Brittas Empire #5: “Assassin” (#1.06, 14/02/1991)

The season finale begins in the familiar setting of Brittas’ kitchen, where he is puzzled and concerned by the reports in front of him: on this occasion, it is the Centre’s pitiful visitor numbers. Later, in his office with his deputies Laura and Colin, he announces that his solution is to promote special offers to encourage more visitors.

Brittas is particularly incompetent in this episode, at times eye-screwingly so. His promotional offers are meagre in value and bewilderingly complicated, and even Colin is wise enough to point out that posting the leaflets within the leisure centre will do little to attract people from outside.

There’s a memorable sequence at the reception desk (similar to “Bye Bye Baby”) when Brittas engages with the public. Two blokes have come for a game of tennis, when Gordon grabs their attention and explains a promotion for a tiny discount at a sports shop. They are politely appreciative in response but Brittas, completely occupied with offering them a good thing, wrongly believes that they are genuinely keen on the offer. He eagerly explains the myriad conditions, but each one logically results in the worth of the offer disappearing. Brittas ends up forcing the exasperated men to abandon their intended tennis to go to the sports shop before it closes down.

His incompetence is further illustrated with his relations with his staff. Their weariness of him is illustrated by their avoidance and contempt towards his variety of staff recognition schemes – they don’t value them (and certainly don’t want to win an evening in Brittas’ company).

Whilst Brittas is going about his business, a shadowy character is going around in sinister manner, planning to kill him via sabotage/gas poisoning/throwing him off the roof. Given the series’ history so far, the assassin could justifiably be most of the regulars, but it turns out to be a deranged choirmaster; from the points he maniacally describes to Gavin, Brittas’ presence in the choir seems to have driven him far beyond the end of his tether. It’s a demonstration of Brittas’ capacity for destruction, that a stolid middle-England figure could become murderously deranged.

So by presenting his flaws as much as it does, this episode offers some reasons as to why Brittas should die and also how he could die. Why he doesn’t die here is due to firstly, his capacity for self-preservation: Larry lures him up onto the roof, but isn’t able to control Brittas, whose blithe assertiveness even in complete ignorance of his own peril, easily turns the tables on him.

Secondly there is the morality of Brittas and his desire to bring good to society. This is why Gavin is shocked by Larry’s plot to murder him (even though Brittas’ insensitivity on the matter of homosexuality makes him change his mind about warning him).

And then in the epilogue in the hospital room, where we find Brittas stricken after being run down by a treacle lorry, Laura earnestly persuades a jaded Helen of Gordon’s qualities, things that should be supported and appreciated. In a brilliant punchline, Helen gets up and turns his life support machine back on.

I thought that this was a good episode, which presented the ultimate contradiction in the character of Gordon: how can someone who causes so much chaos and aggravation also be moral and decent? If the show had only this one season, it would have been a fine sign-off. 3/5

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