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.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Marijuana use by teenagers does not result in a lower IQ or worse exam results, study finds
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
MOBO Awards 2014: Jess Glynne hits back at 'ridiculous' criticism of nominated white artists
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth fired in double elimination
MOBO Awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with double elimination
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters