The BBC1 sitcom, The Brittas Empire, revolved around the fictional Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre, where inept manager Gordon Brittas always managed to create disaster and mayhem with his bright ideas.
Written by Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss, the show was first broadcast in 1991. It was originally intended to run for five series, with a rather grizzly end for Brittas, who was supposed to be killed when a water tank fell on top of him!
However, the show proved popular with viewers and the BBC decided to keep it going, so it ended up running for seven series and 52 episodes until 1997, with an additional Christmas special in 1996.
Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre is modern and well-equipped, but it’s also under-used, despite its claim to fame that Olympic gold medallist runner Sebastian Coe opened its new toilet block. Gordon Brittas (played by Chris Barrie of Red Dwarf fame) is drafted in to save the day.
However, Brittas doesn’t know that he was sent to Whitbury because the management at his previous leisure centre couldn’t wait to get rid of him! He’s a walking disaster, with endless enthusiasm for his job and full of good ideas, but sadly lacking in the skills to put them into action.
His ideas have resulted in some very unfortunate outcomes, such as his car being filled with concrete by disgruntled builders and a public footpath having the right of way through the ladies’ toilets.
Filming took place at the real-life Ringwood Recreation Centre in Hampshire to give an authentic feel to the Whitbury Leisure Centre. Its gym and pool were among the sets where Brittas and his unfortunate staff wreaked their own brand of havoc.
Brittas’ long-suffering wife Helen (Pippa Haywood) has plenty of problems, being married to a man who is so irritating that people shout at him in the street. She deals with it by taking a cocktail of prescription drugs washed down with alcohol.
Receptionist Carole (Harriet Thorpe) takes her baby to work and keeps him in a drawer, after being evicted from her home. She’s supposed to offer a cheerful smile to greet customers, but never really feels cheery. In fact, she is more likely to be crying than smiling.
Colin the handyman (Mike Burns) has a continually inflamed, bandaged hand, which is never really explained. He is the one person who genuinely supports Brittas and thinks he does a good job.
Linda Perkin (Jill Greenacre) is an extremely enthusiastic and animated coach, who always gives 100% to the job at hand and is continually happy.
Laura Lancing, the centre’s deputy manager (Julia St John) is well-liked, organised and competent – everything Brittas is not. It is her role to solve the issues that Brittas has created and all the staff go to her with their problems.
The concept of the Brittas Empire was likened to a modern-day Dad’s Army, in that an incompetent person has power over other people and is telling them what to do. However, while it had plenty of traditional British humour, it tended to attract a younger audience, due to its many absurd situations.
The one element of the series that fans didn’t like was the ending. Rather like when Bobby Ewing rose from the dead in Dallas in a “bad dream” plot, so the whole seven series of Brittas Empire were said to have been a waking nightmare for Brittas, while on his way to the job interview at the leisure centre. Fans were very disappointed and felt it was a silly idea that all seven series apparently occurred in his head.
The show spawned a series of spin-off specials, aimed at helping people to live more healthily! The six “Get Fit with Brittas” episodes in 1997 were a quirky comedy mini-series in their own right.
In 2017, there was a cast reunion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the end of the series. At the time, media speculation was rife that there was to be a new series, after Barrie himself hinted the reunion may have spurred the cast and crew to try something new with the Brittas Empire. No official announcement has been made yet.
Since the show ended, Chris Barrie has continued to star as the hologram Arnold Rimmer in the sci-fi series Red Dwarf and Pippa Haywood has appeared in the Alan Partridge show, Jonathan Creek, Inspector Lewis, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Agatha Christie’s Marple.
Harriet Thorpe has appeared in the sitcom No Sweat, the drama series Casualty and in films such as Calendar Girls, City Slacker and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, as Fleur.
Jill Greenacre appeared in films and film shorts, including Beached Whale, Black Smoke Rising and Finding Fatimah. Michael Burns has appeared in the drama series Doctors, Heartbeat, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks.
As a leading UK manufacturer of wooden lockers and locker room solutions, Crown Sports Lockers would have been happy to refurbish the Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre… our lockers for the leisure sector would have been a great way to restore some order to the establishment! Please contact us for further information on 01803 555885.