The Germans

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This article is about the episode of Fawlty Towers. For the nationality, see Germans.
"The Germans"
Fawlty Towers episode
Fawlty Towers The Germans.jpg
The Germans
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 6
Directed by John Howard Davies
Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Original air date 24 October 1975
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Gourmet Night"
Next →
"Communication Problems"
List of Fawlty Towers episodes

"The Germans" is the sixth episode of the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers. It is remembered for its line "Don't mention the war" and Cleese's goose-stepping in a manner similar to that of the silly walk when he is impersonating Adolf Hitler.

Plot[edit]

Sybil is in the hospital for three days for minor surgery to remove an ingrown toenail. When Basil visits her, she reminds him of all his tasks over the next few days: Running a fire drill, hanging a moose head, etc. Basil fights with the Sister caring for Sybil. When Doctor Finn tells him Sybil will be in a lot of pain after the operation, Basil is thrilled.

Back at Fawlty Towers, Basil has a confusing conversation with Major Gowen about women, a cricket game and the proper racial slurs for Indians (much of this dialog has been cut in recent airings by the BBC[1]). When the Major learns a group of German guests are coming to the hotel, he launches into an angry tirade against Germans. After the Major wanders off, Basil tries to hang the moose head, but he is interrupted by a phone call from Sybil reminding him to do just that. Basil tries to ask Manuel for a hammer, but he gives up after Manuel thinks that Basil wants a ham sandwich or wants to see his hamster, Basil leaves to get it himself. While he is gone, Manuel steps behind the front desk to tidy up and practice his English. The Major returns to hear a voice coming from behind the counter and thinks it is coming from the moose head. Basil returns and hangs the moose head, but it immediately falls on his head, and he trips over Manuel trying to get to the phone to talk to Sybil again.

The next morning, Basil hangs the moose head again, but one of the antlers keeps drooping. There are just a few minutes remaining until the fire drill, and Sybil calls to remind Basil of the drill and say the key for the fire alarm is in the safe. Basil retrieves the key, but he trips the burglar alarm, which the guests mistake for the fire alarm. As Basil tries to explain, the guests ask to hear both bells so they can tell the difference. Hearing the fire bell from the demonstration, Manuel and Polly think the fire bell means the drill has started, so Basil has to explain the situation to them, too. After the demonstration, Basil says the real drill will start in 30 seconds, so the guests stand about in the lobby, to Basil's annoyance.

In the kitchen, moments before the drill is to start, Manuel starts a real fire. The drill then commences. The panicked Manuel tries to explain the situation to Basil, but he does not understand and locks the waiter in the burning kitchen. Basil lets the guests back in, but Manuel's frantic banging makes him open the kitchen door. Basil sees the fire and tells the guests to exit the building again. He tries to start the alarm again, but he cannot find the key. He hurts his hand trying to smash the glass and hurls the typewriter at it with no success, so he uses the phone instead. He tries to use the fire extinguisher, but he blasts himself in the face, which temporarily blinds him. Trying to help, Manuel accidentally smacks Basil in the head with a frying pan he had been using to try to smother the flames and knocks Basil out.

Basil comes to in the hospital, where he is being treated for a concussion. The confused, disoriented Basil insults the Sister and insists on going home. Dr. Finn arrives and puts him to bed, but after he is gone, Basil sneaks out and returns to Fawlty Towers in time to meet (and be extremely rude to) the German guests who have arrived. When two German guests want to hire a car, he mistakes their phrase, "Wir wollen ein Auto mieten", for them volunteering to go out to buy meat. Noticing something is wrong, Manuel fetches Polly, who encourages Basil to lie down, but Basil insists on serving the other German guests their lunch. Polly discreetly calls Dr. Finn. Despite his warning to "don't mention the War", Basil manages to make a reference to the war in almost every single sentence he comes up with. This eventually drives one of the guests to tears, and Basil tries to cheer her up by goose-stepping across the room while shouting in mock German, leading to a heated exchange.

Just then, Dr. Finn arrives to sedate Basil and take him back to the hospital, but Basil makes a run for it through the hotel until he spitefully hits Manuel over the head. The moose head, however, falls from the wall again, hitting Basil on the head and knocking him out while landing on Manuel's head, leading the Major once again to think the moose is talking.

The German guests watch the whole ordeal in disbelief, and one wonders aloud, "How ever did they win?"

Cultural impact[edit]

  • In 2008, John Cleese confirmed that he has been learning German for a while and described himself as "speaking simple German fluently now". Referring to the Fawlty Towers episode "The Germans", he explained "Everybody thinks that was a joke about the Germans but they missed it. It was a joke about British attitudes to the war and the fact that some people were still hanging on to that rubbish".[2]
  • This episode popularised the phrase "Don't mention the war". Cleese turned the phrase into a song for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the first time Cleese had played Basil Fawlty in 27 years.[3][dead link] The phrase was used as a title for a humorous travel book written by Stewart Ferris and Paul Bassett, detailing travels through Germany and other European countries. It is also the title of a book by John Ramsden, published in 2006, which examines Anglo-German relations since 1890 and a 2004 Radio 4 documentary looking at the British perception of Germans.[4]
  • The goose-stepping Hitler impression has become famous, and has been compared with Cleese's performance in "The Ministry of Silly Walks" Monty Python sketch.
  • The episode was one of the most popular of the series in Germany when it was first shown there in 1993.[5]
  • This episode was voted as number 11 in Channel 4's One Hundred Greatest TV Moments in 1999.[6]
  • Gold, a channel that regularly shows Fawlty Towers, agrees that while "The Germans" is the most famous episode, the best episode is "Communication Problems".[7]
  • Empire magazine listed this as the best episode of the show in its list of the 50 greatest TV episodes of all time.[8]
  • Film director Martin Scorsese, who is a huge fan of Fawlty Towers, describes "The Germans" as "so tasteless, it's hilarious".[citation needed]
  • In the first episode of the second series of the BBC series The Office, David Brent performs an impression of a paper industry figure as Basil Fawlty, quoting the phrase "Don't mention the war", and impersonating the goosestep used by Basil.
  • In an episode of QI dedicated to Germany, the contestants were penalised for mentioning the war.
  • In 2013, the BBC edited the Major's racist language from a repeat transmission of the episode, causing some criticism by viewers. The BBC defended its decision, claiming "We are very proud of Fawlty Towers and its contribution to British television comedy. But public attitudes have changed significantly since it was made and it was decided to make some minor changes, with the consent of John Cleese’s management, to allow the episode to transmit to a family audience at 7.30pm on BBC2."[9] However, on 28 June 2013, Gold transmitted the unedited episode after the watershed.

Cast[edit]

Episode-credited cast:

With:

  • Lisa Bergmayr as German Guest
  • Willy Bowman as German Guest
  • Brenda Cowling as Sister
  • Claire Davenport as Miss Wilson
  • Iris Fry as Mrs. Sharp
  • Dan Gillian as German Guest
  • Nick Kane as German Guest
  • John Lawrence as Mr. Sharp
  • Louis Mahoney as Doctor Finn

References[edit]

  • Fawlty Towers: A Worshipper's Companion, Leo Publishing, ISBN 91-973661-8-8
  • The Complete Fawlty Towers by John Cleese & Connie Booth (1988, Methuen, London) ISBN 0-413-18390-4 (the complete text)
  1. ^ "BBC,Media,Comedy (TV genre),Culture,Television (Culture),Comedy (culture)". The Guardian (London). 23 January 2013. 
  2. ^ Graham, Caroline (20 July 2008). "John Cleese's fling with a blonde HALF his age". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 3 August 2008. 
  3. ^ Sherwin, Adam; Hoyle, Ben (15 May 2006). "Dont mention the War says Cleese in World Cup peace bid". The Times (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Archer, Graeme. The Daily Telegraph (London) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/07/16/ngerm16.xml |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  5. ^ Martin, Nicole (15 Jun 2000). "Herr Fawlty's turn not to mention war". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  6. ^ Awards and audiences for Fawlty Towers
  7. ^ UKTV Gold: Sitcoms: Our favourite Fawlty episode[dead link]
  8. ^ http://www.empireonline.com/50greatesttv/default.asp?tv=28
  9. ^ Cox, Laura (22 January 2013). "Don't mention the ***: Censorship row as BBC cuts the Major's 'racist' lines from classic Fawlty Towers episode". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 24 January 2013. 

External links[edit]