The Kipper and the Corpse
|"The Kipper and the Corpse"|
|Fawlty Towers episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||Bob Spiers|
|Written by||John Cleese
|Original air date||12 March 1979|
"The Kipper and the Corpse" is the fourth episode of the second series of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers. It first aired at 9.00pm on 12 March 1979 on BBC2. Distinguishing it from other episodes is its heavy use of black comedy.
During the early 1970s, John Cleese met a young hotelier called Andrew Leeman. They went on holiday together to the Aegean with their girlfriends between the first and second series of Fawlty Towers, a time when Cleese was looking for ideas for plots. During the holiday, Leeman told him how when he was working at the Savoy he found a guest dead in his room, and was told to discreetly dispose of the body. Cleese turned this into "The Kipper and the Corpse" and the character who died was named Mr. Leeman in his honour.
Basil and Sybil are working the bar where Mrs. Chase is fussing over her shih-tzu dog and Dr. Price wants some sausages, but all they can offer him are sandwiches. During the evening, a guest, Mr. Leeman, returns to Fawlty Towers feeling unwell in the stomach; we (but not the Fawltys) are introduced at this point to his business colleagues who, after sympathising and making arrangements for a meeting the next morning, leave. As Leeman picks up his key, he asks for breakfast in bed, much to Basil's disdain. Not particularly interested in discussing food the way he is feeling, he opts for the Continental breakfast; Sybil offers kippers and he agrees.
The following morning, Dr. Price still yearns for some sausages, while Mrs. Chase makes a fuss of her dog, which bites Manuel and Polly for no reason. They exact revenge by putting liberal lashings of pepper and tabasco sauce on its food, causing it a severe stomach ache. In the kitchen Basil spots that the kippers Terry is cooking for Leeman are out of date. Despite his protestations, he is semi-reassured by Terry and outrightly overruled by Sybil, who orders him to take the breakfast upstairs. So distracted by fury at industrial action reported in that morning's papers, he fails to notice that Leeman has died (possibly of stomach hemorrhage), assuming that his silence is due simply to rudeness, and instead rants about the strike while tidying the room and opening the curtains. Moments later, Polly takes up the milk which had been mistakenly omitted from Leeman's breakfast tray, realises immediately that Leeman has died and hurries downstairs - visibly shaken - to tell everyone. Recalling the "Sell-By" date he spotted earlier, Basil immediately panics that the kippers killed him, but Dr. Price examines Leeman's body and concludes that he actually died at least ten hours ago, much to Basil's initial delight.
Basil, Manuel, and Polly are then burdened with the task of trying to move the body from the room without the guests seeing. However, while moving him across the upstairs hall, Miss Tibbs sees the body and gets hysterical, so on Basil's advice Polly slaps her, but rather too hard and in fact knocks her out. The unconscious Miss Tibbs and the deceased are hidden in a bedroom cupboard. The room's occupants Mr. and Mrs. White want to enter their room there and then, so Basil, Polly, and Manuel have to create a distraction, but Mr. and Mrs. White still hear Miss Tibbs moaning in the cupboard and force Basil to let her out. Whilst Basil tells them that she is a mad woman who likes to hide in people's wardrobes, Polly notices that Leeman's arm is sticking out of the cupboard and desperately tries to signal this to Basil, only resulting in more confusion.
The body is finally moved to the office, where Major Gowen stumbles across it and assumes that Leeman was shot dead as he slept. Meanwhile, Dr. Price is still waiting for his sausages, and gets into a brief quarrel with Manuel about breakfast time until Basil clears the misunderstanding up, notably by poking Manuel in the eye. Miss Tibbs, now recovered, goes to the office to confront Basil but, sees the dead body once more and faints. Mr. Leeman is then moved to the kitchen in the linen basket, until Dr. Price insists he be moved, and ends up in reception. When some people (who were shown earlier to be business associates) arrive at reception asking about Mr. Leeman, Basil thinks they are the undertakers. While he is talking to them, the linen basket with Leeman inside is taken away by the laundry men. Acting fast, the staff get him back and again try to hide him in several places, but Manuel loses his strength and gives up, instead hiding himself in the basket until Polly gets him out. Leeman's colleagues are informed of his death by Sybil and prepare to leave, while Basil hides the body behind the hat rack. A commotion occurs, and all the guests who were neglected, including Miss Tibbs (still in shock), Dr. Price (who had to cook his own sausages before realising that they were off), Mr. and Mrs. White (whose room was once again intruded upon), and Mrs. Chase (whose dog is ill from the tabasco sauce and the vet she requested hasn't been called), begin complaining.
In a delicious bit of revenge, Basil discreetly calls the laundry men and tells the guests that Sybil (who, apart from some minor assistance, has done nothing but laze about while Basil, Manuel, and Polly have been busy trying to hide the body) will explain all the cock-ups that have occurred. As the guests round on Sybil, Basil hides in the basket and is taken away by the laundry men. Leeman is subsequently seen by all the guests, including a horrified Miss Tibbs, as Sybil desperately calls out Basil's name.
- John Cleese - Basil Fawlty
- Prunella Scales - Sybil Fawlty
- Andrew Sachs - Manuel
- Connie Booth - Polly Sherman
- Ballard Berkeley - Major Gowen
- Brian Hall - Terry the Chef
- Gilly Flower - Miss Abitha Tibbs
- Renee Roberts - Miss Ursula Gatsby
- Derek Royle - Mr. Leeman
- Elizabeth Benson - Mrs. White
- Pamela Buchner - Miss Young
- Richard Davies - Mr. White
- Len Marten - Guest
- Raymond Mason - Mr. Zebedee
- Robert McBain - Mr. Xerxes
- Charles McKeown - Mr. Ingrams
- Geoffrey Palmer - Dr. Price
- Mavis Pugh - Mrs. Chase
- Harry Fielder - 1st Laundry Man (uncredited)
- Joe Santos - 2nd Laundry Man (uncredited)
- Interior scenes of this episode were recorded on 18 February 1979, in Studio TC1 of the BBC Television Centre, before a live audience.
- Mr. Ingrams, one of the guests, was named after the television reviewer for The Spectator, Richard Ingrams, who was an early critic of the show when it began in 1975. Ingrams' appraisal was quite caustic. John Cleese got his revenge in this episode when Mr Ingrams was found in his room with a blow-up doll.
- An episode of the radio series Cabin Pressure has two passengers called Mr. Leeman (who dies suddenly) and Dr Price. Mr. Leeman's first name is Hamilton in reference to Mr. Hamilton, the aggressive American in Waldorf Salad.
- Bright, Morris; Ross, Robert (2001). "Fawlty Towers - Fully Booked". BBC.
- "Obituary - Andrew Leeman". The Daily Telegraph. 28 August 2007.
- Kempton, Martin. "An unreliable and wholly unofficial history of BBC Television Centre...". An incomplete history of London's television studios. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
- Meeks, Christopher (29 August 1994). "Fawlty Towers". Variety. Retrieved 24 March 2009.