The Builders

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"The Builders"
Fawlty Towers episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 2
Directed by John Howard Davies
Written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Original air date 26 September 1975
Episode chronology
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"A Touch of Class"
Next →
"The Wedding Party"
List of Fawlty Towers episodes

"The Builders" is the second episode in the first series of the BBC TV sitcom Fawlty Towers.


Fawlty Towers is undergoing renovations over the weekend, so Basil informs Major Gowen, Miss Tibbs, and Miss Gatsby that they will have to have dinner at the Gleneagles hotel. The Fawltys themselves are going on a golfing holiday for the weekend in Paignton with friends, leaving Polly and Manuel in charge of the hotel. Before they leave, Basil reminds Polly that the workmen are to block off the drawing room door and build a door leading into the kitchen. Polly, meanwhile, is busy drawing on her sketchpad. Basil describes it as "a landfill junk-pile with a shirt-collar and tie under it", but Manuel later sees it and immediately recognises it as "Mr. Fawlty". Basil tells Polly that the workmen will be O'Reilly's, an Irish cowboy builder with very little understanding of the building trade, as opposed to the competent, professional (and more expensive) Stubbs, who Sybil believes is carrying out the alterations to the hotel. Sybil warns Basil not to hire O'Reilly, as they hired him to build a wall a few months ago which still has not been built yet.

The Fawltys depart and Polly goes to her room for a short nap, telling Manuel to wake her as soon as the builders arrive. Left behind the desk alone, Manuel enjoys his temporary power, imagining the hotel is his own. During this time, a delivery man arrives to deliver a garden gnome Sybil has ordered, but confuses Manuel into thinking that he wants a room for it. The builders arrive as Manuel places the gnome behind the desk, and confusion arises when Manuel keeps asking them if they are "Orelly" men. This irritates Lurphy, the bearded builder, until one of the other men realises "Orelly" in fact means "O'Reilly". Immediately Lurphy understands and affirms they are indeed "Orelly" men (whilst referring to Manuel as "Thick as a plank"). Whilst the builders study the plans, Manuel goes upstairs to wake Polly up, but decides not to disturb her upon seeing her sleeping peacefully. Manuel returns to the front desk and answers multiple calls from someone he believes is asking for Basil. He repeatedly tells the caller that Basil is not available and eventually insults them out of frustration, but he then drops the receiver in shock when he realises that the caller is actually Basil himself. On Basil's instructions, Manuel asks Lurphy to come over and, whilst listening to Basil but clearly not understanding what he is saying, calls Lurphy "a hideous orangutan." Lurphy responds by punching Manuel, which is what Basil had hoped for.

The next morning, Basil arrives early to check on the renovations, and discovers to his horror that they haven't been carried out properly; the drawing room door is still in place, the door intended for the kitchen has been placed in front of the stairs, and the dining room door has been blocked off instead. In a combination of rage at the shoddy work and fear over Sybil's anticipated reaction, Basil, after tripping over the garden gnome, furiously threatens Polly and then physically assaults Manuel, before phoning O'Reilly and threatening to "insert a large garden gnome in you" if he does not arrive to fix the work within twenty minutes.

O'Reilly eventually arrives, and while Basil is imploring him to get to work, he notices that Sybil has returned early as well, having forgotten her golf shoes. Upon arriving, Sybil becomes suspicious when she sees O'Reilly's van parked out the front. She confronts Basil about this, and Basil blames the situation on Stubbs and his builders. Sybil is unconvinced and tells Basil that she saw O'Reilly's van outside, and Basil says that O'Reilly has come to rectify the problems caused by Stubbs. To Basil's surprise, Sybil seems to believe him, but thinks that since Stubbs was to blame for the situation, he should have put it right for free. At that moment, Polly calls the front desk impersonating Stubb's secretary, but is almost immediately caught by Sybil.

Sybil scolds Basil for hiring O'Reilly and vows that she will make him regret it for the rest of his life. Basil continues his attempts to convince her it was "at least partly" Stubbs' fault, but Sybil is having no more of his lies. Berating herself for letting Basil oversee the arrangements, Sybil hurls the cash box across the room at Basil and goes into a furious tirade about several recent times O'Reilly was hired to do jobs that ended with shoddy, disastrous results ("You got him in to change a washer in November, and we didn't have any running water for two weeks!"). O'Reilly merrily walks in from the bar and, upon admitting his mistakes, tries to joke and smile about it with Sybil. Enraged by this, Sybil lashes out at O'Reilly and Basil with an umbrella, before telling O'Reilly to leave and never return. Sybil calls Stubbs to get him to do the work the next morning and leaves, not intending to return until the next day, whilst sarcastically suggesting her new garden gnome should be in charge of the hotel, as he "is cheap and would do a far better job" than Basil. As Sybil leaves, Basil convinces O'Reilly to stay and complete the work.

Sybil returns the next morning to find the renovations have been completed by O'Reilly, apparently with no problems. As Stubbs arrives, Sybil finds herself in an embarrassing situation at having called on him, seemingly now for nothing. Stubbs looks over the renovations and admits at first that whoever did them did a very good job. However, when Stubbs further questions Basil about the work, it turns out he may have been needed after all; whilst making a doorway leading into the kitchen, O'Reilly only used a wooden lintel as opposed to a concrete one or Rolled Steel Joist. Since the door to the kitchen is on a load-bearing wall, the supporting wall could give way at any moment and cause the entire building to collapse. As Stubbs goes to telephone his company for the necessary equipment to commence immediate repair work, Sybil looks furiously for Basil and finds him marching down the driveway with the garden gnome. Basil calls back to Sybil that he is "going to see Mr. O'Reilly, dear!" before adding "and then I think I might go to Canada" under his breath.


Episode-credited cast:


  • James Appleby as Mr. Stubbs
  • Michael Cronin as Mr. Lurphy
  • Barney Dorman as Mr. Kerr
  • Michael Halsey as Mr. Jones
  • George Lee as Bennion, a Delivery Man
  • Pat Gorman as Departing Guest (uncredited)


David Stubbs has rated The Builders as the weakest Fawlty Towers episode due to its reliance on stereotypes such as the battleaxe wife, the feckless Irish labourer and the dimwitted Spaniard.[1]

John Cleese himself named The Builders as "the least good" of the Fawlty Towers episodes that were filmed, owing to a general lack of laughter in the studio on recording day. He recalls that members of the Icelandic Broadcasting Corporation were visiting the studio that day and many of them were in the front row seats, apparently not entirely amused.


  • Interior scenes of this episode were recorded on 3 August 1975, in Studio TC3 of the BBC Television Centre, before a live audience.[2]
  • Basil tells his guests that they must go to "The Gleneagles" for their dinners. This is a reference to the Hotel Gleneagles which Donald Sinclair, the hotel manager on which John Cleese based Basil Fawlty, ran in Torquay, the town where Fawlty Towers is set, and where the Monty Python team had stayed when Cleese gained his inspiration for Fawlty Towers.
  • George Lee, who plays Bennion the deliveryman, also appears as a deliveryman in the episode "Communication Problems".
  • The man who delivers the garden gnome to Fawlty Towers asks Manuel where the "Generalissimo" (his boss) is, to which Manuel (believing that he is talking about Francisco Franco) responds "in Madrid!" This episode aired less than two months before Franco's death. In the Catalan version, broadcast in 1986 (eleven years after Franco's death), Manuel replied "Dead!".


  1. ^ Stubbs, David (19 June 2007). "Good riddance to comedy's old guard". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 15 May 2010. 
  2. ^ Kempton, Martin. "An unreliable and wholly unofficial history of BBC Television Centre.." An incomplete history of London's television studios. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 

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