The Anniversary (Fawlty Towers)

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"The Anniversary"
Fawlty Towers episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 5
Directed by Bob Spiers
Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Production code 11
Original air date 26 March 1979
Episode chronology
← Previous
"The Kipper and the Corpse"
Next →
"Basil the Rat"
List of Fawlty Towers episodes

"The Anniversary" is the fifth episode of the second series of BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers.


On the morning of their wedding anniversary, Basil acts as though he has forgotten in order to surprise Sybil. Remembering keenly how Sybil reacted to his forgetting their last anniversary, he has actually made several arrangements for their anniversary by inviting three couples to a surprise party at the hotel. In addition, he has granted Manuel permission to cook a seafood paella from his mother's famous recipe, something he has wanted to do ever since arriving at Fawlty Towers.

Polly, meanwhile, is complaining to Terry that Basil won't give her an answer about some money she wants to borrow to buy a car. She asks Basil again and he evades her questioning.

After a confrontation between Sybil and Basil where he continues to pretend that he has absolutely no idea that it is their wedding anniversary, she storms out of the hotel. Basil initially fails to notice her leaving as he is trying to calm down a dispute erupting between Manuel and Terry, both of whom wish to cook the paella. Manuel alerts Basil that Sybil has gone.

Basil chases Sybil in order to get her to come back. However, by the time he gets outside she has already driven away and he is left standing in the hotel car park with his surprise guests about to arrive. As the first couple, meek Alice and her extremely annoying husband, Roger, arrive, he and Polly come up with the idea of saying that Sybil is ill and is therefore not able to attend the function. This comes back to bite Basil after another of Sybil's friends, Virginia, reminds Basil that she is a qualified nurse and becomes determined to diagnose Sybil's illness. The situation worsens when two of the guests, Kitty and Reg, are sure they saw Sybil driving in the town, but he assures them that it was another "northern" woman who resembles her a lot. Manuel, meanwhile, complains to Basil that Terry is deliberately trying to sabotage the paella out of spite, but Basil merely tells him to handle it himself.

The made-up story of Sybil's illness gradually escalates as Basil describes what sound like horrific symptoms. He insists that the guests may not visit Sybil who is supposedly in bed upstairs. However, pressure builds on Basil when Virginia repeatedly expresses her desire to see Sybil in order to ascertain what she is suffering from. Polly then chimes in to tell Basil she thinks he ought to let them know (he thinks she means tell them what has really happened) but then switches the whole story round and tells everyone the doctor has already been, and that Basil didn't tell them straight away because he didn't want to worry them. Basil says that it is serious (but not very serious, he informs them). He feigns concern and sadness.

Finally through pressure from the sceptical Roger ("They’ve had a row - she's refused to come down."), Basil tries reverse psychology: he informs the group that they may go up to see Sybil in bed: "I'll just pop upstairs and tell her to stop dying so that you can all come up and identify her." This naturally makes the guests feel very uncomfortable and reluctant, but Roger is not so dissuaded.

Basil now tries to force Polly to dress up as Sybil and get into her bed, in order to create the illusion that his wife is indeed incapacitated. He manhandles Polly into their room. Polly is at first very much against this idea, but after being promised by Basil that he will give her the money she needs for the car, she agrees to carry out the stunt. Manuel again complains about Terry's behaviour, but Basil still refuses to intervene.

The guests are finally allowed in but because the lights are turned out, two of them trip and injure themselves. Basil opens the curtains to provide light, revealing Polly in Sybil's wig and sunglasses, tucked up in bed. The guests seem to believe that it is really Sybil. Meanwhile, Sybil returns to the hotel (to retrieve her golf clubs, as she and Audrey are about to go out to play some golf) looking on the verge of tears and gets a "confirmation" that Basil has indeed forgotten about their wedding anniversary by Basil himself, who is desperate for her to leave so that the guests do not find her well and out of bed. Back upstairs, Virginia remains worried about Sybil's condition and insists on examining her. In an attempt to keep her away, Polly lashes out and hits her in the face.

Finally, the guests all come back downstairs (many either bearing injuries from the visit or supporting someone suffering from one) and Basil is about to say goodbye to them. However, at that moment, Sybil, who has again forgotten her clubs, returns. Both wife and partygoers are struck bewildered and confused as Basil introduces Sybil to them as the previously mentioned "northern" woman from the town. He locks Sybil in the kitchen, failing to notice Manuel and Terry wrestling furiously on the floor amidst the mess they have made, until the guests leave. With the guests gone and Polly returning from upstairs, Basil declares "Piece of cake. Now comes the tricky bit," and enters the kitchen to explain everything to Sybil.




Julian Holloway was originally cast to play Roger, but a BBC strike delayed filming by a week and he was replaced by Ken Campbell. The extra rehearsal time that was afforded due to the strike has led Cleese to list it as one of his favourite episodes.[1]


  1. ^ "We Used to ache with laughter!". Retrieved 10 January 2008. [dead link]

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