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"In my book, a leisure centre isn't for playing sport, it's a cathedral for the modern community."
- Gordon Brittas (Chris Barrie)

Episodes listing:
Disc 1 -
Laying The Foundations
Opening Day
Bye Bye Baby

Disc 2 -
Underwater Wedding
Stop Thief

September 2003 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Brittas Empire: Season 1
cast: Chris Barrie, Philippa Haywood, Julia St John, Harriet Thorpe, and Judy Flynn

producer and director: Mike Stephens

120 minutes (PG) 1991
BBC / Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
A manager from hell with an array of hand gestures and facial tics, his repulsive, toadying and over-keen second-in-command, the unhappy receptionist with relationship problems. A workplace dogged by absenteeism, sabotage and allegations of petty theft. We could be talking about a prototype of The Office here. Except that the setting for The Brittas Empire is a leisure centre, not the sales floor of a stationery wholesaler, and where The Office is uncomfortable to watch for all the right reasons, much of this is just painful. BBC Worldwide have also just released The High Life on DVD. Why? Perhaps it's to remind us how British TV situation comedy has moved on since the early 1990s. Actually The Brittas Empire isn't quite as awful as The High Life. This first series picks up a bit by the third episode, with some quite funny business around misplaced babies. But by then, you're already asking yourself, 'what... they got another series?'
   But its blending of workplace and domestic comedy is lame and clumsy, and it is far too obviously a vehicle for former Red Dwarf star Chris Barrie. His one-dimensional style was fine for the role of the obnoxious hologram Rimmer. When cast in the role of a flesh and blood character, his approach lacks just that: flesh and blood. Clearly Brittas is not supposed to be likeable, but the way in which his long-suffering, adulterous and Valium-addicted wife (Philippa Haywood) discusses him with her female confidantes implies a well-intentioned bungler who deserves our sympathy, if not our respect. After all, even David Brent has moments of high pathos. And where Ricky Gervais captures the essence of modern day bullying management is in Brent's ingratiating, shirt-sleeved matey-ness. Barrie as Brittas on the other hand is just a cold fish in a black blazer with an annoying nasal voice. The Royal Variety Performance sketch demonstrates that his broad style works better in a cabaret sketch format than in the TV series.
   Unfortunately, Barrie is about the only thing The Brittas Empire has going for it, apart from the two female supporting actresses (Haywood, and Julia St. John) who bravely struggle to play their roles straight. The show has a few hit-and-miss attempts at black comedy, which often end up coming across as cheap and ham-fisted. Like the theme tune, which is as irritatingly crass and chirpy as Brittas is, they are more likely to grate rather than to amuse. It is the show's earache inducing refrain - and the running gag about the personal hygiene problems of Brittas' hapless subordinate, Colin - that are my main memories of this show.
   DVD extras: Brittas Fitness Quiz, Royal Variety Performance 1996, star profile, and a stills gallery.
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