Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tell Laura I Love Her

Julia St JohnGordon Brittas.

If you were around in the Nineties and of an age to appreciate a proper sitcom done damnably well then that name will mean something to you. If not then, like my eldest boy, you will have to delve in the BBC’s back catalogue and get the boxed set.

Continuing my boy’s odyssey through the comedy shows of my formative years we have finally reached The Brittas Empire.

Gordon Brittas (played by Chris Barrie) was way ahead of his time. He was a forerunner for every Fire Safety diehard, every devoted Risk Assessor, every in-your-face, dyed-in-the-wool, dog-savaging-a-rabbit, never-going-to-let-it-drop-ever Health & Safety Officer who has ever walked, breathed and told you to move that pencil sharpener from the edge of your desk in case a colleague should trip over their own brogues and impale themselves upon it. He was the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse: Mr Bump.

At the time I thought The Brittas Empire was hilarious. By the third series the writers (Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen) were well into their stride and managed to demolish Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre in ever more inventive and bizarre ways. Rogue fireworks ignited by sunlight cast through a carelessly discarded pair of spectacles would in turn ignite a storeroom being used to house petroleum because the fuel tank had a hole in it; over elaborate fire safety drills would actually result in staff being injured and horribly maimed; the most improbable of small events would domino and coalesce into disasters of national proportions in the space of half an hour. Mr Brittas would be the author of all. The more obsessive he became about doing the right thing and following safety guidelines the higher the body count would rise. I think in the fifth series the writers actually managed to destroy the Centre in every single episode.

In theory Mr Brittas should have been an unsympathetic character whose blind adherence to local byways and the letter of the law rendered him beyond redemption. But he was saved. He was saved by Laura Lancing his long suffering, ever patient, ever understanding Assistant Manager played by the gorgeous Julia St John (pictured above). Rather than create a mean two-dimension caricature of an overzealous jobsworth, the writers – through Laura’s insights and interventions – created a more rounded character who, despite scoring a whopping 100% on the National Annoyance League Table, was nevertheless a decent, well-meaning man who constantly tried to be kind and caring and morally upstanding and who was only ever hampered in achieving this by his fevered need to always do the right thing.

 Laura was an angel. Laura was a goddess. And she had the soft, smooth voice to match and a ready ironic smile where most would have had gritted teeth.

Naturally I fancied the gym skirt off her back when the series was first aired and watching it again now she has lost none of her allure. Even my wife has commented that most guys she knows “had a thing” for Laura. Laura was the calm in Mr Brittas’ storm. The Ying to his Yang. The sensible, sane response to the madness that he unfailingly caused. And she had eyes that could stun a charging red blooded male at 50 paces. I would have died for that woman and, if I’d worked at Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre, the chances are I probably would have.

I laughed at the time. I thought the premise of the show was hilarious.

And while I’m still laughing now, watching it years later, that laughter is distinctly tinged with nervousness. It is tinged with a sense of burgeoning tragedy.

Because suddenly Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre is all around me.

It has become the world I live in. A world where workmen cannot abandon their ladders in case some cranially challenged hoody decides to show off to his mates and swan-dive from the top of it and then sue the company for his inability to sign-on every week. A world where hot water cannot be too hot lest it scald the person washing their hands but not so lukewarm that it allows Legionella bacteria to grow and flourish. A world where everything from opening a trap door in the floor to lifting a hot cup of tea to your mouth during work time has to be risk assessed and approved by a Health & Safety Officer and underwritten by an insurance company lest the corporation be responsible for your accidental demise.

It is the world I work in.

It is the modus operandi of my working life.

I have become Mr Brittas.

Only I don’t have a Laura to sweeten the pill. A Laura to save me from myself.

*sigh*

As the song goes: tell Laura I love her, tell Laura I need her...

But onwards and upwards, people. Now excuse me while I just move this unexploded World War II bomb I’ve found into the gas boiler room for safe keeping... oops, look at that petrol spilled on the floor... someone could have slipped over on that...


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24 comments:

Nota Bene said...

They should rerun/remake this...I never really watched it, all bar a few minutes and hadn't appreciated the humour...now I feel I missed out. I blame you.

Steve said...

Nota Bene: too much fun can be very bad for you, you have to stick to the officially recommended limits, I have a guidebook you can borrow if you like or I can photocopy it for you, it's only 17,000 pages...

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

I too remember the Brittas Empire, although perhaps not quite as fondly as you.

You should come and live in Spain for a year, all that 'elf and safety nonsense will be knocked right out of you. Mind you, you will spend a proportionately large amount of time wincing and saying things like "blimey, that would never be allowed back home" whilst scanning the horizon for the nearest medical centre.

Owen said...

Ah, those flames from long ago... how they still tear at the heart...

vegemitevix said...

Don't think I've ever seen that! Sounds very funny, and from what I've seen about the Elf and Safety regs over here I can imagine it would be a nightmare to work in that environment. You might not have a Laura but you do have something better...someone to go home to! ;-p

Kelloggs Ville said...

I used to watch it in fits and spurts. I found it funny and irritating in equal measure, a bit like Fawlty Towers. They have recently taken away all our bins under the H&S guise at work. I assume there was a risk assessment about the mountains of rotting fruit waste that now sits on my desk until I can be bothered to redistribute it in whatever way I feel most appropriate* (*read 'to the desk of the person that annoys me most that day')

London City (Mum) said...

Oh lordy! The Brittas Empire! How could I ever forget? A true classic and precursor to subsequent series ('The Office' springs to mind).

LCM x

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I shall have to re-watch it. I remember Mr Brittas and the crazy receptionist Carol who kept her baby in the filing cabinet and that's about it! Did you order a DVD boxset or something?

Laura x

Gorilla Bananas said...

Sadly, she's not related to Jill St. John, who played Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever. She does remind me of the owl woman in Space 1999 though. Nice thick eyebrows!

John Gray said...

I am with note bene..as I never really watched this show.... i suspect I never did because I didn't "like" the lead as I never "got" the hitchhikers guide...
an interesting flit down memory lane though.......

ps as for the shard.... I love it!
mind you I HAVE got a Towering Inferno complex

Steve said...

Very Bored in Catalunya: sounds like there might be an opening for a Senior Brittas, eh?

Owen: indeed Whitbury Newtown Leisure Centre is still smouldering.

Vix: very true and, unlike the wife of Mr Brittas, mine is not hooked on valium, sleeping pills and alcohol. At least I think she's not...

Kelloggs Ville: couldn't you have told them you were creating a mini biosphere?

LCM: Mr Brittas is the comedy Adam who begat everybody else - though
I'm sure there must have been earlier incarnations before Chris
Barrie. Not quite sure who his Eve is though.

Laura(!): to be honest I was sad enough to buy all the DVDs as they
were released during the Nineties. I quite fancied Carol too if I'm
honest. And the leggy receptionist, Julie. Mentally I was putting it about a bit. Laura was my number one though. Ahem.

Gorilla Bananas: these were the days before eyebrow plucking for women was de rigeur... I have to say I like the fact that her eyebrows are au naturale; they don't detract from her femininity at all.

John: I have it on good authority that were you to approach the
building with any kind if accelerant or combustible material the police will pounce. Or possibly even a jobsworth in a blazer & tie carrying a very large H&S guidebook...

Löst Jimmy said...

I never watched the series and often wondered what Brittas did. Sounds he'd fit right in at the factory here.

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: Brittas ran a leisure centre... but if he were real he'd work for a local authority. Trust me. I know.

Vicky said...

One of my favorite shows, Carol was hilarious LOL

Being Me said...

I have no idea what programme you're talking about, of course, but this

a decent, well-meaning man who constantly tried to be kind and caring and morally upstanding and who was only ever hampered in achieving this by his fevered need to always do the right thing.

leads me to believe they modelled that character on me somehow. Oh. All except the 'man' part.

Steve said...

Vicky: though her parenting skills were often questionable...

Being Me: you need to check the show out on YouTube to see that Mr Brittas is in no way modelled on you, my friend! ;-)

the fly in the web said...

'Elf and safety in Costa Rica.

The EU gives money to the capital, San Jose, to help it implement the law on equal access for people with disabilities.
San Jose installs wheelchair ramps from pavement to road level.
Except the pavements are at least two foot above road level and the ramps are about two foot three....

Steve said...

The fly in the web: so you'd need to Evel Knievel to get onto the ramps? Love it.

Hannah Denski said...

Ah, never seen! Guessing this one's way before 'my' time... in UK at least! Will need to check the archives. ; )

Steve said...

Hannah: it's a telling insight into British culture...

Marginalia said...

Sorry mate, have to close this website down - 'elf and safety worries.

Also, your worrying and I believe possibly certifiable love of TV totty.

Trish @ Mums Gone To... said...

You are providing your son with a fascinating insight into our telly watching history. He may need therapy.

The Sagittarian said...

Brilliantly ahead of its time....

Steve said...

Marginalia: I'll gladly wear a straitjacket. Just make sure there's a telly in my room.

Trish: don't worry. We're moving onto Bottom next. That should sort him out.

Amanda: frighteningly so...