Thursday, 25 August 2016

Theme Time : Frank Renton - The Brittas Empire

Today's Theme Time post is an especially apt one as the programme it is from is currently getting daily repeats on Gold, which I have been enjoying. It's The Brittas Empire and its theme by Frank Renton is guaranteed to put a jaunty, if slightly officious spring in your step.

The Brittas Empire was a big favourite of mine growing up. Running for seven series from 1991 to 1997, for me the show crossed that entire path from childhood to early adulthood in that I was eleven when it started and seventeen when it concluded. It starred Chris Barrie (I was never a fan of Red Dwarf, but I loved him here) as Gordon Brittas, the well-meaning but utterly tactless and totally irritating manager of the fictional Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre, where his staff included sensible Laura (Julia St John), the dim-witted, endlessly unhygienic Colin (Michael Burns) gay couple Gavin and Tim (Tim Marriott and Russell Porter) chirpy Linda (Jill Greenacre) sarky secretary Julie (Judy Flynn) receptionist Carole (Harriet Thorpe) who kept her children in drawers, and Gordon's pill-popping neurotic wife Helen (Pippa Haywood) 

The show was created by Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss (who had previously written the Simon Callow and Brenda Blethyn Channel 4 sitcom Chance in a Million) and under their stewardship it was a complete and utter farcical delight. The show should have come to a close in 1995 when Fegen and Norriss seemingly killed Gordon off once and for all by having a water tank fall on him after heroically pushing Carole out of its way. However the show returned with a rebuilt, bionic Brittas and ran for two more series with a succession of different writers and without St John's Laura. At the time I felt that the results of this final fling were less than impressive and my opinion hasn't changed at all; indeed, I watched the first episode of series six on Gold and decided not to bother watching the rest this time around. When an episode thought that having Barrie say the word 'cowpat' twice to gales of canned laughter was funny, then I knew it was time to bail. Besides which, I dreaded sitting through to the bitter end - which ended with the ultimate cop-out in TV terms, when all the previous episodes were revealed to have been a dream - for a second time.

It's a real shame that the show went out on such a whimper really as those first five series were of a consistently high quality (indeed you could argue it only got better and better with each successive series up to that point) that saw Brittas, his team and the leisure centre itself facing increasingly large disasters and mishaps. I felt so transported watching these repeats, I kept worrying that I hadn't done my homework!

And those pubescent concerns reminded me of the crushes I had on at least two of the regular characters; the wonderfully deadpan and acerbic Judy Flynn (pictured in the photo at the top of this post, on the right in the angora top) as Julie, whose short skirts showed off her lovely legs, and Linda played by Jill Greenacre (pictured in a rather disheveled fashion below)

The series composer Frank Renton is an accomplished musician and Radio 2 host who has previously served as the director of York's military music school, musical director for Versatile Brass and a conductor for the famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band. You can read about him here

There's a wonderful write-up and all sorts of interesting links regarding the show on co-creator Andrew Norriss' website including a discussion on whether Gordon has Aspergers or not, which I must admit was the first thing I realised watching the episodes back on Gold - not something the child and teen me would have spotted at all back in the '90s - indeed there's a whole episode where Linda tries to teach Brittas that what people say doesn't always mean what they think or feel; a nuance he finds impossible to spot.

Rumours abound of a return for The Brittas Empire with Barrie claiming a script was in development just last year. Most recently the character appeared alongside girlband Little Mix in the video for Word Up, their single for charity Sport Relief

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