The Germans

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"The Germans"
Fawlty Towers episode
Fawlty Towers The Germans.jpg
Basil Fawlty does the silly walk, offending the German visitors
Episode no.Series 1
Episode 6
Directed byJohn Howard Davies
Written byJohn Cleese & Connie Booth
Original air date24 October 1975 (1975-10-24)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Gourmet Night"
Next →
"Communication Problems"
List of Fawlty Towers episodes

"The Germans" is the sixth episode of the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers. It is remembered for its line "Don't mention the war" and John Cleese's goose-stepping silly walk when he is impersonating Adolf Hitler.


Sybil, in the hospital for a few days, instructs Basil on several tasks he must do at the hotel, including running a required fire drill and hang a moose head.

At the hotel, Basil has a discussion with Major Gowen, which diverts into insults related to West Indians. The Major also goes off on Germany when Basil informs him a German group is due the next day. Basil then has several pratfalls with Miguel while trying to hang the moose head, including many calls from Sybil reminding him to do so. At one point, he leaves the head on the hotel counter to get a hammer, during which Miguel practices his English from behind the counter; a confused Major thinks the moose head is talking.

The next morning Basil successful mounts the head. After another call from Sybil, Basil prepares to start the fire drill, but ends up creating confusion with the guests between the fire alarm and the security alarm. Matters are made worse when Miguel actually causes a fire in the kitchen, setting off the alarm, but Basil, unaware of this, assures the guests it is only a drill. He tries to open the alarm box with a fire extinguisher, which only blinds him. Miguel races out of the kitchen and tries to help Basil, only to smack him in the head with a frying pan.

Basil wakes up in the hospital after a concussion, and Sybil attests to Dr. Finn that Basil cannot cope with the hotel alone. Basil sneaks out and returns to Fawlty Towers in time to greet the German guests. Despite told to not bring up "the war" Basil takes an immediate disliking to them due to his own hatred, and purposely begins insulting them, calling out Nazi Germany and frequently name-checking Adolf Hitler and others. [1] Polly discretely calls the hospital to warn them about Basil's behaviour. As one of the Germans break down into tears, Basil starts into war jokes and mocks Hilter's goose-stepping. Dr. Finn arrives, prompting Basil to try to escape, Miguel giving chase. However, Basil hits the wall where he hung the moose head, which falls, knocks Basil out again, and lands on Miguel's head. As the Germans look on in disbelief, the Major comes out and things the moose is speaking to him again. The Germans ask aloud how the British could have won the war.


  • Interior scenes of this episode were recorded on 31 August 1975, in Studio TC6 of the BBC Television Centre, before a live audience.[2]
  • This was the only episode not to begin with an exterior shot of the hotel. Instead, an exterior shot of the Northwick Park Hospital in Brent was used.
  • In the scene where Manuel attempts to put out a fire in the kitchen, firemen were on standby to put out the flames. However in the next shot where Manuel walks out to alert Basil of the fire, two chemicals were added to his arm, to create smoke. During rehearsal and filming these chemicals soaked into his clothing causing Andrew Sachs second degree chemical burns on his arm and back.
  • In 2013, the BBC edited the Major's usage of the words "niggers" and "wogs" from a repeat transmission of the episode, causing some criticism by viewers.[3] The BBC defended its decision, claiming "We are very proud of Fawlty Towers and its contribution to British television comedy. But public attitudes have changed significantly since it was made and it was decided to make some minor changes, with the consent of John Cleese’s management, to allow the episode to transmit to a family audience at 7.30pm on BBC2."[4][5] However, on 28 June 2013, Gold transmitted the unedited episode after the watershed.

Cultural impact[edit]

  • In 1997, "The Germans" was ranked No. 12 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[6]
  • In 2008, John Cleese confirmed that he had been learning German for a while and described himself as "speaking simple German fluently now". Referring to the Fawlty Towers episode "The Germans", he explained "Everybody thinks that was a joke about the Germans but they missed it. It was a joke about British attitudes to the war and the fact that some people were still hanging on to that rubbish".[7]
  • This episode popularised the phrase "Don't mention the war". Cleese turned the phrase into a song for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the first time Cleese had played Basil Fawlty in 27 years.[8] The phrase was used as a title for a humorous travel book written by Stewart Ferris and Paul Bassett, detailing travels through Germany and other European countries. It is also the title of a book by John Ramsden, published in 2006, which examines Anglo-German relations since 1890, and a 2005 Radio 4 documentary looking at the British perception of Germans.[9]
  • The goose-stepping Hitler impression has become famous, and was a nod to Cleese's performance in "The Ministry of Silly Walks" Monty Python sketch; this moment was met with raucous laughter from the audience.
  • The episode was one of the most popular of the series in Germany when it was first shown there in 1993.[10]
  • This episode was voted as number 11 in Channel 4's One Hundred Greatest TV Moments in 1999.[11]
  • Gold, a channel that regularly shows Fawlty Towers, argues that while "The Germans" is the most famous episode, the best episode is "Communication Problems".[12]
  • Empire magazine listed this as the best episode of the show in its list of the 50 greatest TV episodes of all time.[13]
  • In the first episode of the second series of the BBC series The Office, David Brent performs an impression of a paper industry figure as Basil Fawlty, quoting the phrase "Don't mention the war", and impersonating the goosestep used by Basil.
  • In an episode of QI dedicated to Germany, the contestants were penalised for mentioning the war.
  • Filmmaker Martin Scorsese has remarked he is a great fan of "Fawlty Towers" and has called this his all-time favourite episode. Describing the scene with Basil impersonating Hitler doing the Silly Walk: "So tasteless, it's hilarious".


Episode-credited cast:


  • Lisa Bergmayr as German Guest
  • Willy Bowman as German Guest
  • Brenda Cowling as Sister
  • Claire Davenport as Miss Wilson
  • Iris Fry as Mrs. Sharp
  • Dan Gillan as German Guest
  • Nick Kane as German Guest
  • John Lawrence as Mr. Sharp
  • Louis Mahoney as Doctor Finn


  1. ^ "Faulty Towers - Fav Food Quotes from "The Germans"". Let It Be Food. 2 November 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  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.
  3. ^ "Fawlty Towers scene 'censored' by BBC". The Guardian. London. 23 January 2013.
  4. ^ Lawson, Mark (23 January 2013). "Fawlty Towers isn't racist. Major Gowen is". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  5. ^ Cox, Laura (22 January 2013). "Don't mention the ***: Censorship row as BBC cuts the Major's 'racist' lines from classic Fawlty Towers episode". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
  6. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (28 June – 4 July). 1997.
  7. ^ Graham, Caroline (20 July 2008). "John Cleese's fling with a blonde HALF his age". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  8. ^ Sherwin, Adam; Hoyle, Ben (15 May 2006). "Dont mention the War says Cleese in World Cup peace bid". The Times. London. Retrieved 25 May 2010.[dead link]
  9. ^ Fenton, Ben (16 July 2005). "Why do we love being beastly to the Germans? Blame the BBC". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  10. ^ Martin, Nicole (15 June 2000). "Herr Fawlty's turn not to mention war". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  11. ^ Awards and audiences for Fawlty Towers Archived 11 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ UKTV Gold: Sitcoms: Our favourite Fawlty episode Archived 12 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Empire Features

Further reading[edit]

  • Fawlty Towers: A Worshipper's Companion, Leo Publishing, ISBN 91-973661-8-8
  • The Complete Fawlty Towers by John Cleese & Connie Booth (1988, Methuen, London) ISBN 0-413-18390-4 (the complete text)
  • The Telegraph—Andrew Sachs suffered burns on set of Fawlty Towers [1]

External links[edit]