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Being a huge British TV comedy fan, there are not many comedy programmes that I dislike. Series' such as Only Fools and Horses and Fawlty Towers are among my favourite BBC comedies, but the same cannot be said for The Brittas Empire. Upon it's first airing I have to say that I wasn't too impressed by the comedy set in a leisure centre. I found the main character (a certain Gordon Brittas) to be extremely irritating, which was probably the main reason I stopped watching.  However, Eureka Video have now decided to release the whole first series on DVD, so I thought it was about time I paid Whitbury Leisure Centre another visit to see if it could impress me a second time around.

Brittas Empire, The - Complete Series One
The Series
The Brittas empire centres around the trials and tribulations of Gordon Brittas (Chris Barrie), the manager of the newly built Whitbury Leisure Centre. Gordon manages a team of highly motivated but slightly odd staff, including the likes of Deputy Manager Laura Lancing (Julia St. John), emotionally unstable receptionist Carole Parkinson (Harriet Thorpe), accident prone Colin (Michael Burns) and gay couple Gavin Featherly (Tim Marriot) and Russell Porter (Tim Whistler), to whom Brittas is naturally completely oblivious.

Gordon himself is completely dedicated to his job, but is also deemed by many to be a control freak. His intentions are good and he cares deeply about the centre but he often gets it completely wrong, upsetting customers and staff along the way. Another person who has to put up with Gordon's odd ways is his wife Helen (Phillipa Haywood). She fell for her husband's charms while he lay in a coma, but now spends most of her time wondering why she ever married him.

Series one of the Brittas empire contained six episodes and was first aired on the BBC in 1991. None of the episodes in the first series were actually given formal titles by the creators, so fans decided to name the episodes, and I used these titles below. Here are the episodes which you will find on this disc:

Laying The Foundations
This episode sets the scene for the first series. We are introduced to Gordon and his eccentric ways, which he demonstrates when he confiscates his nextdoor neighbour's son's cricket bat, only to find the boy’s mother eagerly watching. The episode also shows Gordon meeting his staff for the first time, when he quickly sets out his expectations of them.

Brittas Empire, The - Complete Series One
Opening Day
This is probably my favourite episode from the series because from start to finish everything that could go wrong, does go wrong!. The Duchess Of Kent is visiting the centre to formally open it to the public. The only problem is that the automatic doors to the Leisure Centre have a mind of their own, and the central heating isn’t working as well as it should. Cue some hilarious scenes as the janitor floods the boiler room, and the Duchess struggles to actually meet any of the staff.

Bye Bye Baby
Carole’s safe haven for her baby in her desk is not as secure as she first thought.  When she thinks Mr Brittas may have stolen it, she rushes into his room brandishing an axe and looking for answers. While all this is going on, the centre is being visited by a relaxation specialist who is to give a lecture to the staff. Even the calmest of characters struggle to keep their tempers and this episode ends with the lecturer being anything but composed.

Underwater Wedding
This episode focuses on an underwater wedding, but things don’t go to plan! The best man gets stuck at the bottom of the pool and Brittas reduces the bride to tears (unintentionally of course). Just to compound matters, the centre has a runaway geriatric who has had a little too much to drink and is using the corridors as a grandprix track for his electric wheelchair.

Stop Thief
Gorgon has closed the centre on the suspicion that there may be a thief in the ranks. Several trivial items have gone missing including Gavin’s “soap on a rope”! Mr Brittas wants to find the thief before things get out of hand, and therefore hatches several plans to catch the criminal. At the same time Colin is struggling to stay out of the toilets for more than five minutes at a time and Mrs Brittas is in desparate need of some more anti-depressant tablets.

The Assassin
Gordon has an admirer, but it is not the sort of attention he wants! Someone obviously has a grudge against him and has set various deadly traps, including tampering with the brakes on his car. While all this is happening Gordon is blissfully unaware and sets about his normally day, resulting in all kinds of chaos.

I never thought I would say this but my second viewing of the Brittas Empire has left me craving more.  While the series isn’t quite up to the standards of programmes like Only Fools and Horses, it does have some very amusing moments, which reminded me a little of the humour found in Faulty Towers. Gordon Brittas is similar to Basil Fawlty, in that he gets himself into cringeworthy situations with hysterical consequences. I mentioned in my introduction that I found the character of Gordon Brittas to be very annoying, however after watching this DVD I have realised what a unique character Chris Barrie has created. Gordon Brittas is supposed to be annoying and that is part of the reason why the series succeeds, in my opinion. This is a good series to start off with, because it has five strong episodes which should keep you laughing throughout.

Eureka Video have presented the Brittas Empire in its orignal 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. Having previously reviewed several BBC comedy DVDs, I had average expectactions for this one. Taking into consideration the fact that this series is now over ten years old, I would have to say my expectations were just about right. This is far from being a superb transfer, it has too many niggling flaws to  make it anything more than acceptable. The image is reasonably sharp, however colours appeared a little washed out, but consistent, and black levels were solid for the most part. The main areas where this transfer falls down is with grain levels and compression artifacts. The amount of grain present varies from distracting through to a manageable level, but for the majority of episodes there is too much for my liking. Compression artifacts are also largely present and prove to be annoying during most of the episodes. Overall this is a adequate transfer, which doesn’t show off the capabilities of DVD, but is still perfectly watchable.

Brittas Empire, The - Complete Series One
There is only one soundtrack packaged with this release which is on par with most TV releases these days. Eureka Video have supplied an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, which does it’s job with the least amount of fuss, but more importantly it does it well! The most significant part of this track is the dialogue, which I am glad to report is perfectly audible throughout. I cannot recall much background music (if any!), so cannot comment on that aspect of the soundtrack. Once again this aspect of the disc is not something to demo to your friends, but saying that there is very little to grumble about as well. A 5.1 soundtrack would have been completely redundant, so Eureka have kept it simple and produced a perfectly respectable track.

Eureka Video have supplied a list of extras with this release that far exceeds the selection found on most BBC DVDs. All of the extras for this release are housed on the first disc and the first extra I came across was the Chris Barrie Biography, which gives a very short description of the actor and also mentions the shows he has worked on so far. The next extra is good fun and is called Brittas Fitness Quiz. As you can probably guess from the title this is a quiz based on the series itself and tests how much attention you have been paying while watching the DVD. This extra is good, if only for the novelty value.

Next up on the disc is an extra called Management Notice Board. This displays information about the series, for example you can learn about the actual name of the leisure centre that was used in the series. There is also lots of information about individual episodes.  If you are into photographs then you will be interested in the adequate Picture Gallery that is suppplied with this disc. As mentioned it is a simplistic gallery, but there are still around sixteen photographs for you to browse through.  Next in the list of extras is the Series Two Trailer, which runs for just under a minute and shows various clips from the second series, while at the same time the theme music plays in the background.

Probably the best and longest extra on this disc is entitled Royal Variety Sketch and runs for around three minutes. Once again this title is pretty self-explanatory.  This extra is the brief sketch that the cast performed at the 1996 Royal Variety show. The humour isn't as witty as in the series, but even so, fans will probably enjoy the performance.

Brittas Empire, The - Complete Series One
As the episodes went by I found myself warming to this series, to the point where I am looking forward to the second series (Eureka have announced it for release in October). The Brittas Empire is not the funniest comedy to come from the BBC, but it does have its moments. Watching the first series for the first time it has set a good foundation, which I am hoping will be built upon in future series. Eureka Video have produced a respectable disc, which won’t set the world of DVD alight, but should keep fans of the series reasonably happy. The visual and audio aspects are run of the mill efforts, while the extras list is actually superior to what the BBC normally offer. If you are a fan of the series the wait has been worth it!