“There is either the maddest wise man or the wisest mad man in the world”
For many, many years I’ve been a fan of the story of “Don Quixote” the “Man from La Mancha” ever since I heard the songs from the 1964 musical performed on a TV show in the late 1980’s. Getting older I understood the song lyrics true meaning and became gripped by the story itself. The story written by Miguel de Cervantes between 1605 and 1615 was both satire and tragedy rolled into one. The sad tale of a man valiantly trying to do good but failing every time, unaware others see him as a joke. Oblivious of being mocked and despised even when it is done to his face.
When in 1991 Brittas Empire came to our screens I became an instant fan of the show. I was especially intrigued by the character of Gordon Brittas played, of course, by Chris Barrie. Here was another man trying desperately to do good while mocked by those around him. He too was both funny and tragic at the same time. In many ways Gordon could be a reincarnation of the famous Knight Of The Woeful Countenance.
Like Don Quixote Brittas Empire was both comedy/satire with a deeply tragic layer underneath. It shows the way society is and how peoples good intentions are usually misunderstood.
Writers Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen brought an intreguing mix of psychology, humanity and comedy to the script while the childlike naivity Chris Barrie brought to Brittas’ character – he is one of those rare actors who can convey an emotion simply by looking into the camera- made you love the man even though he was supposed to be annoying and petty.
Both Brittas and Don Quixote have a dream that they believe in at all cost, even though no-one else does. They are thought mad, annoying a nuisance. Neither Quixote nor Brittas see this: the others simply don’t understand the code the high morals they live by.
They do not live in the real world, they live by the books they seek out. Books teaching them the right way, the just way the good way to do things. Blinded by these lessons they set out in to the world trying to help, trying to do good. Sadly the help they give does not actually help anybody and it often ends in disaster. Neither of them see the disasters: they feel they have done the right thing.
Worst still: both men drive those closest to them crazy and often end up in violent situations.
Despite their urge to do good, Quixote and Brittas are oddly blind to the real problems out there, the problems that are not in the books they have read. For example Don Quixote does not see the horrors Aldonza faces while Brittas is blind to the problems of Carol.
This is of course because they look at women in a strange way: they see the ideal, not a real woman.
Don Quixote falls for Aldonza, a prostitute whom he sees as an angelic virgin. No matter what anyone says, no matter what she does, he believes she is a fair, honourable chaste lady: Dulcinea.
Brittas feels the same for his wife Helen. He is blind to her cheating ways and often refers to her as an “angel”.
On the other end of the scale is the loyal servant seeing his master through rose tinted glasses. Believing in his madness, wanting him to realise his dream and always standing up to him.
Quixote has his fiercely loyal Sancho Panza.
With Brittas of course there is Colin, as loyal as Sancho to the point of seeming actually in love with Brittas.
Both have a high sense of justice, wanting to change the world to how it should be, how they see it. To right wrongs, to bring peace in the way they feel is best.
Don Quixote decided “sally forth into the world in search of adventures; to mount a crusade; to raise up the weak and those in need.”
While Brittas turned to sport because: “In a divided and troubled world such as this it seems to me that sport is the one thing that can bring people together.”
Their dream is beautiful and so naïve. They are both unfit to be leaders as they are in many ways so damaged themselves. The pain when confronted with reality – by the “Knight of the Mirrors” or Councillor Drugget – is almost to much to bare for both of them. Their dream is in many ways the only thing that keeps them alive. Both have to face this moment to save the honour of their “lady”.
It is their tragedy and it also tells the truth about this world: how people that try to do good are judged and misunderstood as are those that are different.
In both cases the other party thought bringing the dreamer to reality was for the good of everybody. This turned out to be wrong in both cases.
Sometimes a dream is the only thing a person has and no matter how much you disagree and think the other crazy, taking it away from someone damages them more than the fantasy they live in. They might be fighting windmills, but atleast they have something to believe in.
A tribute to Gordon Brittas the 20th Century Don Quixote …