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"I can't stand around chatting all day, I've got men to lay off..."
on 6 July 2007
Bradley Hardacre is determined that the Lancashire town of Utterley shall not fall victim to the Great Depression. This is because he owns it - from the cottage hospital (the former cottage workhouse where he grew up on a diet of kicks and gruel) to the crutch factory where he first began to master the dark arts of capitalism and, finally, to the mine, the mill and the munitions factory from which he has earned a fortune. Now, having married a neurotic aristocrat and developed an abiding hatred of the working class among whom he spent his early years, Hardacre plans to climb to the pinnacle of British society - no matter what the cost (to be paid by others, naturally).
This is the premise of a inspired comedy from the early 1980s (apart from the final series, which was broadcast in 1990). The 32-episode series follows the fortunes of the Fairchild and Hardacre families as the relationships between their respective sons and daughters become intertwined in ever more bizarre ways. The whole thing is played very straight and deadpan, with suitably dramatic music and lots of theatrical touches.
Writers John Stevenson and Julian Roach hilariously exploit and discard one cliché after another, sending up Brideshead Revisited, Sherlock Holmes and Private's Progress among many other classic genres. In addition to the outrageously stereotyped characters themselves, brief glimpses of supposedly historical figures are also seen - `Murdoch' from the Utterley Bugle, `Fleming' in the laboratory and `von Braun' the fireworks engineer, among many others.
Quick delivery and sheer wealth of material means more than one viewing is needed to spot all the cultural and historical references. The acting is a delight throughout and the plot is enjoyably complex. Only the third series (in which Hardacre is determined that Britain should resist the Nazi onslaught for as long as he can turn a profit) shows hints of weakness, with some repetition of jokes and unresolved plot elements.
However, I would unreservedly recommend Brass to anyone who appreciates good verbal comedy and has some familiarity with the numerous genres on which the series is based (or debased).