Series 1 to 7.

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Gordon Brittas, Like Basil Fawlty, Alan Partridge and David Brent is a very British character and a walking embodiment of British cultural life. With Basil, the ever frustrating need to social climb was a reflection of the class stratification embedded in the British cultural psyche and social-economic fabric of our society. Alan Partridge and David Brent are/were socially discomforting monsters coping with mundanity by adding massive doses of delusion to their sense of self and outward projection.

With Brittas (played with exceptional conviction by Chris Barrie - one of the voice team behind Spitting Image back in the day), the comic stems from the dichotomy between earnest perfectionism and end result: he is a bureaucratic stickler for the correct, for rules and regulation adherence, but has with it an exceptional compassion. The staff at Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre are as flawed as Brittas but equally as earnest.  With 'The Brittas Empire', like the Fawlty Towers hotel, the stationary suppliers in Slough and the motel in Norfolk where Alan Partridge temporarily resides, there is a staff and ensemble cast that the comedy wouldn't work without.

The support network for Gordon as manager consists of  a mix of characters with varying degrees of standout comic capability: there are those that act as foil (Laura, played by Julia St John) has no distinct characteristics aside from that of being the opposite to Brittas and true trouble shooter without whom Gordon would be a lot bigger mess. Those with equal distinction to Gordon are Carol, the 'Hello, welcome to Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre - how may I help you..?' receptionist, who has her children reside in the cupboards in the reception. Her scatty neuroticism is equalled by her need to be truly assistant and worthy and her contribution to the seasons 1-3 is profound. The character of Colin, who surprisingly is also a manager in charge of facilities and maintenance - has the worst personal habits imaginable - with facial boils and consistent bandage on his hand covering something nasty and transferable. Colin has invention and the turn towards garden shed mechanical solutions. The other comedic support comes in the guise of Helen Brittas (Pippa Haywood) whose character changes from grounded wife in the first two seasons to the manically depressed junkie with promiscuous and kleptomaniac tendencies.

There are others that loan support, Tim and Gavin, the homosexual couple that act as bickering pool attendants, live out the relative fortunes of their relationship within the confines and context of the life of Whitbury New Town Leisure centre, which for the duration of the seasons, survives bombings, threatened rat infestations, poisonous pool problems and the various revenge stunts carried out by Joe Public on Gordon himself due to his insane but profoundly funny needs for correct procedure. The presence of a homosexual couple within the confines of the times would appeal to the politically correct nature of Gordon, as does the very misguided ability to encourage Carol despite her many inadequacies. The staff endures the conduits for Gordon's methodology, which finds them in endless team meetings on Health & Safety, personal development, presenting feedback questionnaires for the customers and the odd bout of needless staff training. The viewpoint of the local councillors is to urge Brittas ever towards a heavy duty European bureaucracy which is ideal for him and it is in the lead up to this that the seasons are at their most satisfying.

Unfortunately  - all that is set up rather dwindles away by season six and seven, the cast as ever playing their idiosyncrasies to perfection and with conviction but the absence of Laura in season six leaves a gap and the scenarios become a tad too incredulous whereas the happenings and events in the first five instalments were ever fresh. The Christmas Specials are fun in the Special Features and the quizzes strangely engaging. The need for the viewer to test themselves on the ways of the leisure centre and its staff is unexpected and oddly demanding when the questions are wrongly answered and it feels as though the scrutiny of Gordon Brittas himself is in the air, which is darned clever.

A well loved, deservedly respected and cherished series comes back to us after a long silence just when BritPop, another British cultural creature of the 1990s is being given the 20th anniversary treatment. A must for those that savour British comedy and a learning curve for those that don't.

Release date 14 April 2014 on Eureka Video.

Gail Spencer

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