Now I tried the brasso first and nothing happened. So I pondered for a moment, then decided to use my nail varnish remover (sure turps or white spirit would do). I soaked them in a tub for a couple of minutes, then took an old toothbrush and gave them a scrub. Sure enough the paint, stain or whatever came off.
Step 2: Get an old pot, add 1/4 part salt to 2 parts vinegar, & 2 parts water, throw in the brass and boil for a minute or two. It will go red or black, this is part of the process, don't fret! See the pic below, the top one has been rubbed with brasso but not buffed.
Step 3: Rinse with water and dry. Get the brasso and polish away as normal, buffing to a lovely shine.
And there you have it, good as new handles. Of course being me, I forgot to throw in the little screws and had to do the whole process all over again!