Sunday, 25 November 2018

Brittassing In Action

The Brittas Empire ran for seven series on BBC One between 1991 and 1997, all of which were later released on DVD, alongside a limited amount of bonus content. And what they chose, and didn't choose, to include as special features is a bit odd.

There was no specially filmed content for any of the releases (although one or two tried interactive games and quizzes, as well as text profiles of the cast and trivia), but Series 1 includes a Royal Variety Performance skit from 1996 featuring the cast in character; Series 2 has a GMTV item on the show (which is much better than it sounds, as it includes an extensive tour of the set); and similarly later series feature a contemporary Wogan interview with Chris Barrie and a never-before-seen reel of outtakes. So someone, somewhere, was clearly making the effort to track down obscure, previously unreleased footage for these releases.

However, the show made two contributions to Children in Need, neither of which are archived on the DVDs. For the 1995 telethon, Mr Brittas "teamed up with boxer Frank Bruno", which I am informed by Chris Barrie Fans on Twitter was a mini-episode of the show. The series' creators, Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen, left the show after Series 5 in 1994, and two further series were made with a team of different writers, the first of which began airing in early 1996 - so presumably this mini-episode, coming shortly before that, was the first transmitted Brittas not written by its creators? (A commonly accepted theory, as given by the excellent John Hoare here, is that Series 5 was meant to be the last, but the BBC wanted more and when the creators turned them down they bought the new writers in to take over.)

There also appears to have been another mini-episode the following year, although I can't find any more information about its nature. (Between this, the Royal Variety Performance appearance and that year's Christmas special, which got a nice slot on Christmas Eve, the show seems to have been a very big deal at that point.) Finally, a few months after the last series went out in early 1997, Gordon returned to our screens for Get Fit with Brittas, a series of 10-minute shorts designed to (legitimately) offer fitness advice to the public (occasionally joined by another Brittas regular - Colin, Julie and Helen appear in one short apiece - and a string of celebrity guests).

The BBC Genome doesn't list any writers for Get Fit, but I would have presumed they were done by the same team of writers who put together the last two series after Norriss and Fegen departed, although they were directed by John Kilby, who had never before worked on Brittas, and produced by Paul Reizin rather than Brittas' regular producer, Mike Stephens. Furthermore, the Radio Times listings all refer to a BBC Education tie-in booklet you could send away for, which appears to be this. The booklet was written by one Ian Banks, who appears to be a prolific author of fitness and health advice books, so did he work on the shorts too? Did the BBC bring in yet another team to make these?

Now, these are surely less obscure (or equally so, at the very least) than some of the clips that did make it to DVD, and the Get Fit shorts in particular seem to be a pretty significant part of the show's history to be missing. But all of these shorts seem completely lost to time - they're not on the DVDs, and there's no trace of them on the Internet either. I wonder if there was some sort of licensing issue with celebrities appearing as themselves, or if there was some clause that said they couldn't be repeated or released commercially due to their nature. (On a similar note, one wonders why the two One Foot in the Grave Comic Relief sketches weren't included on their respective DVDs, although those are at least available on YouTube - are there any other known omissions like this?)

A comprehensive guide to The Brittas Empire tie-in books.
There was also an earlier tie-in book, Sharing the Dream by Jonathan Rice (who also provided similar works for Keeping Up Appearances and a companion book for Cold Feet), which was released circa 1994 and was a self-help guide/autobiography written in-character as Brittas, and was also available as an audio reading by Chris Barrie, which could possibly have been represented with brief excerpts (similar to the extracts from the Red Dwarf audiobooks on the appropriate DVDs). The book itself is still readily available to buy used on Amazon, though, and the audiobook has been uploaded by someone on YouTube if you want to go looking, so that's not as great a loss. (Similarly, it was also apparently quite common for Mr Brittas to turn up in Crinkley Bottom in the 90s, but those also survive via the magic of video sharing websites.)

I am now really quite curious about that booklet, though...

No comments:

Post a Comment