A major BBC sitcom of the 1990s, and to date, Chris Barrie's biggest TV success after Red Dwarf, The Brittas Empire charts the progress of Gordon Brittas, a leisure centre manager with a grand idea about the creation of universal harmony through sport, but with the uncanny ability to destroy any harmony he comes across without realising it.
Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre
A modern and well-equipped leisure facility which is unfortunately rather underused, the Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre has many claims to fame, including the 'Sebastian Coe1 Men's Toilets', which were opened, reluctantly, by the man himself. It was the first leisure centre to be attacked by a Roman legion for several thousands years, following a disagreement between Mr Brittas and the local battle re-enactment society. It has also, rather unfortunately, been burned to the ground and rebuilt on at least one occasion.
Incidentally, the Ringwood Recreation Centre, Ringwood, Hampshire stood in for the Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre.
The Staff of Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre (and Mrs Brittas)
Gordon Brittas - Manager (Chris Barrie)
Gordon has a dream, a grand dream, to bring the nations of the world together in peace and harmony through sport. In order to achieve this, he has worked his way through the ranks of leisure centre officialdom until finally reaching the level of manager. However, there is still one thing stopping his dream coming to fruition - himself. This is because Gordon is a disaster on legs and doesn't even realise it. Whatever he does, despite the best of intentions, he ends up annoying everyone and making even the simplest task a hundred times more difficult than it ever needs to be. Actually, the only reason he ever got promoted as high as manager was to get rid of him from what was left of his previous centre.
It is a mark of Gordon's effect on people that he can't walk around Whitbury without being accosted by someone he has annoyed, or being set upon by someone he is trying to advise.
A lot of these problems arise because Gordon Brittas believes he is a good motivator of people, despite being the worst motivator of people since Captain Bligh2. To give you an idea of the effect of his motivation on the staff and contractors it is useful to look at his first day as an example. Before he arrived, it was a nice happy efficient centre, with the workmen working on the last bits of finishing off. Within half an hour of his arrival the builders were on strike, there had been a wave of resignations following his 'motivational' speech, and the staff that remained were entirely demoralised by the new 'efficient' staff timetable he had created. After the day was over, he had driven a member of staff to physically try to kill him (using specially sharpened table tennis bats) and the builders had filled his car with concrete.
The staff timetable is a good example of another one of Gordon's considerable number of character flaws; his love of rules, paperwork, and management techniques. Laura created the original staff timetable by ringing around and asking people what times would be convenient, without the application of a single management technique. Gordon took one look and said 'That's not very scientific is it?' before showing her the new scientific timetable which would destroy morale, and lead to the table tennis incident.
He has an unshakeable and entirely erroneous confidence in his own ability. Whenever Gordon meets a problem he has no doubt whatsoever in his mind that he is the person to solve it. As his wife Helen put it at one point:
He thinks he's the oil that keeps the wheels turning, but he isn't the oil, he's a bag of grit.
This is an opinion based on Helen's experience of Gordon as a family man, a responsibility he has always taken very seriously, which is why his wife, Helen, is a nervous wreck. He tries to be there for her and get involved like an encouraging, supportive husband. However due to his legendary (lack of) people skills, his encouragements sound like insults, and his helpful attitude makes her wish he would just go way.
Laura Lancing - Deputy Manager (Julia St John)
Originally Deputy Manager - Dry Area, Laura is an organised, well-liked and competent member of management, so she is the one the staff goes to in order to work out a way to solve the problems that Mr Brittas creates.
Before coming to Whitbury she used to get irritated and angry by silly little things. But after several years working for Mr Brittas, she suddenly found that they didn't really matter, and that she could calmly face any crisis, sure in the knowledge that she has already handled worse in the past.
The thing is, she does appreciate what Mr Brittas is trying to do, and feels sorry for him, as he can't understand why he keeps failing, but equally she can't help getting annoyed at the disasters that his efforts generate.
Colin Weatherby (Michael Burns)
Originally Deputy Manager - Wet Area, Colin was rapidly moved into more of a handyman role, after it was discovered that the reason he was able to boast on his CV of being a proficient herbalist was because he was using most of the herbal remedies on himself. Hence why he is usually sporting a suppurating poultice on his hand, for a wound that never seems to heal.
A loyal follower of Mr Brittas, he is one of the few people who actually think Mr Brittas is doing a good job.
Helen Brittas (Pippa Haywood)
Being the wife of Gordon means that Helen has more than her fair share of problems, however she deals with them in a very 'adult' and 'mature' way. She gets as many tranquilisers, mood enhancing pills, and strong drugs as a doctor will prescribe to her (which is quite a lot since the doctor met Gordon), then supplements the effect with as much alcohol as possible and has as many affairs as she can.
However, Helen also has personality problems of her own, including an entire lack of confidence and an irrational aggressive response to criticism.
Carole Parkinson (Harriet Thorpe)
Carole is the receptionist at the leisure centre, the cheery face that is supposed to greet all visitors. Unfortunately, Carole doesn't really feel very cheery. Just before she started at the centre her husband had left her for someone else, she had a young baby, and was suffering from lack of sleep and a deep depression. However, when Mr Brittas arrived, and saw her crying into a cup of coffee, he insisted that she greeted every visitor with a forced, cheery smile and the words 'Welcome to Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre - how may I help you?'. Unfortunately because this was so forced, and usually performed while she is crying, it somehow lost most of its effectiveness as a greeting.
The situation became worse after her eviction, when she was forced to start living at work, and keep her baby, Ben, in one of her desk drawers. This resulted in the reception desk looking more like a particularly well-used outpost of Mothercare.
Gavin Featherleigh (Tim Marriot)
A hard working and patient individual, which is handy in this job. He tries to get on with his work as best he can, even when the world is falling down around his ears.
Tim Whistler (Russell Porter)
Gavin's boyfriend (although Mr Brittas never seems to cotton on to this) and one of the main people that really hates Mr Brittas' leadership.
Linda Perkin (Jill Greenacre)
A dynamo of energy and enthusiasm, Linda always gives 120% to everything she does and is usually happy to do it.
Julie (Judy Flynn)
Mr Brittas' secretary who believes the intercom is just there to make it easier to listen to his conversations, and that Mr Brittas' instructions are there to give her a laugh rather than actually be followed.
- 'Laying The Foundations' (3 January, 1991)
- 'Opening Day'*3 (10 January, 1991)
- 'Bye Bye Baby'* (17 January, 1991)
- 'Underwater Wedding'* (24 January, 1991)
- 'Stop Thief!'* (7 February, 1991)
- 'Assassin'* (14 February, 1991)
- 'Back From The Dead' (2 January, 1992)
- 'Temple Of The Body' (9 January, 1992)
- 'An Inspector Calls' (16 January, 1992)
- 'Set In Concrete' (23 January, 1992)
- 'Mums And Dads' (30 January, 1992)
- 'Safety First' (13 February, 1992)
- 'New Generations '(20 February, 1992)
- 'The Trial' (7 January, 1993)
- 'That Creeping Feeling' (14 January, 1993)
- 'Laura's Leaving' (21 January, 1993)
- 'Two Little Boys' (28 January, 1993)
- 'Sex, Lies and Red Tape' (4 February, 1993)
- 'The Stuff of Dreams' (11 February, 1993)
- 'Not A Good Day...' (10 January, 1994)
- 'The Christening' (17 January, 1994)
- 'Biggles Tells A Lie' (24 January, 1994)
- 'Mr Brittas Changes Trains' (31 January, 1994)
- 'Playing With Fire' (7 February, 1994)
- 'Shall We Dance?' (14 February, 1994)
- 'The Chop' (28 February, 1994)
- 'High Noon' (7 March, 1994)
- 'The Old, Old Story' (31 October, 1994)
- 'Blind Devotion' (7 November, 1994)
- 'Brussels Calling' (14 November, 1994)
- 'The Lies Have It' (21 November, 1994)
- 'The Boss' (28 November, 1994)
- 'Pregnant!' (5 December, 1994)
- 'UXB'4 (12 December, 1994)
- 'The Last Day '(19 December, 1994)
- 'In the Beginning... '(27 December, 1994)
New years eve 2019, and Laura is being given a lift to Scotland by her son. She is going to the same New Year's Eve party as she has done every year for the last 30 years. When her son asks why they have travelled so far for just a party, she tells him the story about being stuck in a leisure centre on New Year's Eve, 1989.
- 'Back With A Bang' (27 February, 1996)
- 'Body Language' (12 March, 1996)
- 'At The Double' (26 March, 1996)
- 'A Walk On The Wildside' (2 April, 1996)
- 'We All Fall Down' (9 April, 1996)
- 'Mr Brittas Falls in Love' (16 April, 1996)
- 'Snap Happy' (23 April, 1996)
- 'Surviving Christmas '(24 December, 1996)
Having been dragged on an team building outward bound course over Christmas, the centre's rather unhappy staff have to try to survive in the wild. Unfortunately the situation gets worse when it becomes apparent that someone is trying to kill Mr Brittas. The trouble is with a waiting list of several thousand... who could it be this time?
- 'The Elephant's Child' (6 January, 1997)
- 'Reviewing The Situation' (13 January, 1997)
- 'http://etc' (20 January, 1997)
- 'Wake Up The Lion Within' (27 January, 1997)
- 'The Disappearing Act' (3 February, 1997)
- 'Gavin Featherly RIP' (10 February, 1997)
- 'Exposed' (17 February, 1997)
- 'Curse Of The Tiger Women '(24 February, 1997)
The series is regularly repeated on cable, digital and satellite TV stations.
A book inspired by the series (also available as an audio Cassette) has also been published. Sharing the Dream by Gordon Brittas takes readers on the latest step towards Gordon's dream as he tries to instruct people on how they could help with the work towards his dream of peace and harmony, but with the usual 'Brittas touch'.