The Brittas Empire
The Complete Series Four

Starring: Chris Barrie and Pippa Haywood
Eureka Video
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 19 July 2004

A visit from Sebastian Coe (OBE), a bad case of lockjaw, a hypnotist who leaves the staff doing animal impressions, a staff member's long-lost daughter and a cabaret dog whose repertoire includes removing ladies' bras and unzipping men's flies are all part of the job at Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre...

In his reviews of the previous three series, my colleague and boss (so I'd better watch what I say here) Darren Rea compared The Brittas Empire to Fawlty Towers. However, personally I feel there's a crucial difference between Gordon Brittas (Chris Barrie) and Basil Fawlty. Whereas Fawlty's defining characteristic is that he loses his rag at the slightest provocation, the crux of Brittas' character is that he tends to remain annoyingly calm and relaxed, whatever the situation. Only when things turn truly disastrous do we hear a note of tension in his irritating nasal voice or see a look of panic cross his face - as happens in the penultimate episode, The Chop.

At least Darren and I agree that The Brittas Empire improved enormously after its first series. By this, the fourth series, the show has moved beyond mere slapstick pratfalls and cartoon violence (though there are still plenty of those to enjoy).

What makes this particular set of episodes so special is the development of the relationship between Gordon and this deputy, Laura (Julia St John). Their unspoken mutual love is evidenced in no fewer than four episodes. There are also some remarkably poignant moments involving other characters, such as when a satisfied (!) customer tells Brittas how much she and her daughter enjoyed themselves in Not a Good Day and when Carole (Harriet Thorpe) yet again fails to find love and happiness in Shall We Dance?

Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen's scripts also break out of the sitcom norm when The Chop ends on a cliffhanger, which leads into the - as is traditional for Brittas - spectacular and calamitous final episode, High Noon.

A rather meagre selection of special features merely comprises a stills gallery and a web link. On a technical note, the design of the menu screens can make it hard to see which option you have selected.

But never mind that. This collection is well worth buying for its eight excellent episodes alone.

Richard McGinlay

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