The Brittas Empire

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The Brittas Empire
Created byAndrew Norriss
Richard Fegen
Directed byMike Stephens
Christine Gernon
StarringChris 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 composerFrank Renton
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series7
No. of episodes52 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Mike Stephens
Producer(s)Mike Stephens
Running time30 mins
Original networkBBC1
Original release3 January 1991 (1991-01-03) –
24 February 1997 (1997-02-24)
Other websites

The Brittas Empire is a British sitcom created by Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen.

Chris Barrie plays Gordon Brittas. He is the well-meaning but incompetent manager of Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre.

The show ran for seven series and 52 episodes — including two Christmas specials — from 1991 to 1997 on BBC1. Norriss and Fegen wrote the first five series.

The Brittas Empire had large audiences. In 2004 the show came 47th on the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll.[1]

The show combined farce with surreal dramatic elements. 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 be electrocuted. Unlike the traditional sitcom, deaths were quite common in The Brittas Empire.

Plot summary[change | change source]

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. He is tactless, annoying and has 'half-baked' ideas. He is oblivious to all of his faults. Brittas frequently upsets his staff, the public, and his wife Helen. He often brings confusion and chaos into their lives.

Helen Brittas, played by Pippa Haywood, finds it hard to cope with Gordon. She often turns to pills and affairs with other men to maintain her sanity. She is also helped by Brittas's calm and efficient deputy, Laura Lancing, played by Julia St John. Laura has a grudging admiration for Brittas whom she regards as honest and decent.

Brittas's other deputy, the dim-witted Colin Weatherby, is played by Mike Burns. Colin has several skin allergies and a constantly infected hand. Though he is an assistant manager, he works as the centre's caretaker. Carole, played by Harriet Thorpe, is the often tearful receptionist who keeps her three children in the drawers of the reception desk. Amongst other members of the team is Julie, played by Judy Flynn. Julie is a sarcastic secretary who hates her boss and refuses to do any work. Lively Linda, played by Jill Greenacre, gentle-hearted Gavin, played by Tim Marriott, and his paranoid partner Tim, played by Russell Porter, are more co-operative members of the team. Carole's son Ben was played by Jonathon Norriss.

Episodes[change | change source]

The Brittas Empire was broadcast for fifty-two episodes between 1991 and 1997, spanning seven series and two Christmas Specials. There was also one short episode for Children in Need. The cast also performed in the 1996 Royal Variety Performance. Chris Barrie played Brittas again in the short fitness series spin-off called 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, 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[change | change source]

All seven series were released on DVD in the United Kingdom by Eureka Video, and also in Australia by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC released episodes on VHS in the 1990s.

  • The VHS title: The Brittas Empire - Laying the Foundations VHS was released; it features: 'Laying the Foundations' (Series 1: Episode 1), 'Back from the dead' (Series 2: Episode 1), 'Set in Concrete' (Series 2: Episode 4), 'An Inspector Calls' (Series 2: Episode 3) and 'The Trial' (Series 3: Episode 1).
  • Then on 7 August 1995, Brittas Empire - The Stuff of Dreams was released and features the episodes: 'The Christening' (Series 4: Episode 2), 'The Stuff of Dreams' (Series 3: Episode 6) and 'Not a Good Day' (Series 4: Episode 1).
  • 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 1996 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, but is now out of print.

DVD release dates[change | change source]

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. 1.0 1.1 This series was also released in region 2 on a single disc DVD on 7 January 2008

Critical response[change | change source]

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[change | change source]

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

Setting[change | change source]

The exterior shots and interior swimming pools of 'Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre' were filmed at Ringwood Leisure Centre, Hampshire.

References[change | change source]

  1. "The Top 50 British Sitcoms". British Sitcom Guide. Archived from the original on 2 January 2007. Retrieved 15 April 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  2. 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

Other websites[change | change source]