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Series title card. The "Fawlty Towers" sign varied between episodes.
|Created by||John Cleese
|Developed 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|
|Producer(s)||John Howard Davies
|Running time||30 minutes|
ABC (Australia, home video)
Warner Home Video (US, home video)
|Original release||19 September 1975 – 25 October 1979|
Fawlty Towers is a BBC television sitcom broadcast on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. Twelve episodes were made (two series of six episodes each). 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 No. 1 on 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-cum-receptionist Polly (Booth) who often is the peacemaker and voice of reason, and hapless and English-challenged Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs), showing their attempts to run the hotel amidst farcical situations and an array of demanding and eccentric guests and tradespeople.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Production
- 3 Plot directions and examples
- 4 Characters
- 5 Episodes
- 6 Reception
- 7 Remakes, adaptations 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 while filming on location. John Cleese became fascinated with the behaviour of the owner, Donald Sinclair, later describing him 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 Python member 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 justified 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 its 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 he and Booth wrote 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 the commercial channels, with their emphasis on audience ratings, never would 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 for a short time as a nightclub named "Basil's" after the series ended, and 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" in which Basil loses his temper and attacks his broken-down car with a tree branch. It 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 but Andre's now is a Chinese and Indian restaurant called "Wings".
Both Cleese and Booth were keen on every script being perfect, and some episodes took four months and required as many as 10 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
The series focuses on the exploits and misadventures of short-fused hotelier Basil Fawlty and his acerbic 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, Sybil, 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. Basil occasionally longs for a touch of class, sometimes by playing recordings of classical music. In one episode he is playing music by Brahms when Sybil remarks, after pestering him asking to do different tasks: "You could have them both done by now if you hadn't spend the whole morning skulking in there listening to that racket." Basil replies, with exasperation, "Racket?? That's Brahms! Brahms' Third Racket!"
The plots occasionally are 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 to the breaking point what little patience Basil has, sometimes causing him to have a near breakdown by the end of the episode.
The guests at the hotel typically are comic foils to Basil's anger and outbursts. Guest characters in each episode provide different characteristics (working class, promiscuous, foreign) that he cannot stand. Requests both reasonable and impossible test his temper. Even the afflicted annoy him, as for example in 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 toward Manuel, excusing his behaviour to guests with "He's from Barcelona."
Basil often displays blatant snobbishness as he attempts to climb the social ladder, frequently expressing disdain for the "riff-raff", "cretins" and "yobbos" that he believes 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 as 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 for the time when there was passion in their relationship, now seemingly lost. Also, it appears 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 earshot, 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 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 himself was only 13 when the Korean War ended, making the character of Basil at least five or six years older than he.) 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 often is 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 of one of the World Wars (which one never is 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 also is ridiculed, as in the first episode in which 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 they unaccountably feel affectionate towards 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 often is 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, Sybil frequently is 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 Basil 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 nasty nicknames, Basil is terrified of her. There is only one time he loses patience and snaps at her (Basil: "Shut up, I'm fed up." Sybil: "Oh, you've done it now.").
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 with aspirations of being an artist. She is the most competent of the staff and the voice of sanity during chaotic moments, but frequently is 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 out Basil when he wants her to impersonate Sybil in the semi-darkness of her bedroom in front of the Fawltys' friends, Basil having dug himself into a hole by claiming Sybil was ill instead of admitting she had stormed out earlier in annoyance with him. Polly finally agrees, but only on condition that Basil lends her money to purchase a car, which he has previously refused to do.
Polly generally is 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 frequently is saddled with many other duties, including manager in "The Germans" when Sybil and Basil are incapacitated. In the first series, Polly is said to be an art student who, according to Basil, has spent three years at college. In "Gourmet Night", she is seen to draw a sketch (presumably an impressionistic caricature) of Basil, 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 responds, "¿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 seriously injured twice. Cleese describes using a real metal pan to knock Manuel 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 they were creating. Later, when Sachs's 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. In fact, Sachs's original language was German; he emigrated to Britain as a child.
Other regular characters and themes
- Terry Hugh, played by Brian Hall, appears in only the second series of episodes. He is the sly, somewhat shifty Cockney chef at Fawlty Towers. Though apparently a competent chef ("I 'ave been to catering school!"), Terry's cooking methods are somewhat casual, which frustrates and worries the neurotic Basil. He used to work in Dorchester (not at the Dorchester, as believed by a guest). In "The Anniversary" Terry and Manuel come to blows since Terry doesn't like anyone else cooking in his kitchen, so he proceeds to sabotage the paella Manuel is making for Sybil, leading to fisticuffs at the end of the episode. Cleese himself told 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 of the hotel. He is one of the few guests whom Basil seems to like. This is because he has 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 often is introduced as their "oldest resident" and in the episode "Waldorf Salad" Basil reveals that 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 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" in which 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, 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 is Sybil's lifelong best friend, and is mostly acknowledged during gossipy telephone calls. Talking with her is a refuge for Sybil. When times get tough for Audrey, who 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, in "The Anniversary", 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 originally was 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 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, 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, is 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 also may 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 often has 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 as well. Victoria Wood also indicated this influenced her decision to limit Dinnerladies to 16 episodes over two series.
The origins, background and eventual cancellation of the series would later be humorously referenced in 1987's "The Secret Policeman's Third Ball" in a sketch in which 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, 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 a point at which 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 actually is 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 Murphy 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 realizes with horror that guests he has been abusing easily could be among them. Basil becomes increasingly obsessed with trying to determine which guests are the inspectors, but to his frustration his suspects turn out not to be.
Featuring: Bernard Cribbins and James Cossins as men 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 and inability to cook the meal, Basil must try to get hold of a finished duck platter from his restaurateur friend André. This, combined with the Fawltys' faulty car and Basil's social awkwardness leads him 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 ingrown 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 a concussion, he causes much offence to his 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 on the hotel's exterior sign 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. An 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 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 discreetly removing the body while the doctor staying at the hotel 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 the guest 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 over for a surprise party to mark his and Sybil's wedding anniversary. Sybil has been assuming he has forgotten, and Basil does nothing to dissuade her. She storms off, leaving Basil and Polly, in disguise as Sybil, desperately telling the others she is "ill." Meanwhile, Manuel and Terry bitterly quarrel over who will make the seafood paella 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 the staff must immediately sort out, or else the hotel will 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. At the same time, they must try to 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.
At first the series was not held in particularly high esteem. 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 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, adaptations 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 never was 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) also was produced in 1999, but was cancelled shortly after. Nine episodes were produced of which eight 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 made guest appearances) have cited Fawlty Towers as an inspiration, especially regarding its depiction of a dysfunctional workplace "family". 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 spinoffs 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") but the record was not released because Joe Dolce took out an injunction: he was about to issue his version in Britain. Sachs also portrayed a Manuel-like character in a series of British TV advertisements for life insurance. Gilly Flower and Renee Roberts, who played the elderly ladies Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby in the series, reprised their 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 episode "The Germans". In 2007, Cleese and Sachs reprised their roles for a six-episode corporate business video for the 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 program as well as other 1970s sitcom characters. The character of Sybil was used by permission of John Cleese.
In 2016, Cleese reprised his role as Basil in a series of TV adverts for High Street optician chain Specsavers. The same year, Cleese and Booth reunited to create and co-write the official theatrical adaptation of Fawlty Towers, which premiered in Melbourne at the Comedy Theatre. It was critically well received, subsequently embarking on a successful tour of Australia. Cleese was intimately involved in the creation of the stage version from the beginning, including in the casting. He visited Australia to promote the adaptation, as well as oversee its success. Melbourne was chosen to premiere the adaptation due to Fawlty Towers' enduring popularity in Australia, and also because it has become a popular international test market for large-scale theatrical productions in recent years, having recently been the city where the revised Love Never Dies and the new King Kong were also premiered. Cleese also noted he did not believe the London press would give the adaptation fair, unbiased reviews, so he deliberately choose to premier it elsewhere.
Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened
In 2009, Tiger Aspect Productions produced a two-part documentary for the 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 Booth took six weeks to write each episode.
In 1977 and 1978 alone, the original TV show was sold to 45 stations in 17 countries and was the BBC's best-selling overseas program for that year. Fawlty Towers became a huge success in almost all countries in which it aired. Although it initially was a flop in Spain, largely because of the portrayal of the Spanish waiter Manuel, it was successfully resold with the Manuel character's nationality changed to Italian except in Spain's Catalan region where 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 also briefly was broadcast in Italy in the 1990s on the satellite channel Canal Jimmy, in the original English with Italian subtitles.
In Australia, the show originally was broadcast on ABC Television, the first series in 1977 and the second series in 1980. The show then was 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 still is shown in the United States on several PBS member stations.
Home video releases and merchandise
Two record albums were released by BBC Records. The first album, simply titled Fawlty Towers, was released in 1979 and contained the audio from "Communication Problems" (as "Mrs Richards") and "Hotel Inspectors". The second album, titled Second Sitting, was released in 1981 and contained audio from "Basil the Rat" (as "The Rat") and "The Builders".
Fawlty Towers originally was released by BBC Video in 1984, with three episodes on each of four 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 U.S. on 23 June 1993. It was re-released in 1994, unedited but digitally remastered. It also was 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.
Series one of the show was released on UMD Video for PSP. 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 are occasionally available as streamed video-on-demand via Netflix and Amazon Instant Videos as well. Both series are available for download on iTunes.
Home video releases
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete First Series VHS
- Fawlty Towers: The Complete Second Series VHS
- The Complete Fawlty Towers VHS Box Set
- The Complete Fawlty Towers – 19 November 2001- DVD boxset
- 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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