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The Complete Brittas Empire on DVD

Sunday, 13 April 2014 23:00 Written by 

The Complete Brittas Empire out now on DVDChris Barrie of Red Dwarf and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” fame stars in this classic British sitcom about the misguided manager of a leisure centre. Over the course of seven seasons, Gordon Brittas and his team experience every imaginable nightmare that can befall a sports centre, and quite a few inconceivable ones too! If Brittas is not directly responsible for these chaotic events, you can guarantee he is about to add fuel to the fire.

Pippa Haywood (Moonfleet, “Tamara Drewe”) plays Brittas' long-suffering wife Helen. Key members of Gordon's staff include the emotional rollercoaster that is receptionist Carole (Harriet Thorpe – “Calendar Girls”), Colin the ever-sick Deputy Manager of the centre's water-based facilities (Michael Burns - Lovejoy), level-headed Laura, the Deputy Manager of dry sports (Julia St John - Casualty), and Brittas' mischievous secretary Julie (Judy Flynn - The House of Elliot).

Barrie is very much the heart and soul of the show, successfully making Brittas both highly irritating and charismatic at the same time. The key to the character's likeability is that he always means well and is fiercely loyal but lacks any sense of diplomacy; light on emotional intelligence he ploughs into situations always believing he can make a difference but most of the time that difference is the opposite of his intensions!

Brittas has some of the qualities also witnessed in Arnold Rimmer, Barrie's best-known character from the aforementioned Red Dwarf. He is less pitiful and is certainly not meek but he is bound by the same officious sense of duty; whilst he looks down on others he does it without the sneering meanness of Rimmer.

Each episode quickly sets up its premise, and most of the time the disastrous path of the story is telegraphed for great comedic effect. As in Fawlty Towers, events tend to spiral out of control slowly at first before building to a very messy crescendo. Gordon's short-sighted schemes to right the ship invariably distract his competent and not-so-competent staff away from their proper jobs, and the few customers the centre does entertain typically get caught in the crossfire.

There are some wonderful running gags, such as Carole's propensity for keeping her baby safely ensconced in a drawer, Colin's filthy poultices and weeping wounds, the Brittas blindness to gay couple Gavin and Tim's mutual affection, and wife Helen's battle with depression and madness. Haywood plays the character superbly, with a genuine sense of vulnerability and conflicted feelings over her loving but bungling husband.

Made in the 1990s, the series captures the era well in details such as the gaudily colourful centre decor, ghastly fashion and slightly confused sense of identity. It feels like a blend of the 1970s and 1980s, a bit naff and a bit loud, and yet quite cosy and comforting at the same time.

I could not wait to see what pandemonium each successive episode would bring, a sure-fire sign of a great series that keeps you coming back to more. The Brittas Empire might not have you laughing out loud all the time but it is highly entertaining, full of memorable characters getting into zany predicaments, and every so often it drops in a bit of real drama to change gear and get you more emotionally involved. Heartily recommended.

Special features include:

  • Brittas Fitness Quiz
  • Royal Variety Performance 1996
  • Brittas Management Quiz
  • Star Profiles
  • Good Morning Interview
  • Christmas Special 1994
  • Christmas Special - 24th December 1996
  • Brittas Empire Series 4 Out-takes
  • ‘Where’s Ben’ Game
  • Wogan Interview
  • Stills Gallery

As a package there is plenty of variety and this mixture of specials, interviews and games fits the bill perfectly.

The Complete Brittas Empire (1991-1997) is out now on DVD, courtesy of Eureka Video. The 7-disc box set has a running time of 1433 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £49.99, or less from