Brittas Empire #2: “Bye Bye Baby” (1.3)

Synopsis

Gordon Brittas, concerned by the leisure centre’s appalling rate of staff absenteeism, instigates a series of one-to-one interviews with his employees (outside of their working hours) and books a stress expert to lecture on “Tranquillity without Drugs”.

Carol meanwhile is particularly overwrought: at her penury, Brittas’ threat to confiscate her baby and the circumstances of her failed marriage. Laura drags her away from the reception for a cup of tea. Brittas inadvertently fills the breach, handling a straightforward lost property enquiry in his fussy and petty manner and before long there is a long queue of fed up customers, including the stress expert who loses his temper at Brittas.

Carol learns that her husband will return to her and recovers her composure. However, Brittas’ arrangements to bring her baby to her only results in Colin unwittingly snatching somebody else’s infant. Then, when Carol’s husband arrives, the other child (who is of different race) is presented to him as his son by Brittas, who then (getting the wrong end of the stick about the estrangement) dismays him by suggesting that he is impotent. When Carol eventually comes down to the reception to meet him, she is bewildered by his sudden and angry departure.

Once the dust has settled, the staff gather in the sports hall for the stress lecture. Unfortunately, the speaker is further antagonized by Brittas’ insistence on using the centre’s projector instead of his own. When he finds that all of his presentation slides have been inserted upside down, he smashes up the projector, swallows a mouthful of pills and alcohol and rages at Brittas. All in all, Brittas in attempting to improve the well-being of his staff has managed to cause more (emotional) destruction. Back at home, as Helen returns from an overnight stay with “Uncle Simon” in a nurse’s uniform, he reflects on his own happiness, remarking to her that they are “the lucky ones”.

Thoughts

This episode is very farcical, with its centre dominated by the (slightly crude) baby snatching and resulting confusion, and the long sequence where Brittas’ laboriously handles a lost property claim. Chris Barrie is very good during this, mimicking echoes of Kenneth Williams alongside Brian Clough (“young man”).

It’s mostly about Brittas and his exasperating character: he sometimes notices the symptoms that relate to people’s reactions to him (normally when they relate to his job, such as with the Leisure Centre’s absenteeism), but he’s totally oblivious to the fact that he is responsible for them (the bookends to this episode, where his wife’s promiscuity is insinuated in an over the top fashion).

This episode is devoted to the lead character and most of the supporting characters don’t have much to do. Laura makes the fatal mistake early on of taking her eye away from Brittas to get on with her own job; she instead sends Gavin to assist with dealing with Carol, but Brittas easily intercepts him and drags him into his interminable handling of the missing school tie. Colin has a typically clumsy intervention where he grabs the wrong baby and perplexes Carol’s husband. Tim only briefly appears to deal with the mother of the snatched child. Linda has the week off.

Only Carol is prominent in this episode and we learn that her misfortunes are underpinned by the failure of her marriage. When she learns that her husband is coming back to her, she undergoes a startling transformation: her customary frazzled hysteria disappears and she becomes (somewhat chillingly – it’s a memorable moment) calm and composed (“Goodness me, I feel so much better!”),

The farcical nature of the plot and some of the performances pall a little (the times when Chris Barrie takes Brittas’ characterisation into his goofy, over the top “insisting” is mildly annoying). But Fegen and Norriss’ script has so much going on and so much detail, that the programme is very engaging. Some of the lines are amusing too: I liked Carol’s enigmatic “It’ll be like Minehead all over again” and Brittas’ “he’s going on the same list as the flower-arranging lady we had last week”.  

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