Follow TV Tropes


Series / Brass

Go To
The leading happy couple.

Brass was a British television comedy-drama, created by John Stevenson and Julian Roach, which initially ran for two series on ITV between 1982 and 1984; it was subsequently brought back for a third series in 1990 on Channel 4, with some changes to the cast. It was primarily a parody of the sort of "gritty" melodramas of British industrial town life which had been popular in literature from the Victorian period through to the 1930s, and as period dramas on British television in the 1970s. ("Brass" is northern English slang for "money" and also for "effrontery".) It also parodied American "supersoaps" such as Dallas and Dynasty, not least in its opening title sequence. The writers had a very clear view of the dominant tropes in their various sources, and played them all for laughs at every opportunity.

Most of the characters were members of two families in the fictional town of Utterley, in the industrial north of England; the wealthy Hardacres, who owned the local mine, mill, and munitions factory, and the working-class Fairchilds. The Hardacre family was headed by comedically ruthless self-made businessman Bradley (Timothy West). His aristocratic wife Lady Patience (Caroline Blakiston) was an alcoholic; their (surviving, supposed) children were the nymphomaniac Isobel (Gail Harrison), innocent Charlotte (Emily Morgan), ambitious but frequently incompetent oldest-son-and-heir Austin (Robert Reynolds, later Patrick Pearson), and a gay Cambridge student Morris (James Saxon). The Fairchilds were militant socialist "Red" Agnes (Barbara Ewing), her idiotic, subservient husband George (Geoffrey Hinsliff, later Geoffrey Hutchings), and their (supposed) sons Jack (Shaun Scott), a defiant working-class political idealist, and Matt (Gary Cady), a sensitive soul who wrote ridiculously bad, plagiaristic poetry ("Thou are more lovely and more interesting/Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May but that's quite another thing"). Because of various clandestine affairs that took place in the series backstory, actual parentage for some of these characters often turned out to be a surprise. The most significant other character was the idealistic young Scottish Dr. McDuff (David Ashton).

Most of the plots of the series revolved around Bradley's attempts to squeeze maximum profits from his business by oppression of his workers, and attempts by the rest of the cast to oppose him in various ways (up to and including murder) for various reasons. However, these tended to be complicated by the fact that many of the characters were having sexual affairs with each other — in fact, Bradley and Agnes were having a relationship throughout the series. Other events, typical of the sort of dramas that were being parodied, included factory explosions, mining disasters, weddings, and elections. Morris and his beloved Teddy Bear also represented a joke about Brideshead Revisited, the first television adaptation of which had appeared and been successful a little before Brass, and Morris also became involved in spying for Stalinist Russia — something also associated with some Cambridge students of the period. Matt also went off to the Spanish Civil War at one point. The last series moved events forward to 1939 and the start of World War II, in which the cast inevitably became involved, and moved much of the action to London.

Brass provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Lady Patience. She's still quite functional in other ways, but she puts away a lot of gin.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Occasionally invoked. Most of the major female characters are quite lustful, with Charlotte as the exception, but they're really no worse than the men, and there's little sign of misogyny; it's just the sort of comedy where characters are forever lusting after each other. In fact, old-fashioned misogynistic attitudes are occasionally satirised; at one point, Bradley is deeply shocked when a woman he's seduced expects him to give her pleasure.
  • Arranged Marriage: Isobel to Lord Mountfast.
  • Bed Mate Reveal: Used occasionally throughout the series. There were a fair number of opportunities.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Played for Laughs, with minimal internal loyalty, by the Hardacres.
  • Blackmail: Just one of Bradley's tactics. One standard sub-trope is parodied when he says that he'll give the victim the negatives of the incriminating photographs — but keep multiple copies of the prints.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Parodied in a scene where Bradley sets out to blackmail McDuff, and they hold a cliched discussion starting with this very phrase — but with each of them pointing out what the other can be expected to say next.
  • Blueblood: Lady Patience, of course, and also Lord Mountfast, Charlotte's real father who Isobel briefly marries.
  • Camp Gay: Morris. Played for Laughs, if only in that very few of the rest of the cast seemed to notice.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Morris, briefly, reacting to the realisation that Matt is entirely straight and in love with Charlotte.
  • Droit du Seigneur: Appears to be exercised, informally but extensively (and without waiting for them to get married), by Bradley. Many of the housemaids round his mansion seem to be pregnant.
  • Extreme Doormat: George isn't competent, and doesn't grow into any strength. He's just a doormat.
  • Faceā€“Heel Turn: Jack undergoes one of these, abandoning his political ideals to go into business on his own for the money (although he's also doing this partly for love). He never becomes as bad as Bradley or Austin, though.
  • Godiva Hair: Isobel and Charlotte team up to pull a Lady Godiva ride at one point, although decency is maintained more by camera angles than hair length.
  • Great Detective: Parodied in one episode.
  • The Hat Makes the Man: The Fairchild family are guardians of a worker's cloth cap left in the town by Keir Hardie (a historical figure — an early Labour Party activist and something of a real-world Working-Class Hero). This doesn't actually have supernatural powers, but it's treated as terribly important. Among other things, it must never be worn in the presence of Bradley Hardacre, because then social pressure would demand that it be taken off, and it must never be taken off out of class deference. Indeed, it must always be kept on in the presence of a the boss's family - even when in bed with his daughter. Matt dons the cap when Jack betrays his class, and thus becomes the hero for a while.
  • Heroic Bastard: Matt, at his best, in a very confused way — after he's turned out to be one of Bradley's many by-blows.
  • Historical Person Punchline: Used on occasion.
  • I Banged Your Mom: Averted twice, first with Agnes and Bradley, as Matt is two naive to understand when he almost catches them in the act, and then with Lady Patience and Matt, as Charlotte is similarly innocent, even after Matt explains what her mother has just ... demonstrated to him.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: When Agnes stands for Parliament, her preference for low-cut tops seems to be strangely relevant to the success of her speech-making. Charlotte also accidentally uses the technique in a much more innocent way when organising rescue work after the mine disaster.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Happens periodically, though actually more often after than during the act; there's relatively little comedy of last-moment frustration in this series. One joke involves Bradley being found, by the camera or by other characters, standing around Agnes's house in his underwear. It turns out that he appreciates her skill ironing his clothes. And he's having an affair with her.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama: Parodied intensively throughout the series.
  • Lady Drunk: Lady Patience.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Sexually reversed when Isobel falls for Jack, though she's fairly pragmatic about it. Also perhaps present there in the standard form, in that Jack seems to have a bit of a past history himself and thinks of himself that way, but the joke is that Isobel has been even more active than him. He perhaps gets even more romantic when he later falls for Charlotte.
  • Laughably Evil: It's a comedy with some comedy-villain characters.
  • Love Dodecahedron: The series is a comedy soap opera with a lot of sex and dark secrets. Listing all the relationships would be a long job with a lot of spoilers. There's more lust than love involved, but some of that too.
  • Meaningful Name: "Hardacre" and "Fairchild" seem indicative, and the name of minor character and habitual pessimist Job Lott is a multi-way Bible-based pun. Also, though it isn't particularly meaningful, Austin, Morris, and their deceased brother Bentley are named after British car manufacturers, and Jack and Matt are named after items used in the game of bowls.
  • Mr. Exposition: Parodied, in that any and all of the characters can and do fill this role whenever needed, and often when not. Expository speeches in Brass usually end with the words " you well know", because the other characters do know this stuff already.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Bradley is a parody of the classic Nouveau Riche businessman who tries to use marriage as a path into the aristocracy. Lady Patience is evidently from a noble family, giving her a courtesy title, and their marriage is no love match, and in the course of the series, he persuades Isobel to marry an aged and depraved aristocrat in the hope that this will help him acquire a title of his own.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Bradley doesn't believe in excessive worker health and safety considerations. "Everything possible is being done, short of risking damage to valuable equipment." The actual factory is mostly off-screen, probably because of limited production money for sets, but anyway it explodes at least once. Bradley isn't worried, as this merely proves that his new explosive works just fine.
  • Nouveau Riche: Bradley turns all the clichés up to maximum and then invents some more, such as eating lobster with chips (French fries, to Americans) — to the disgust of Lady Patience.
  • Oh, Crap!: These sort of moments occur as often as in most comedies; notably, the second season begins with Morris and a friend celebrating the supposed annihilation of the rest of the family that ended the first, because that would have left Morris as the only surviving heir to Bradley's empire — only for Bradley and the family to walk in. Actually, that sort of thing happens a lot when any character tries to get rid of Bradley, especially if it's Austin.
  • Oop North: Parody of the stereotypes associated with this trope was very much the point of Brass, especially in the first two series.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Bradley and George grew up together in the local orphanage. It's not clear if the place was all that bad, but they were definitely very poor, and Bradley clearly had George completely dominated even then.
  • Plucky Girl: Charlotte, when she's needed. She's mostly just dimly idealistic, but she does, for example, take the lead in rescue efforts after the mine disaster.
  • Questionable Consent: The presence of this trope might sometimes be considered an issue here — the series shows its age in this respect. Jack's sexual relationship with Charlotte is very dubious by modern standards, and there's some messing about with a sort of Love Potion that turns characters into rampant sex maniacs in other episodes.
  • Rags to Riches: Bradley's history, and also Jack's goal when he abandons his political idealism.
  • Really Gets Around: Arguably Isobel's shtick, although once she latches onto Jack ("I love him hopelessly! Passionately! Recklessly! Frequently."), she doesn't seem inclined to stray. Jack implies that he behaves much the same way, but with him this seems to be more a matter of his ruggedly sexy proletarian image than his actual behavior; Isobel has more notches in her bedpost.
  • Recurring Extra: The workers who Agnes and others sometimes try to organise include some borderline cases, though the best of them get names and a few lines occasionally. Notable examples include Job Lott, Young Scargill, and Hattersley — one Meaningful Name and two quasi-historical figures.
  • Royal Brat: Austin, although he suffers from a shortage of decent flunkies and his father is too smart to trust him.
  • Self-Made Man: Bradley is a full-time evil parody of this trope.
  • Sex Comedy: Most of the characters are prone to lecherousness, so many of the plots and sub-plots involved large doses of sex comedy.
  • Share Phrase: A conversation between two characters will frequently end like this:
    Character 1 (hesitantly) You don't mean? (leaving the rest of the sentence unsaid)
    Character 2 That's EXACTLY what I mean!
  • Small-Town Tyrant: Bradley epitomises the northern English version of the trope, parodied to the extreme and successful enough to run a moderately substantial town.
  • The Starscream: Austin.
  • Surprise Incest: Always averted, although given the number of real-parentage reveals, the fact that this was more a matter of luck than judgement was arguably a background joke in the series.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Frequently Bradley's situation. Most of his schemes are fairly solid, but he often has to work through the less competent Austin (who might be actively working against him) or even employ George as a pawn.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Parodied by Lady Patience, who starts the series faking disability, then decides to stop and so has to fake a miracle cure.
  • Uptown Girl: Jack pursues Isobel (not that she runs very fast, at all), and Matt rather more innocently pursues Charlotte.
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: Matt (especially) and also Charlotte, though she has a little bit of comedy Virgin Power. Not that either of them become much smarter when they gain more sexual experience.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Charlotte, to the extreme, and Matt and McDuff to a slightly lesser extent. All Played for Laughs, of course, with a certain amount of comedy Break the Cutie at times.
  • Working-Class Hero: Jack, albeit very much as a comedy version.