be playing with one another on the gymnasium floor, but he often has trouble working with his staff and getting enough people in to use the facilities on offer because he is a by-the-book busybody.
As well as Brittas, there were so many other memorable characters. He is married to the long-suffering Helen. Of course there is the idea as to why she would put up with him at all but they already have some children and in one episode she later gives birth to twins. When Brittas first meets his staff they are ready to work with him but soon become irritated with his style even though they see that he wants the best for everyone.
There is the deputy manager Laura who does find it difficult to work with Brittas but does admire him. There is also the handyman Colin who seems to enjoy working with Brittas the most, even if it does sometimes means he ends up being electrocuted. There are also the coaches including the young Linda and Gavin and Tim who are constantly bickering with one another.
There is also the receptionist Carole who is a very upset woman who likes to keep her children in the draws because she doesn’t have anywhere to live, and from the second series Julie becomes Brittas’s secretary but she doesn’t want to ever do any work for him, often answering him by simply saying “I’m busy!” which was about as close as the show got to having a catchphrase.
There were so many great episodes throughout the seven series. Just to pick a few examples of the ones that I always like to go back to watch again include the time that Colin pretended to be the manager to try and impress his long-lost daughter, when Brittas’s twin brother Horatio turned up to announce that he was going to get married, and the leisure centre also seemed to explode on various occasions thanks to some sensational stunts.
It looked like the show would end after the fifth series, but it seems that you really can’t keep a good character down and even Brittas seemingly being crushed by a water tank couldn’t stop him from enforcing his ludicrous ideas on his staff. The show eventually ran for seven series and over 50 episodes, although different writers worked on the final two series. All the series have also been released on DVD with a few interesting extras such as when the cast performed a short sketch at the 1996 Royal Variety Performance.
I don’t remember seeing the final episode of The Brittas Empire at the time in 1997, but there seemed to be a buzz about it with lots of people wondering how it would all end. I finally saw it on a repeat run on UK Gold a few years later and it seemed to insist it that none of the show ever happened which was a rather disappointing way to conclude, but at its best it was a very good sitcom.
The Brittas Empire is definitely one of my favourite sitcoms from the early-90s and it remarkable to realise that the first series launched on BBC1 25 years ago this month. Chris Barrie as Gordon Brittas was always great, annoying people with his plans and his irritating voice, and he was also giving good value in BBC2’s sitcom Red Dwarf which ran at the same time. There have also been rumours recently that the show might return, but we’ll just have to wait and see for now.