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The Germans

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

"The Germans" (named on some releases as "Fire Drill")[1] is the sixth episode of the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers. In the episode, while suffering the effects of a concussion, Basil Fawlty waits on a party of hotel guests from West Germany. Despite warning his staff "They're Germans! Don't mention the war", he keeps obliviously ignoring his own advice. His barrage of anti-German sentiment culminates in a goose-stepping impersonation of Adolf Hitler. The Germans are first deeply hurt, but are ultimately left wondering aloud how such idiots as Basil Fawlty and Major Gowen could ever have beaten their ancestors in two World Wars.[2]


Sybil, in hospital for a few days, instructs Basil on several tasks he must do at the hotel, including running a required fire drill and hanging a moose head. At the hotel, Basil has a conversation with the senile World War I veteran Major Gowen, who tells a cricket anecdote whose in-character comic basis is to have him seemingly reject a racist term only to replace it with another, ("Indians aren't 'niggers', Indians are 'wogs'"). The Major also cringes and expresses anti-German sentiment when Basil tells him a German group is due the next day. Basil then has several pratfalls with Manuel 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 Manuel practises his English from behind the counter; leading an amazed Major Gowen to think that the moose head can talk.

The next morning Basil successfully 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 burglar alarm (with the fire alarm being "a semitone higher" than the burglar alarm). Matters are made worse when Manuel actually causes a fire in the kitchen, setting off the alarm, but Basil, unaware of this, assures the guests it is only a drill. After starting the alarm, he tries to use the extinguisher on the fire, which bursts and sprays him in the face, blinding him. Manuel races out of the kitchen and tries to help Basil, only to accidentally knock him out with a frying pan.

Basil wakes up in hospital after suffering 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 telling everyone not to "mention the war", due to a combination of his own animosity and concussion-induced mental confusion, Basil makes numerous World War II references whilst taking their dinner orders and begins arguing with them, calling out Nazi Germany and frequently referring to Adolf Hitler and others.[3] Polly discreetly calls the hospital to warn them about Basil's behaviour.

As one of the Germans breaks down into tears, Basil starts into a tone deaf joke about Royal Air Force firebombing raids against German cities and a goose stepping impression of Adolf Hitler. Dr Finn arrives with a sedative needle, prompting Basil to flee, with Manuel also giving chase. However, Basil hits the wall where he hung the moose head, which falls, knocks Basil out again, and lands on Manuel's head. As the stunned Germans look on, Major Gowen comes out and launches into a conversation with what he still believes is a talking moose head. The Germans are left shaking their heads in shocked disbelief, until one finally asks aloud, "How ever did they win?"


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


  • Interior scenes of this episode were recorded on 31 August 1975, in Studio TC6 of the BBC Television Centre, before a live audience.[4]
  • 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.[5]

Cultural impact[edit]

  • In 1997, "The Germans" was ranked No. 12 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[6]
  • 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.[7] 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.[8]
  • The episode was one of the most popular of the series in Germany when it was first shown there in 1993.[9]
  • This episode was voted as number 11 in Channel 4's One Hundred Greatest TV Moments in 1999.[10]
  • Gold, a channel that regularly shows Fawlty Towers, argues that while "The Germans" is the most famous episode, the best episode is "Communication Problems".[11]
  • Empire magazine listed this as the best episode of the show in its list of the 50 greatest TV episodes of all time.[12]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • The American film director Martin Scorsese has cited this as his favourite episode of Fawlty Towers.[13]


"The Germans" has been evaluated by critics in the context of stoking anti-German sentiment. Journalist Mark Lawson expressed the view that, "while the show will never win a prize for encouraging Anglo-German cultural understanding, Cleese is comically depicting – rather than politically promoting – fear of 'Fritz' ".[14] In response to critics, John Cleese stated that his intention in writing this episode was "to make fun of English Basil Fawltys who are buried in the past" and "to make fun of the British obsession with the Second World War".[15][16][17]

In 2013, the BBC edited the Major's use of racial slurs from a repeat transmission of the episode, prompting some criticism by viewers.[18] The BBC defended its decision: "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 BBC Two."[19] However, on 28 June 2013, Gold transmitted the unedited episode after the watershed.[citation needed]

The episode was removed from the UKTV streaming service on 11 June 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd protests, with the other episodes of Fawlty Towers remaining available on the service.[20] Cleese spoke against the removal of the episode due to the Major's use of racial slurs: "The Major was an old fossil left over from decades before. We were not supporting his views, we were making fun of them. If they can't see that, if people are too stupid to see that, what can one say?"[21] On 13 June it was reinstated by UKTV with a warning about "offensive content and language".[22]


  1. ^ BBC Audio Release, 1982 on Discogs
  2. ^ Berman, Garry (2011). Best of the Britcoms: From Fawlty Towers to The Office. Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 9781589795662.
  3. ^ "Faulty Towers – Fav Food Quotes from "The Germans"". Let It Be Food. 2 November 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  4. ^ Kempton, Martin. "An unreliable and wholly unofficial history of BBC Television Centre..." An incomplete history of London's television studios. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Andrew Sachs suffered burns on set of Fawlty Towers". The Telegraph. London. 14 September 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (28 June – 4 July). 1997.
  7. ^ Sherwin, Adam; Hoyle, Ben (15 May 2006). "Don't mention the War says Cleese in World Cup peace bid". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 9 August 2011. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Martin, Nicole (15 June 2000). "Herr Fawlty's turn not to mention war". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  10. ^ "Awards and audiences for Fawlty Towers". Archived from the original on 11 February 2008.
  11. ^ UKTV Gold: Sitcoms: Our favourite Fawlty episode Archived 12 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Empire Features".
  13. ^ Davidson, Andrew (14 May 1995). "Arts: To Hell with Basil". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  14. ^ Lawson, Mark (23 January 2013). "Fawlty Towers isn't racist. Major Gowen is". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  15. ^ Davis, Colin (2018). Traces of War: Interpreting Ethics and Trauma in Twentieth-century French Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-1-78694-042-1. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  16. ^ "Whatever you do, don't mention the war. Oops!". The Independent. 14 January 2005. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  17. ^ Malik, Kenan (13 October 2019). "We can mention the war. Should we now talk about Britain's darker history?". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  18. ^ "Fawlty Towers scene 'censored' by BBC". The Guardian. London. 23 January 2013.
  19. ^ Lawson, Mark (23 January 2013). "Fawlty Towers isn't racist. Major Gowen is". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  20. ^ Waterson, Jim (11 June 2020). "Fawlty Towers 'Don't mention the war' episode removed from UKTV". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  21. ^ Quinn, Karl (12 June 2020). "John Cleese slams UKTV decision to remove Fawlty Towers episode as 'stupid'". The Age. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  22. ^ "Fawlty Towers: The Germans episode to be reinstated by UKTV". BBC News. 13 June 2020. Retrieved 14 June 2020.

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)

External links[edit]