Communication Problems

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"Communication Problems"
Fawlty Towers episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 1
Directed by Bob Spiers
Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Original air date 19 February 1979
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Germans"
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"The Psychiatrist"
List of Fawlty Towers episodes

"Communication Problems" is the first episode of the second series of BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers and the seventh episode overall. It is also known as Mrs Richards.


Mrs Richards, a short-sighted, deaf, and aggressive old woman (but who believes she is in perfect condition and accuses others of being blind and deaf), arrives at the hotel and instantly starts arguing with Polly about who is being served first at reception in the lobby. Polly mischievously asks Manuel to assist Mrs Richards and his poor English leads her to believe that the hotel manager is named "C.K. Watt," aged forty. Meanwhile, Basil gets a horse racing tip from a satisfied customer and, although Sybil has banned Basil from gambling, he plans to discreetly bet on it anyway.

Mrs Richards then complains to Basil about her room. She is dissatisfied because the room is cold, her radio doesn't work (it does, she just cannot hear it), the bath is too small for her liking and the view from her window is uninteresting (as she cannot see it properly). Mrs Richards demands a reduction in the price, to which Basil responds softly: "60% if you turn it [her hearing aid] on" (She refuses to use her hearing aid because it drains the battery). He also secretly asks Manuel to go to the betting shop and make a bet on the horse, which subsequently wins the race. Manuel collects the £75 winnings and gives them to Polly to give to Basil, just as Mrs Richards demands lavatory paper, and her referring to it as "paper" leads Polly, assuming she wants writing paper, to tell her that it is kept in the lounge. Mrs Richards is convinced Polly is being rude and complains to Basil, as he collects his winnings.

By remarkable coincidence, Mrs Richards announces that £85 is missing from her room, and she is convinced someone has stolen it. Sybil, who saw Polly counting Basil's money in the office, assumes that Polly found it. So as not to give away Basil's gambling, Polly says she herself won it on the horse, although her forgetting the name of the horse makes Sybil suspicious. Foolishly, Basil gives the money to the Major for safekeeping. Expectedly, when Basil asks the Major for the money the next morning, the senile old man has forgotten that Basil gave it to him. Eventually he produces it, but when he declares to have "found it" in front of Sybil and Mrs Richards, she is convinced it is hers. Basil is horrified as Sybil hands his money over to Mrs Richards, who is annoyed to notice that it is £10 short. Basil tries to persuade her otherwise, but is hindered by the Major and Manuel: the Major having entirely forgotten and Manuel, under Basil's previous instructions, says "I know nothing." Distraught, Basil weeps over his lost winnings and is about to take the missing £10 from the till when a delivery man arrives with a vase for Mrs Richards and the £95 which she left behind in the shop – the money she thought had been stolen. Basil is elated and gives Mrs Richards her remaining £10, leaving him still £10 up. When Sybil sees Basil with the money, she quizzes him and Polly chimes in that it is her money that she won on the horse. Basil adds that he is putting it in the safe for her. Unfortunately, the Major suddenly blurts out, right in front of Sybil that he has remembered that Basil gave him the money last night and he won it on a horse (apparently not remembering that it was a secret from Sybil). In horror, Basil drops and breaks Mrs Richards's vase and the episode closes with Sybil repaying Mrs Richards the £75 cost of the vase with the money Basil had won, leaving only £10 from Basil's successful bet which it seems highly unlikely Sybil will allow him to keep.


Episode-credited cast:


  • Bill Bradley as Mr Mackintosh
  • Robert Lankesheer as Mr Thurston
  • George Lee as the delivery man
  • Mervyn Pascoe as Mr Yardley
  • Johnny Shannon as Mr Firkin


  • Interior scenes of this episode were recorded on 21 January 1979, in Studio TC1 of the BBC Television Centre, before a live audience.[1]
  • It is mentioned in this episode that Basil was born in Swanage.
  • This episode marks the first appearance of Terry the chef (played by Brian Hall); he is the only new regular character in the last series.
  • This episode's original audio LP release was under the title "Mrs Richards". In later re-releases, it was changed to "Communication Problems".
  • The following line was originally cut in rehearsal: Basil picks some morsel off the floor after Mrs Richards hits her head in the office, and asks, "Is this a piece of your brain?" After seeing it had been cut, Andrew Sachs convinced John Cleese it was a funny moment and talked Cleese into putting it back in the script.
  • Joan Sanderson and John Cleese would later co-star again as a married, aristocratic couple in The Great Muppet Caper.
  • Joan Sanderson and Prunella Scales would later co-star as mother and daughter in the radio then TV comedy series After Henry by Simon Brett.


  1. ^ Kempton, Martin. "An unreliable and wholly unofficial history of BBC Television Centre...". An incomplete history of London's television studios. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 

Further reading[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)

External links[edit]