The Builders

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This article is about the Fawlty Towers episode. For other uses, see Builder.
"The Builders"
Fawlty Towers episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 2
Directed by John Howard Davies
Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Original air date 26 September 1975
Episode chronology
← Previous
"A Touch of Class"
Next →
"The Wedding Party"
List of Fawlty Towers episodes

"The Builders" is the second episode in the first series of the BBC TV sitcom Fawlty Towers.


Basil tells his resident guests Major Gowen, Miss Tibbs, and Miss Gatsby that they will have to have dinner at the Gleneagles hotel, as workmen are coming to do work on the hotel. The Fawltys themselves are going away on a rare holiday, a golfing holiday for the weekend in Paignton with friends. Polly and Manuel are left to deal with the workmen, whose instructions are to block off the drawing room door and build a door leading into the kitchen. Polly is drawing something on her sketchpad—what appears to be a landfill junk-pile with a shirt-collar and tie under it. Basil can't for the life figure out what it's supposed to be. Manuel later sees it and recognizes it as "Mr. Fawlty." Polly nervously shushes him. Basil tells Polly that the workmen will be O'Reilly's, an Irish cowboy builder with very little understanding of the building trade, as opposed to Sybil's preferred choice of builder whom she believes is actually slated to carry out the alterations: Stubbs, who is reliable, competent and, unfortunately, very expensive, which is why Basil has surreptitiously hired O'Reilly for the project instead; O'Reilly is much less expensive than Stubbs. According to Sybil, however, he is cheap. Basil retorts with that he is rather cheapish.

After the Fawltys depart, Polly goes to her room for a short nap, telling Manuel to wake her as soon as the builders arrive. Manuel enjoys his temporary power, imagining the hotel is his own. During this time, a deliveryman arrives to deliver a garden gnome Sybil has ordered, but confuses Manuel into thinking that he wants a room for it. Manuel places the gnome under the desk. The builders enter and engage in a bit of introductory confusion on Manuel's part; Manuel keeps asking them if they are "Orelly" men and irritating Murphy, the man with the beard, until another of the men realizes "Orelly" in fact means "O'Reilly". Immediately Murphy understands and affirms they are indeed "Orelly" men before telling his partners, "Thick as a plank." Manuel goes upstairs to tell the peacefully sleeping Polly but, knowing that she slept badly the night before, he cannot bring himself to disturb her. After presenting the workmen with the plans, Manuel receives a call at the front desk from someone he believes to be asking for Basil. After hanging up repeatedly and insulting the caller, Manuel realizes it is in fact Basil himself on the line and drops the phone in shock. He then receives instructions from Basil and calls out "Which one is man with beard?" and then, on Basil's instructions but clearly not understanding what he is saying, tells Murphy, the bearded builder, "You are a hideous orangutan." Murphy then punches Manuel as Basil, who was obviously aware of the man's short fuse, had hoped.

The next morning, Basil arrives to check on the hotel to see if everything is sound. He checks to see if the renovations have been carried out; they haven't. In fact, because of a misunderstanding, the door that was meant to lead into the kitchen has instead been put in front of the stairs, and the door to the dining room has been blocked off, rather than the door to the drawing room! In a combination of rage at the shoddy work and fear over his wife's anticipated reaction, Basil, after tripping over Sybil's gnome, furiously threatens first Polly and then Manuel, before phoning O'Reilly and threatening that if he is not at the hotel in twenty minutes to fix the problem, he will "come over there and insert a large garden gnome in you."

O'Reilly arrives, and while Basil is imploring him to get to work, Sybil - having forgotten her golf shoes - arrives back earlier than expected, spots O'Reilly's van and immediately becomes suspicious. Basil blames the chaos on Stubbs's men. Sybil (dangerously calm) responds to this by telling Basil that she saw O'Reilly's van outside. Basil explains this by saying O'Reilly has come in to fix up Stubbs's mess: "That's why his VAN'S OUTSIDE!!!" Sybil, to Basil's surprise, actually agrees with him, but thinks that, since Stubbs made the mess, he should set it right, as there would be no point in paying O'Reilly when Stubbs would have to do it for free. At that moment, Polly calls the front desk from another room impersonating Stubbs's secretary, but is caught by Sybil almost immediately and the jig is up, as is Sybil's dander.

Sybil confronts Basil for hiring O'Reilly and vows that she will make him regret it for the rest of his life. Basil continues his attempts to convince her it was "at least partly" Stubbs's fault, but Sybil is having no more of his lies. Berating herself for letting Basil oversee the arrangements, Sybil hurls the cash box across the room at Basil and goes into a furious tirade about several recent times he has hired O'Reilly to do jobs with shoddy, disastrous results ("You got him in to change a washer in November, and we didn't have any running water for two weeks!"). O'Reilly merrily appears and, upon admitting his mistakes, tries to joke about it. He even smiles at her when she's ranting, at which Basil despairs. This really sets Sybil off, as she has no capacity for a man smiling at her when she's angry, and gives the Irish cowboy - and her husband - a harsh beating with an umbrella, and tells him to leave and never return. Sybil calls Stubbs to get him to do the work the next morning. She then leaves, not intending to return until that time, whilst sarcastically suggesting her new garden gnome be in charge, believing he would do a better job than Basil. Still unwilling to concede defeat, Basil convinces O'Reilly to stay and do the work anyway.

Sybil arrives in the morning to find the renovations have been completed by O'Reilly, apparently with no problems. As Stubbs arrives, Sybil finds herself in an embarrassing situation at having called on him, seemingly now for nothing. Stubbs looks over the renovations and admits at first that whoever did them did a very good job. Then, in further questioning Basil about the work, Stubbs realises that he may not have been called in for nought after all; while making a doorway leading into the kitchen, which was on a load-bearing wall, O'Reilly had used only a wooden lintel for the support frame rather than a concrete one or Rolled Steel Joist. As a result, the supporting wall could give way at any moment, and Stubbs will need to repair it immediately, before the building collapses. As Stubbs goes to telephone his company for the necessary equipment ("I dunno...cowboys..." he grumbles), Sybil looks furiously for Basil. But Basil is already marching down the driveway, armed with Sybil's garden gnome; he calls back to Sybil, in a vengeful tone, "I'm going to see Mr. O'Reilly, dear!" Presumably, he is about to make good on his threat to insert said gnome into the builder. "And then I think I might go to Canada," he adds, under his breath.


Episode-credited cast:


  • James Appleby as Mr. Stubbs
  • Michael Cronin as Mr. Lurphy
  • Barney Dorman as Mr. Kerr
  • Michael Halsey as Mr. Jones
  • George Lee as Bennion, a Delivery Man
  • Pat Gorman as Departing Guest (uncredited)


David Stubbs has rated The Builders as the weakest Fawlty Towers episode due to its reliance on stereotypes such as the battleaxe wife, the feckless Irish labourer and the dimwitted Spaniard.[1]

John Cleese himself named The Builders as "the least good" of the Fawlty Towers episodes that were filmed, owing to a general lack of laughter in the studio on recording day. He recalls that members of the Icelandic Broadcasting Corporation were visiting the studio that day and many of them were in the front row seats, apparently not entirely amused.

Connections and errors[edit]

  • Interior scenes of this episode were recorded on 3 August 1975, in Studio TC3 of the BBC Television Centre, before a live audience.[2]
  • Basil tells his guests that they must go to "The Gleneagles" for their dinners. This is a reference to the Hotel Gleneagles which Donald Sinclair, the hotel manager on which John Cleese based Basil Fawlty, ran in Torquay, the town where Fawlty Towers is set, and where the Monty Python team had stayed when Cleese gained his inspiration for Fawlty Towers.
  • When Polly brings O'Reilly a cup of tea and biscuits, the cup is clearly empty.
  • George Lee, who plays Bennion the deliveryman, also appears as a deliveryman in the episode "Communication Problems".
  • At the end, when the Major talks to Polly, the boom mic shadow is visible.
  • When Basil beats Manuel's head against the wall O'Reilly's men have made, it quite visibly moves. Also, while pretending his head is hitting the wall, Manuel can actually be seen kicking it with his foot, which causes the sound.
  • The man who delivers the garden gnome to Fawlty Towers asks Manuel where the "Generalissimo" (his boss) is, to which Manuel (believing that he is talking about Francisco Franco) responds "in Madrid!" This episode aired less than two months before Franco's death. In the Catalan version, broadcast in 1986 (eleven years after Franco's death), Manuel replied "Dead!".
  • The grandfather clock in the lobby shows the time to be 6:40 throughout the episode, even though each scene takes place at different times over the course of three days. One explanation for this is that it is broken.
  • In the closing credits, Major Gowen's last name is incorrectly spelled "Gowan".


  1. ^ Stubbs, David (19 June 2007). "Good riddance to comedy's old guard". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 15 May 2010. 
  2. ^ Kempton, Martin. "An unreliable and wholly unofficial history of BBC Television Centre...". An incomplete history of London's television studios. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 

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