Underrated / The best of Brittas: The case for The Brittas Empire
Wednesday 26 January 1994
This is the sitcom that got away. The cuttings file on Brittas is a molehill beside, say, the mountain on One Foot in the Grave. Brittas's lack of coverage may well be due to its unfashionable, pre-watershed 'family' slot. But it is unfair to tar Brittas with the Terry and June brush; in terms of imagination - and more importantly, laughs - Brittas equals, if not betters, more hype-friendly offerings.
Because of the initials of the central character, Gordon Brittas, some have seen the sitcom as a state-of-the-nation satire, a Britcom. That is somewhat overstating it. But Gordon Brittas is indeed central to the sitcom's success: like Basil Fawlty and Frank Spencer before him, he is, in Chris Barrie's brilliant portrayal, relentlessly funny in his awfulness. With his suburban golf-club blue blazer, flat Estuary vowels and naff phraseology ('What can I do you for?'), Brittas is a grotesque caricature, the leisure centre manager from hell. Pedantic, pernickety, puerile, platitudinous, puritanical, he is gloriously unaware of the havoc he creates around him. As his leisure centre explodes into flames, Brittas's defiant, parrot-like recitation of the rulebook fuels the laughter. He fiddles while Whitbury burns.
It's no cosy, three-piece suite comedy, either; Brittas can be brutal (witness last week's story about a mother mislaying her children). The plots spiral off into the most implausible, cartoonlike realms. Its closest cousin sometimes seems to be Tom and Jerry. One week, a group of Pentecostalists were electrocuted during a mass baptism in the pool. The series boasts the most exuberant violence this side of The Young Ones. The scriptwriters Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss also have the nerve to run several concurrent storylines.
Now into its fourth series, Brittas is still a bit rough. Supporting players are poorly fleshed-out; at times it appears as if the lower orders of Hi-de-Hi have exchanged their yellow coats for the turquoise shirts of Whitbury Leisure Centre. But it is ready enough for the kind of praise lavished upon its rivals. A Bafta may be some way off, but a front cover of the Radio Times is long overdue.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre