The 1990’s produced sitcoms are considered to be classics today. Having been born in the late ’90s, I never got to watch sitcoms from this decade during their original broadcast. However countless repeats and broadcasts of new episodes have allowed me to witness sitcoms from this glorious decade. Despite this glory of some of these sitcoms some remain somewhat or entirely forgotten by the 21st century. One of those sitcoms being The Brittas Empire.
Written by Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegan up until series 5. ‘The Brittas Empire,’ was a sitcom first broadcast by the BBC in 1991, starring Red Dwarf’s Arnold Judas Rimmer (Chris Barrie) as Gordon Brittas - Manager of Whitbury Leisure Centre and a man with a dream to make the world a better place through sport. The sitcom was very successful spanning over 7 series with 52 episodes, including 2 Christmas specials, a spot on the Royal Variety Performance in 1996; and a spin-off series titled Get Fit With Brittas which probably remains in the BBC Archives somewhere.
The Brittas Empire remains popular today being voted in British Comedy Guides’ top 50 sitcoms. Despite being popular, the sitcom rarely gets talked about and is rarely repeated on television nor is it on any streaming services like Netflix or Britbox and I wonder why? I believe the sitcom needs some well-deserving attention and admiration as the masterpiece of British comedy it was and still here.
Unlike sitcoms in 2020, where broadcasters will try incredibly hard to represent their audiences and remain relevant, despite often coming under even more scrutiny. The Brittas Empire was way ahead of its time, having managed to successfully portray many social issues of the ’90s that still exist today, such as gender equality and non-stereotypical representation of gay characters. The Brittas Empire managed to do this by having an equal cast of both male and female characters which was never forced, strong female and professional deputy managers, and one of the earliest examples of openly gay couples within British sitcom without the ever so annoying camp stereotypes that belong in the ‘70’s.
It was also seen as a family sitcom, an art that has since been forgotten by broadcasters. The sitcom was dark - though not expected, and appealed to both children and adults. It didn't rely on rude jokes and swearing, nor did it have many gags, but it more than made up for this through moments of silly situations and surreal plotlines that appeared to get more and more surreal as each series went by. At the heart of all this farce, confusion and oddness was manager Gordon Brittas.
Gordon Brittas, manager of Whitbury leisure centre is forever being credited with upsetting his wife, staff and the public through his insensitivity and intrusivity and lack of tactfulness. Despite being well-meaning and genuinely having a desire to help, he makes things worse creating even bigger, more complex situations and upset. He often makes remarks about visitors at the center being fat, annoys natal classes and making silly rules and regulations which he swears by. Often causing fires, explosions, electrocutions, and death, the council and governors are often trying to get rid of Brittas but he always manages to wriggle his way out of any situation and remains in his position, much to everyone's disbelief and often costing the fictional tax payer.
Some may say that Gordon Brittas somewhat resembles Chris Barrie’s other well-loved character Arnold Judas Rimmer, and in some ways, they couldn’t be further apart. They are both incredibly retentive characters with an obsession for paperwork and following rules and regulations. However, its how they come across that makes each character who they are; Gordon Brittas is a warm character but is an incredibly incompetent and insensitive and, doesn’t quite understand how to listen.
Arnold Rimmer, on the other hand, is a character who is obsessed with becoming an officer but filled with anger and resentment by his upbringing. Both use rules and regulations to their advantage but fail miserably. Put them in a room together, they probably would annoy each other and argue. One thing for sure Chris Barrie is an incredibly talented actor, comedian, and impressionist, as he played both these roles at the same time throughout the ’90s.
Gordon Brittas isn't the only character in the sitcom, instead, he employs an entire team underneath him - who he has much admiration for. It is safe to say that they don’t see him in the same way. Gordon also has a wife named Helen, played by Pippa Haywood. Obsessed with medication, her madness is forever increasing throughout each series, driven insane by her husband and the unusual situations they face. She has been known to steal, plot murder and attack people, but just like Gordon she somehow manages to get away with it all.
Beneath Brittas are his Deputy managers Laura and Colin. Laura is often the go-between staff and Brittas, her sanity and professionalism makes her the voice of reason and often helps Brittas and the staff get out of some tricky situations. She is the most competent and most respected in the center with junior staff often turning to her for help because she is the only one that Brittas will listen to.
Gordon is very fond of her and develops a love for her, but never quite admits it. She even teaches him a few tricks on how to deal with people, as his character would he completely misinterprets the advice and uses it to wind up people more.
Colin, is also credited with being the maintenance man as well as the deputy manager. He is a character who is obsessed with health and herbal remedies, though this does not agree with him. He is often sporting bandages complete with homemade remedies, which disgust those around him.
He has an obsession over toilets, bowel movements and anything most people would find disgusting. He totally respects and admires Brittas and does not undermine his authority and takes his word literally resulting in him making Brittas’ situations worse. Even Brittas sees him as an oddball.
Underneath the deputy managers are Julie and Linda, and partners Gavin and Tim, and let's not forget Whitbury Leisure Center's Receptionist Carole Parkinson, an incredibly unhinged character fueled by post-natal depression and lack of stability in her life. I mentioned earlier about the progressiveness present in The Brittas Empire well Carole Parkinson often keeps her children in the reception draws and cupboards, which even in the ’90s wasn't the best thing to do. Luckily this was only added for comedic effect and wrong even back then.
Despite talks about a reboot a few years ago, it never quite happened which makes me question, why? It has the appeal and it would have been interesting to see how Gordon Brittas interacts with the modern world and if he is still the manager of Whitbury Leisure Centre causing havoc, mayhem, and confusion as per usual. If a few series isn't possible can we have at least a little bit more respect for the sitcom in general and perhaps some more air time of it on television, because the world can't seem like such a confusing place when Gordon Brittas is causing so much havoc.
At least all 52 episodes are available on DVD.
Written by Rebecca Hannant