Brittas Empire #3: ‘Underwater Wedding’ (1.04, 24/01/1991)

This episode is an example of what the series is perhaps best remembered for: farcical, chaotic disaster situations with a mild tint of surrealism. It seems an ordinary morning; Brittas is in his office, interviewing a girl for job. Then a problem arises with the underwater wedding in the swimming pool. The best man’s finger has got stuck in the grate in the pool floor. Brittas’ officious attitude and his staff’s well-intended but ineffectual responses provoke a inevitably irate response from the guests (amusingly so with the Vicar).

Back in the reception area an oddly flustered Laura appears, chasing a drunk man in an electric wheelchair who, she reports, has been acting as a peeping tom in the ladies changing rooms. That scenario is all the 2nd half of the episode amounts to. The drunk man in the wheelchair isn’t a characterisation (may as well be an unruly Dalek running amok), its presence allows Brittas to declare a lockdown of the leisure centre. Again, his staff bungle the attempted capture: the martially disposed Colin discharges a harpoon into Tim.

Away from this runaround, Fegen and Norriss provide some more of Brittas’ backstory. The job interview with the vacant girl allows him to present his values and philosophy to us. He’s an idealist, dreaming of leading an inclusive community utopia, to the point where the functional purpose of the leisure centre is almost beyond him.

Helen appears prominently, in cutaways set in the canteen, confidentially chatting with a friend Pam about the origins of her life with Gordon (back to the long hot summer of 1983). Here she seems quite upbeat about her life, although characteristically blunt about his faults.

Underwater Wedding is a disappointing episode, its weaknesses being the flimsiness of the two disaster scenarios, and the unconvincingly farcical way they are handled by the characters.

Verdict 2/5