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Series title card. The "Fawlty Towers" sign varied between episodes.
|Created by||John Cleese
|Written by||John Cleese
|Directed by||John Howard Davies
|Theme music composer||Dennis Wilson|
|Opening theme||Fawlty Towers|
|Ending theme||Fawlty Towers|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||2|
|No. of episodes||12 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||28–36 minutes|
|Original release||19 September 1975 – 25 October 1979|
Fawlty Towers is a BBC television sitcom that was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. 12 episodes were made (2 series, each of 6 episodes). The show was created and written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, who both also starred in the show; they were married at the time of series 1 but divorced before recording series 2. One of the best loved shows in British popular culture, it was ranked number one in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000.
The series is set in Fawlty Towers, a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, on the "English Riviera". The plots centre on tense, rude and put-upon owner Basil Fawlty (Cleese), his bossy wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), comparatively normal chambermaid Polly who is often the peacemaker and voice of reason (Booth), and hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs), showing their attempts to run the hotel amidst farcical situations and an array of demanding and eccentric guests.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Production
- 3 Plot directions and examples
- 4 Characters
- 5 Episodes
- 6 Reception
- 7 Remakes and reunions
- 8 Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened
- 9 Overseas
- 10 Home video releases and merchandise
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
In May 1970 the Monty Python team stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel (which is referred to in "The Builders" episode) in Torquay whilst filming on location. John Cleese became fascinated with the behaviour of the owner, Donald Sinclair, whom Cleese later described as "the rudest man I've ever come across in my life."  This behaviour included Sinclair throwing a timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus to town would arrive; and placing Eric Idle's briefcase (put to one side by Idle while waiting for a car with Cleese) behind a wall in the garden on the suspicion that it contained a bomb (Sinclair explained his actions by claiming the hotel had 'staff problems'). He also criticised the American-born Terry Gilliam's table manners for not being "British" (that is, he switched hands with his fork whilst eating). Cleese and Booth stayed on at the hotel after filming, furthering their research of the hotel owner. Cleese later played a hotel owner called Donald Sinclair in the 2001 movie Rat Race.
At the time, Cleese was a writer on the 1970s British TV sitcom Doctor in the House for London Weekend Television. An early prototype of the character that became known as Basil Fawlty was developed in an episode ("No Ill Feeling") of the third Doctor series (titled Doctor at Large). In this edition, the main character checks into a small town hotel, his very presence seemingly winding up the aggressive and incompetent manager (played by Timothy Bateson) with a domineering wife. The show was broadcast on 30 May 1971. Cleese parodied the contrast between organisational dogma and sensitive customer service in many personnel training videotapes issued with a serious purpose by his company, Video Arts.
Cleese said in 2008 that the first Fawlty Towers script, written with then-wife Connie Booth, was rejected by the BBC. At a 30th-anniversary event honouring the show, Cleese said,
"Connie and I wrote that first episode and we sent it in to Jimmy Gilbert," the executive "whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, and I can quote [his note to me] fairly accurately, 'This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster.' And Jimmy himself said, 'You're going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can't do the whole thing in the hotel.' Whereas, of course, it's in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up."(subscription required)
Bill Cotton, the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment in the mid-1970s, said after the first series was produced that the show was a prime example of the BBC's relaxed attitude to trying new entertainment formats and encouraging new ideas. He said that when he read the first scripts he could see nothing funny in them but trusting that Cleese knew what he was doing, he gave the go-ahead. He said that the commercial channels, with their emphasis on audience ratings, would never have let the programme get to the production stage on the basis of the scripts.
Although the series is set in Torquay in Devon, no part of it was shot in Southwest England. For the exterior filming, the Wooburn Grange Country Club in Buckinghamshire was used instead of a hotel. In several episodes of the series (notably "The Kipper and the Corpse", "The Anniversary" and "Basil the Rat") the entrance gate at the bottom of the drive states the real name of the location. This listed building later served as a nightclub named "Basil's" for a short time after the series ended before being destroyed by a fire in March 1991. The remnants of the building were demolished and a housing estate was built on the site. Other location filming was done mostly around Harrow, notably the 'damn good thrashing' scene in "Gourmet Night" where Basil loses his temper and attacks his broken down car with a tree branch which was filmed at the T-junction of Lapstone Gardens and Mentmore Close ( ).
In the episode "The Germans", the opening shot is of Northwick Park Hospital. In the episode "Gourmet Night", the exterior of Andre's restaurant was filmed on Preston Road in the Harrow area ( ). The launderette next door to the restaurant still exists today and Andre's is now a Chinese and Indian restaurant called "Wings".
Cleese and Booth were husband and wife at the time of the first series. By the second, they had been divorced for almost a year, having ended their ten-year marriage in 1978.
Both Cleese and Booth were keen on every script being perfect, and some episodes took four months and required ten drafts until they were satisfied.
The series theme music was written by Dennis Wilson and was inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's Minuet in G major.
Plot directions and examples
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The series focuses on the exploits and misadventures of short-fused hotelier Basil Fawlty and his wife Sybil, as well as their employees, porter and waiter Manuel, maid Polly, and (in the second series) chef Terry. The episodes typically revolve around Basil's efforts to succeed in 'raising the tone' of his hotel and his increasing frustration at the numerous complications and mistakes, both his own and those of others, which prevent him from doing so. Much of the humour comes from Basil's overly aggressive manner, engaging in angry but witty arguments with guests, staff and in particular his formidable wife, whom he addresses (in a faux-romantic way) with insults such as "that golfing puff adder", "my little piranha fish" and "my little nest of vipers". Despite this, he frequently feels intimidated, she being able to stop him in his tracks at any time, usually with a short, sharp cry of "Basil!" At the end of some episodes, Basil succeeds in annoying (or at least bemusing) the guests and frequently gets his comeuppance.
The plots are occasionally intricate and always farcical, involving coincidences, misunderstandings, cross-purposes and meetings both missed and accidental. The innuendo of the bedroom farce is sometimes present (often to the disgust of the socially conservative Basil) but it is his eccentricity, not his lust, that drives the plots. The events test what little patience Basil has to the breaking point, sometimes causing him to have a near total breakdown by the end of the episode.
The guests at the hotel are typically comic foils to Basil's anger and outbursts. Each episode's one-shot guest characters provide a different characteristic that he cannot stand (including promiscuity, or being working class or foreign). Requests both reasonable and impossible test his temper. Even the afflicted seem to annoy him, with the episode "Communication Problems" revolving around the havoc caused by the frequent misunderstandings between the staff and the hard-of-hearing Mrs Richards. By the end, Basil faints just at the mention of her name. This episode is typical of the show's careful weaving of humorous situations through comedy cross-talk. The show also uses mild black humour at times, notably when Basil is forced to hide a dead body and in Basil's comments about Sybil ("Did you ever see that film, How to Murder Your Wife? ... Awfully good. I saw it six times.") and to the guests ("May I suggest that you consider moving to a hotel closer to the sea? Or preferably in it.").
Basil's physical outbursts are primarily directed at the waiter Manuel, an emotional but largely innocent Spaniard whose confused English vocabulary causes him to make elementary mistakes. At times, Basil beats Manuel with a frying pan and smacks his forehead with a spoon. (The violence towards Manuel caused rare negative criticism of the show.) Sybil, on the other hand, is always condescending towards Manuel, excusing his behaviour to guests with "He's from Barcelona."
Basil often displays blatant snobbishness in order to climb the social ladder, frequently expressing disdain for the "riff-raff", "cretins" and "yobbos" that he believes to regularly populate his hotel. His desperation is readily apparent, as he makes increasingly hopeless manoeuvres and painful faux pas in trying to curry favour with those he perceives having superior social status. Yet, he finds himself forced to serve those individuals that are "beneath" him. As such, Basil's efforts tend to be counter-productive, with guests leaving the hotel in disgust and his marriage (and sanity) stretching to breaking point.
Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, is a cynical and snobbish misanthrope who is desperate to belong to a higher social class. He sees a successful hotel as a means of achieving this ("turn it into an establishment of class...") yet his job forces him to be polite to people he hates.
He is intimidated by his wife Sybil Fawlty. He yearns to stand up to her, but his plans frequently conflict with her demands. She is often verbally abusive (memorably describing him as "an ageing, brilliantined stick insect") but although he towers over her, he often finds himself on the receiving end of her temper, verbally and physically (as in "The Builders").
Basil usually turns to Manuel or Polly to help him with his schemes, while trying his best to keep Sybil from discovering them. However, Basil occasionally laments the time when there was passion in their relationship, now seemingly lost. Also, it appears that he still does care for her, and actively resists the flirtations of a French guest in one episode. The penultimate episode, "The Anniversary", is about his efforts to put together a surprise anniversary party, involving their closest friends. Things go wrong as Basil pretends the anniversary date doesn't remind him of anything though he pretends to have a stab at it by reeling off a list of random anniversaries, starting with the battle of Agincourt, for which he receives a slap from Sybil, who becomes increasingly frustrated and angry. He continues guessing even after Sybil is out of ear shot, and mentions other anniversaries (none of which happened on 17 April), including the battle of Trafalgar and Yom Kippur, just to enhance the surprise. Sybil believes he really has forgotten, and leaves in a huff. In an interview in the DVD box set, Cleese claims that this episode deliberately takes a slightly different tone from the others, fleshing out their otherwise inexplicable status as a couple (as well as saying that, if a third series had been made, there would have been similar episodes).
In keeping with the lack of explanation about the marriage, not much is revealed of the characters' back-stories. It is known that Basil served in the British Army and saw action in the Korean War, possibly as part of his National Service. (John Cleese was only 13 when the Korean War ended, making the character of Basil at least five or six years older than him.) Basil exaggerates this period of his life, proclaiming to strangers: "I killed four men." To this Sybil jokes that "He was in the Catering Corps. He used to poison them." Basil is often seen wearing regimental and old boy ties, no doubt spuriously. He also claims to have sustained a shrapnel injury to his leg; it tends to flare up at suspiciously convenient times. The only person Basil consistently exhibits tolerance and good manners towards is the old and senile Major Gowen, a veteran officer of one of the World Wars (which one is never specified, though he once mentions to Mrs. Peignoir that he was in France in 1918) who permanently resides at the hotel. When interacting with Manuel, Basil displays a rudimentary ability with Spanish (Basil states that he "learned classical Spanish, not the strange dialect he [Manuel] seems to have picked up"); this ability is also ridiculed, as in the first episode where a guest, whom Basil has immediately dismissed as working-class, communicates fluently with Manuel in Spanish after Basil is unable to do so.
Cleese described Basil as thinking that "he could run a first-rate hotel if he didn't have all the guests getting in the way", and as being "an absolutely awful human being", but says that in comedy, if an awful person makes people laugh, people unaccountably feel affectionate toward him. Indeed, he is not entirely unsympathetic. The "Hotel Inspectors" and "Gourmet Night" episodes feature guests who are shown to be deeply annoying with constant, and unreasonable demands. In "Gourmet Night", the chef gets drunk and is unable to cook dinner, leaving Basil to scramble in an attempt to salvage the evening. Much of the time, Basil is an unfortunate victim of circumstance.
Sybil Fawlty, played by Prunella Scales, is Basil's wife. Energetic and petite, she prefers a working wardrobe of tight skirt suits in shiny fabrics and sports a tower of permed hair augmented with hairpieces and wigs and necessitating the use of overnight curlers. She is often a more effective manager of the hotel, making sure Basil gets certain jobs done or stays out of the way when she is handling difficult guests. Despite this, she rarely participates directly in the running of the hotel; during busy check-in sessions or meal-times, while everyone else is busy working, she is frequently talking on the phone to one of her friends with her phrase "Oohhh, I knoooooooow", or chatting to customers. She has a distinctive conversational tone and braying laugh, which her husband compares to "someone machine-gunning a seal". Being his wife, she is the only regular character who refers to Basil by his first name. When she barks his name at him, he flinchingly freezes in his tracks.
Basil refers to her by a number of epithets, occasionally to her face, including "that golfing puff-adder", "the dragon", "toxic midget", "the sabre-toothed tart", "my little kommandant", "my little piranha fish", "my little nest of vipers", and "you rancorous, coiffured old sow". Despite these less than complimentary nicknames, Basil is terrified of her. There is only one time that he loses patience and snaps at her (Basil: "Shut up, I'm fed up." Sybil: "Oh you've done it now.").
Sybil and Basil Fawlty married on 17 April 1962 and opened their hotel in 1964. Prunella Scales speculated in an interview for The Complete Fawlty Towers DVD box set that Sybil married Basil because his origins were of a higher social class than hers.
Polly Sherman, played by Connie Booth, is a waitress and general helper at the hotel. She is the most competent of the hotel's staff and the voice of sanity during chaotic moments, but is frequently embroiled in ridiculous masquerades as she loyally attempts to aid Basil in trying to cover a mistake or keep something from Sybil.
In "The Anniversary" she snaps and refuses to help Basil out when he wants her to impersonate Sybil in semi-darkness in front of the Fawltys' friends, Basil having dug himself into a hole by claiming Sybil was ill instead of admitting that she had stormed out earlier. Polly only finally agrees on condition that he lends her money to purchase a car, which he has previously refused to do.
Polly is generally good-natured but sometimes shows her frustration, and has odd moments of malice. In "The Kipper and the Corpse", the pampered shih-tzu dog of an elderly guest bites Polly and Manuel. As revenge Polly laces the dog's sausages with black pepper and Tabasco sauce ("bangers a la bang"), making it ill.
Despite her part-time employment (during meal times), Polly is frequently saddled with many other duties, including manager in "The Germans" when Sybil and Basil are both incapacitated. In the first series Polly is said to be an art student who, according to Basil, has spent three years at university. In "Gourmet Night", she is seen to draw a sketch (presumably an impressionistic caricature) of Manuel, which everyone but Basil immediately recognises. Polly is not referred to as a student in the second series, although in both series she is shown to have a flair for languages, displaying ability in both Spanish and German. In "The Germans" Basil alludes to Polly's polyglot inclination by saying that she does her work "while learning two oriental languages". Like Manuel, she has a room of her own at the hotel.
Manuel, a waiter played by Andrew Sachs, is a well-meaning but disorganised and confused Spaniard from Barcelona with a poor grasp of the English language and customs. He is verbally and physically abused by his boss. When told what to do, he often answers, "¿Qué?" ("What?"). Manuel's character is used to demonstrate Basil's instinctive lack of sensitivity and tolerance. Every episode involves Basil becoming enraged at Manuel's confusion at his boss's bizarre demands and even basic requests. Manuel is afraid of Fawlty's quick temper and violent assaults, yet often expresses his appreciation for being given employment. He is relentlessly enthusiastic and is proud of what little English he knows.
During the series, Sachs was twice seriously injured while playing Manuel. Cleese describes using a real metal pan to knock him unconscious in "The Wedding Party", although he would have preferred to use a rubber one. The original producer/director, John Howard Davies, explains that he made Basil use a metal one and that he was responsible for most of the violence on the show, which he felt was essential to the type of comical farce that they were creating. Later, when his clothes were treated to give off smoke after he escapes the burning kitchen in "The Germans", the corrosive chemicals ate through them and gave Sachs severe burns.
Manuel's exaggerated Spanish accent is part of the humour of the show. The actor Andrew Sachs's original language was German; he emigrated to Britain as a child.
Other regular characters and themes
- Terry Hugh, played by Brian Hall, is the sly, somewhat shifty Cockney chef at Fawlty Towers. Terry's cooking methods are somewhat casual, which frustrates and worries the neurotic Basil. He appears in only the second series of episodes. Terry used to work in Dorchester (not at The Dorchester, as believed by a guest). In "The Anniversary" Terry and Manuel come to blows since he doesn't like anyone else cooking in his kitchen, and he proceeds to sabotage the paella Manuel is making for Sybil, leading to fisticuffs at the end of the episode. Cleese himself told actor Hall to portray Terry as if he were on the run from the police.
- Major Gowen, played by Ballard Berkeley, is a slightly senile, amiable old soldier who is a permanent resident at the hotel. He is one of the few guests whom Basil seems to like. This is because of his former military status, making him a symbol of the establishment status that Basil craves. He usually wears the Royal Artillery jagged-striped tie, and once mentions to Mrs. Peignoir being in France in 1918. He is often introduced as their "oldest resident", and in the episode "Waldorf Salad", Basil reveals the Major has lived there for seven years. He enjoys talking about the world outside, especially the cricket scores and workers' strikes (the frequent strikes at British Leyland during the time of the series' original transmission were often mentioned), and is always on the lookout for the newspaper. In the episode "The Germans", he shows that he has trouble forgiving the Germans because of the wars; the best he can say is that German women make good card players. In the same episode, he also demonstrates his outdated racial attitudes when he comments about the ethnic difference between "wogs" and "niggers" — but in a manner innocent of malice or bigotry. Despite his good intentions, the Major can cause Basil's plans to go awry, notably in the episode "Communication Problems", when Basil tries his best to keep the money he won in a bet a secret from Sybil.
- Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby, played by Gilly Flower and Renee Roberts respectively, are the other two permanent residents. Seemingly inseparable, these sweet-natured, dotty spinsters appear to have taken a fancy to Basil, feeling that they need to take care of him. In response Basil vacillates between superficial charm and blunt rudeness during his conversations with them.
- Audrey has one on-screen appearance in "The Anniversary". Audrey is Sybil's lifelong best friend, and is mostly acknowledged during gossipy telephone calls to Sybil. Talking with Audrey is a refuge for Sybil. When times get tough (Audrey has a dysfunctional relationship with her husband George), Sybil will offer solutions and guidance, often resulting in the catchphrase "Ohhh, I knowwww..." when she tries to commiserate with Audrey's problems. In Audrey's one on-screen appearance she is played by actress Christine Shaw.
- The Paperboy, though rarely seen, is revealed to be the prankster who rearranges the letters on the "Fawlty Towers" sign to sometimes crude phrases. The shot of the hotel's sign appears at the beginning of every episode except "The Germans", when a hospital exterior is used as an establishing shot.
|Series||Episodes||Originally aired||DVD release date|
|Series premiere||Series finale||Region 1||Region 2|
|1||6||19 September 1975||24 October 1975||16 October 2001||8 October 2001|
|2||6||19 February 1979||25 October 1979|
The first episode of Fawlty Towers was originally broadcast on 19 September 1975. The 12th and final episode was first shown on 25 October 1979. The first series was directed by John Howard Davies, the second by Bob Spiers. Both series had their premieres on BBC2.
When originally transmitted, the individual episodes had no on-screen titles. The ones in common currency were first used for the VHS release of the series in the 1980s. There were working titles, such as "USA" for "Waldorf Salad", "Death" for "The Kipper and the Corpse", and "Rat" for "Basil the Rat", which have been printed in some programme guides. In addition, some of the early BBC audio releases of episodes on vinyl and cassette included other variations, such as "Mrs. Richards" and "The Rat" for "Communication Problems" and "Basil the Rat" respectively.
It has long been rumoured that a 13th episode of the series was written and filmed, but never progressed further than a rough cut. Lars Holger Holm, author of the book Fawlty Towers: A Worshipper's Companion, has made detailed claims about the episode's content, but he provides no evidence of its existence and it is most likely a hoax or fan fiction.
On the subject of whether more episodes would be produced, Cleese revealed (in an interview for the complete DVD box set, which was republished in the book, Fawlty Towers Fully Booked) that he once had the genesis of a feature-length special – possibly sometime during the mid-1990s. The plot (which was never fleshed out beyond his initial idea) would have revolved around the chaos that a now-retired Basil typically caused as he and Sybil flew to Barcelona to visit their former employee Manuel and his family. Of the idea, Cleese said:
We had an idea for a plot which I loved. Basil was finally invited to Spain to meet Manuel's family. He gets to Heathrow and then spends about 14 frustrating hours waiting for the flight. Finally, on the plane, a terrorist pulls a gun and tries to hijack the thing. Basil is so angry he overcomes the terrorist and when the pilot says, "We have to fly back to Heathrow", Basil says, "No, fly us to Spain or I'll shoot you". He arrives in Spain, immediately arrested and spends the entire holiday in a Spanish jail. He is released just in time to go back on the plane with Sybil. It was very funny, but I couldn't do it at the time. Making Fawlty Towers work at 90 minutes was a very difficult proposition. You can build up the comedy for 30 minutes, but at that length there has to be a trough and another peak. It doesn't interest me. I don't want to do it.
Cleese may also have relented because of the lack of Connie Booth's involvement. She had practically retreated from public life after the show finished (and had been initially unwilling to collaborate on a second series, which explains the four-year gap between productions).
The decision by Cleese and Booth to quit before a third series has often been lauded, as it ensured the show's successful status would not be weakened with later, lower-quality work. Subsequently, it has inspired the makers of other shows to do likewise. Most notably, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant refused to make a third series of either The Office or Extras, citing Fawlty Towers' short lifespan. Rik Mayall, Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, the writers behind The Young Ones, which also ran for only two series (each with six episodes), used this explanation too. Victoria Wood also indicated this influenced her decision to limit Dinnerladies to just 16 episodes over two series.
The origins, background and eventual cancellation of the series would later be humorously referenced in The Secret Policeman's Third Ball in 1987, in a sketch where Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry present Cleese (who they comically misname "Jim Cleese") with a Dick Emery Lifetime Achievement Award ("Silver Dick") for his contributions to comedy, but then launch into a comical series of questions regarding the show, including Cleese's marriage and divorce from Booth, innocently ridiculing Cleese and reducing him to tears, to the point that he gets on his knees and crawls off the stage while crying.
Series 1 (1975)
|Series No.||Episode No.||Title||Sign reads||Original air date|
|1||1||"A Touch of Class"||FAWLTY TOWERS (Crooked S)||19 September 1975|
As Basil tries to raise the tone of the hotel, the aristocratic Lord Melbury comes to stay at the hotel. Basil fawns over him at every opportunity, causing himself to neglect or annoy other guests, until Polly discovers Melbury is actually a confidence trickster. Meanwhile, Sybil orders Basil to hang a picture.
Featuring: Michael Gwynn as Lord Melbury and Robin Ellis as Danny Brown.
|1||2||"The Builders"||FAWLTY TOWER (Crooked L)||26 September 1975|
Maintenance is made on the lobby while the Fawltys are out, but when a misreading causes the incompetent builders to mess it up spectacularly, Basil must try to remedy the situation before Sybil finds out.
Featuring: David Kelly as O'Reilly, Michael Cronin as Lurphy and James Appleby as Stubbs.
|1||3||"The Wedding Party"||FAW TY TOWER (Crooked W)||3 October 1975|
Basil gets annoyed when a young, flirtatious couple start "hanky-pankying" under his nose and tries to avoid the advances of a wealthy French antique dealer. Meanwhile, misfortune conspires to put him in compromising situations whenever the couple are around.
Featuring: Trevor Adams as Alan and Yvonne Gilan as Mrs. Peignoir.
|1||4||"The Hotel Inspectors"||FAW TY TO ER||10 October 1975|
When Basil hears of hotel inspectors roaming Torquay incognito, he realises with horror that guests he has been abusing could easily be among them. Basil becomes increasingly obsessed with trying to determine which guests are hotel inspectors, but his suspects turn out not to be, to his frustration.
Featuring: Bernard Cribbins and James Cossins play men who Basil thinks at first are hotel inspectors but turn out not to be; respectively, they are Mr. Hutchinson, a cutlery salesman who specializes in spoons, and Mr. Walt, an outboard motor salesman on business with two other outboard motor salesmen.
|1||5||"Gourmet Night"||WA RTY TOWELS||17 October 1975|
In an effort to climb another rung in the social ladder, Basil arranges a gourmet night. Unfortunately, thanks to the chef's alcoholism, Basil must try to get hold of a duck from his friend, André. This, combined with the Fawltys' faulty car and his social awkwardness leads Basil ever closer to a nervous breakdown.
Featuring: André Maranne as André, Allan Cuthbertson as Colonel Hall and Ann Way as Mrs. Hall.
|1||6||"The Germans"||None[note 1]||24 October 1975|
With Sybil in the hospital with an ingrowing toenail, a moose's head to hang up and some German guests arriving the next day, Basil has his work cut out for him. After an attempted fire drill goes wrong and Basil lands up in the hospital with concussion, he succeeds causing much offense to the German guests after finally escaping back to the hotel. This episode is the origin of the quote "Don't mention the war."
Featuring: Brenda Cowling as Sister.
Series 2 (1979)
The second series was transmitted three and a half years later, with the first episode being broadcast on 19 February 1979. In the second series the anagrams were created by Ian McClane, Bob Spier's assistant floor manager.
|Series No.||Episode No.||Title||Sign reads||Original air date|
|2||1||"Communication Problems"||FAWLTY TOWER (Crooked L)[note 2]||19 February 1979|
The arrival of the "guest from hell" — Mrs. Richards, a rather deaf, dotty and bad-tempered woman — interferes with Basil's attempts to prevent the money he won on a racehorse from being discovered by Sybil, who disapproves of gambling.
Featuring: Joan Sanderson as Mrs Richards.
|2||2||"The Psychiatrist"||WATERY FOWLS||26 February 1979|
A psychiatrist and his wife — also a doctor — come to the hotel for a weekend break, and cannot help but notice the eccentricities of their host, who is perturbed when he discovers their professions. A very attractive Australian girl (Luan Peters) also visits. She goes on to have certain awkward interactions with Fawlty as he seeks to catch Mr Johnson (Nicky Henson) with a non-paying guest that Johnson has in his bedroom.
Featuring: Basil Henson and Elspet Gray as Mr and Mrs Abbott, Nicky Henson as Mr Johnson and Luan Peters as Raylene Miles.
|2||3||"Waldorf Salad"||FLAY OTTERS||5 March 1979|
Basil is not altogether keen on a loud and demanding American guest who demands a higher class of service — and food — than Fawlty Towers is accustomed to providing. Basil soon learns that the American guest will not tolerate any shenanigans.
Featuring: Bruce Boa and Claire Nielson as Mr and Mrs Hamilton and Norman Bird as Mr Arrad.
|2||4||"The Kipper and the Corpse"||FATTY OWLS||12 March 1979|
A guest dies at the hotel and Basil and the staff are left with the unpleasant task of removing the body discreetly, while the doctor staying at the hotel, Dr. Price, waits for his sausages. Also, Polly and Manuel feed an elderly woman's pampered pet dog some extra spicy sausages after it bites them both.
Featuring: Geoffrey Palmer as Dr Price, Derek Royle as Mr Leeman, Mavis Pugh as Mrs. Chase and Richard Davies as Mr White.
|2||5||"The Anniversary"||FLOWERY TWATS||26 March 1979|
Basil invites some friends for a surprise wedding anniversary party, but Sybil assumes he has forgotten their anniversary and storms off, leaving her husband and Polly, in disguise, desperately telling the others she is 'ill', while Manuel and Terry constantly quarrel over who will make the seafood paella which Basil had permitted Manuel to cook for the occasion.
Featuring: Ken Campbell as Roger and Una Stubbs as Alice.
|2||6||"Basil the Rat"||FARTY TOWELS||25 October 1979|
The local health inspector issues a long list of hygienic aberrations which the staff must immediately sort out, or else face closure. After Manuel's pet rat escapes from his cage and runs loose in the hotel, the staff must catch it before the inspector finds it first. At the same time, they must try and discern which veal cutlets are safe to eat after one covered in rat poison gets mixed up with the others and almost every subsequent guest orders veal.
Featuring: John Quarmby as the Health Inspector.
The series was not held in as high esteem on its original broadcast as it later was. The Daily Mirror review of the show in 1975 had the headline "Long John Short On Jokes". Eventually though, as the series began to gain popularity, critical acclaim soon followed. Clive James writing in The Observer said the second episode had him "retching with laughter". By the time the series had ended, it was an overwhelming critical success.
One critic of the show was Richard Ingrams, then television reviewer for The Spectator. Cleese got his revenge by naming one of the guests in the second series 'Mr Ingrams', who is caught in his room with a blow-up doll.
In an interview for the "TV Characters" edition of Channel 4's 'talking heads' strand 100 Greatest (in which Basil placed second, between Homer Simpson and Edmund Blackadder), TV critic A. A. Gill theorised that the initially muted response may have been caused by Cleese seemingly ditching his label as a comic revolutionary – earned through his years with Monty Python – to do something more traditional.
In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was placed first. It was also voted fifth in the "Britain's Best Sitcom" poll in 2004, and second only to Frasier in The Ultimate Sitcom poll of comedy writers in January 2006. Basil Fawlty came top of the Britain's Funniest Comedy Character poll, held by Five on 14 May 2006. In 1997, "The Germans" was ranked No. 12 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
Awards and accolades
Three BAFTAs were awarded to people for their involvement with the series. Both of the series were awarded the BAFTA in the category "Best Situation Comedy", the first being won by John Howard Davies in 1976, and the second by Douglas Argent and Bob Spiers in 1980. John Cleese won the BAFTA for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" in 1976, Andrew Sachs was also nominated but lost.
Remakes and reunions
Four attempted remakes of Fawlty Towers were started for the American market, with three making it into production. The first, Chateau Snavely starring Harvey Korman and Betty White, was produced by ABC for a pilot in 1978, but the transfer from coastal hotel to highway motel proved too much and the series was never produced. The second, also by ABC, was Amanda's starring Bea Arthur, notable for switching the sexes of its 'Basil' and 'Sybil' equivalents. It also failed to pick up a major audience and was dropped. A third remake called Payne (produced by and starring John Larroquette) was also produced in 1999, but was cancelled shortly after. Twelve episodes were produced, but only three ever aired on American television (though the complete run was broadcast overseas). A German pilot based on the sitcom was made in 2001, named Zum letzten Kliff, but further episodes were not made.
The popular sitcoms 3rd Rock from the Sun and Cheers (in both of which Cleese has appeared) have cited Fawlty Towers as an inspiration, especially regarding its depiction of a dysfunctional "family" in the workplace. Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan have cited Fawlty Towers as a major influence on their sitcom Father Ted. Guest House on Pakistan's PTV also resembled the series.
Several of the characters have made other appearances, as spin-offs or in small cameo roles. In 1981, in character as Manuel, Andrew Sachs recorded his own version of the Joe Dolce cod-Italian song "Shaddap You Face" (with the B-side "Waiter, There's a Spanish Flea in My Soup"). However, the record was not released after Joe Dolce took out an injunction; he was about to issue his version in Britain. Sachs also portrayed Manuel (or a Manuel-like character) in a series of British TV advertisements for life insurance. Gilly Flower and Renee Roberts, who played Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby in the series, reprised the roles in a 1983 episode of Only Fools and Horses. In 2006, Cleese played Basil Fawlty for the first time in 27 years, for an unofficial England 2006 World Cup song, "Don't Mention the World Cup", taking its name from the phrase, "Don't mention the war", which Basil famously used in "The Germans". In 2007, Cleese and Sachs reprised their roles for a six-episode corporate video for Norwegian oil company Statoil. In the video, Fawlty is running a restaurant called "Basil's Brasserie", while Manuel owns a Michelin Starred restaurant in London. In the 2008 gala performance We Are Most Amused, Cleese breaks into character as Basil for a cameo appearance by Sachs as an elderly Manuel.
In November 2007, Prunella Scales returned to the role of Sybil Fawlty in a series of sketches for the BBC's annual Children in Need charity telethon. The character was seen taking over the management of the eponymous hotel from the BBC drama series Hotel Babylon, interacting with characters from that programme as well as other 1970s sitcom characters. The character of Sybil was used by permission of John Cleese.
Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened
In 2009, Tiger Aspect Productions produced a two-part documentary for digital comedy channel Gold, called Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened. The documentary features interviews with all four main cast members, including Connie Booth, who had refused to talk about the series for 30 years. John Cleese confirmed at the 30-year reunion in May 2009 that they will never make another episode of the comedy because they are "too old and tired", and expectations would be too high. In a television interview (shown in Australia on Seven Network and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) on 7 May 2009, Cleese also commented that he and Connie Booth took six weeks to write each episode.
In 1977 and 1978 alone, it was sold to 45 stations in 17 countries and was the BBC's best selling overseas programme for that year. Fawlty Towers became a huge success in almost all countries where it was aired. Although it was initially a flop in Spain, because of the portrayal of the Spanish waiter Manuel, it was successfully resold, with Manuel's nationality changed to Italian. In the Catalan region of Spain, however, Manuel was Mexican. To show how badly it translated, Clive James picked up a clip containing Manuel's "¿Qué?" phrase to show on Clive James on Television in 1982. The series was also briefly broadcast in Italy in the 90s on the satellite channel Canal Jimmy, in the original English with Italian subtitles.
In Australia the show was originally broadcast on ABC Television. The first series in 1977 and the second series in 1980. The show was then sold to the Seven Network where it has been repeated numerous times. Today the show is repeated on Seven's digital channel 7TWO.
The series is still shown in the United States on at least two PBS member stations. Maryland Public Television, which covers the state of the same name and the surrounding area, airs all episodes in order on Tuesday afternoons (4:00 pm ET) and Saturday nights (11:00 pm ET), along with other BBC sitcoms, and East Tennessee PBS channels WETP and WKOP show one episode a week on Saturday nights (9:30 pm ET).
Home video releases and merchandise
Fawlty Towers was originally released by BBC Video in 1984, with 3 episodes on each of 4 tapes. Each tape was edited with the credits from all three episodes put at the end of the tape.
A Laserdisc containing all episodes spliced together as a continuous episode was released in the US on 23 June 1993.
It was re-released in 1994 unedited and digitally remastered. It was also re-released in 1998 with a special interview with John Cleese. Fawlty Towers – The complete series was released on DVD on 16 October 2001, available in regions 1, 2 and 4. A "Collector's Edition" is available in region 2.
In July 2009, BBC America announced a DVD re-release of the Fawlty Towers series. The DVD set was released on 20 October 2009. The reissue, titled Fawlty Towers Remastered: Special Edition, contains commentary by John Cleese on every episode as well as remastered video and audio.
All episodes were also available as streamed video-on-demand via Netflix and Amazon Instant Videos. Both series are also available for download on iTunes.
Australian video releases
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete First Series VHS
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete Second Series VHS
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete Third Series VHS
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete Fourth Series VHS
- The Complete Fawlty Towers VHS Box Set
- The Complete Fawlty Towers – 19 November 2001
- Fawlty Towers Volume 1: Basil The Rat (3 episodes, 94 minutes) – 31 July 2007
- Fawlty Towers Volume 2: The Psychiatrist (3 Episodes, 94 minutes) – 6 September 2007
- Fawlty Towers Volume 3: The Kipper And The Corpse (3 Episodes, 93 minutes) – 2 October 2007
- Fawlty Towers Volume 4: The Germans (3 Episodes, 93 minutes) – 7 November 2007
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection – Remastered (3 DVD set, all 12 episodes, 374 minutes) – 3 November 2009
- Fawlty Towers – Series 1: Episodes 1–3 (Comedy Bites) (3 Episodes, 94 minutes) – 4 March 2010
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete First Series VHS - New Zealand Translation by Denzil
A Fawlty Towers game was released on PC in 2000 and featured a number of interactive games, desktop customizing content and clips from the show.
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Number 1 in the TV 100
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