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Fawlty Towers – A British Farce and Comedy Classic
Fawlty Towers - The Cast
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If you are a fan of British Comedy then must have heard of Fawlty Towers. Written by and starring John Cleese and his then wife, Connie Booth, the series set in the fictional hotel in Torquay, a seaside town on the English Riviera, was the perfect vehicle for Cleese to showcase his manic, slapstick comedy.
It’s hard to believe, that there were only two series of six episodes each, of Fawlty Towers broadcast and that there was a gap four years between each series. The first series of Fawlty Towers was broadcast in 1975 and the last series was broadcast in 1979. It’s a measure of its brilliance of Fawlty Towers that, even though there were only ever twelve episodes, in a list drawn up by the British Film Institute; the show was voted the best television series of all time. It is so good that you can watch episodes over and over and still be wetting yourself with laughter each and every time. Even more amazing; it was made some forty years ago and it is one my kid’s favourite TV shows!
The show was inspired by real life hotelier, Donald Sinclair, whom Cleese encountered when staying at the Gelneagles Hotel whilst on location with the Monty Python team. Cleese became fascinated by this rude hotelier whom he once saw throw a bus timetable at a guest who had dared to enquire when the next bus into the town was due. Cleese’s character, Basil Fawlty, is a manic, rude hotel manager, who insults his guests, basically gets everything wrong, but is constantly trying to improve the image of his hotel and move it up market.
His wife, Sybil, played by Prunella Scales, is a laid back, gossiping and domineering woman against which Cleese’s character plays perfectly. Add to this, the long suffering and incompetent Spanish waiter who can barely speak any English, Manuel, played brilliantly by Andre Sachs, a whole cast of eccentric guests, destined to be the target of Basil Fawlty’s frequent tirades, and you have the recipe for a fantastic situation comedy. The only sane and competent member of the staff is the chambermaid, Polly, played by Connie Booth, who somehow holds the place together.
When John Cleese and Connie Booth submitted the first script for Fawlty Towers, far from being thought of as a British Comedy Classic, the executive who reviewed the script said to Cleese; 'This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster.’ - Clichés and stereotypes? What was the man on about? So there’s a Spanish waiter constantly getting hit by his boss, a German with a hang up about a certain world war, an American who will only eat a salad if it has walnuts in and an Irish builder. What’s wrong with that?
For those who do remember the show and wondered about changing the sign in the opening credits; it was the paperboy wot dunnit!
I won’t bore readers with a list of the episodes; you can find that on Wikipedia, if you really want to. Instead, I’ll give you a taster with some of the classic moments from some of the most well-known and best loved episodes of Fawlty Towers. Just remember; don’t mention the war!
Fawlty Towers - The Builders
Oh, good morning, Major. I'm so sorry, I'm afraid the dining room door seems to have disappeared.
Basil and Sybil have a rare weekend away together, while back at the hotel, Polly is left to supervise the work of some boulders. Basil has decided though, not to use Sybils choice of builders, but uses the cheaper option of general odd job man O’reilly instead.
When Basil returns to check on the builders progress, he finds that all has not gone well, and the doors are where they shouldn’t be while another door has been blocked that shouldn’t have. Panic and mayhem ensues, culminating in Sybils return, dangerous building practices and threats of a garden gnome being inserted into an unmentionable part of builder O’reilly’s anatomy.
Fawlty Towers - The Germans
So! It's all forgotten now, and let's hear no more about it. So, that's two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.
I’m not sure that bureaux of political correctness at the European Union would enjoy this episode of Fawlty Towers any more than any German nationals would. Despite the fact that most people thought this was making fun of the Germans, Cleese himself insists that he was sending up the British attitude to the war at that time.
Having said all that, Basil Fawlty, suffering from concussion and trying not to offend some rather awkward German guests, but actually achieving completely the opposite, is absolutely hilarious. Despite his instructions not to mention the war, he manages to make reference to it in just about every sentence he utters to German guests.
This episode, which is probably one of Fawlty Towers best known, also includes a moose head that might be talking to the daft major and Manuels’ confusion over the difference between a hammer, a ham sandwich and his hamster!
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Fawlty Towers – Communication Problems
Well, may I ask what you were expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeasts swinging majestically...
Another epic episode of Fawlty Towers; the rudest hotelier in the world meets an aggressive, shortsighted and deaf guest, Mrs Richards, played by Joan Sanderson. To be honest, it’s a one gag episode, but that doesn’t detract from how much comedy you squeeze from one single joke, especially when Mrs. Richards keeps accusing everyone else of being blind or deaf.
Mrs Richards complains that her room at Fawlty Towers is cold, the view from her window is terrible (she can’t see) and the radio in her room doesn’t work (she is deaf). In the meantime, basil places a secret bet on a horse without Sybils knowledge. Money disappears from Mrs Richards’ room, Basil gets the blame, Basil wins on the horses, Basil loses the money. It’s all in an average day’s work at the old fashioned, British farce, called Fawlty Towers.
Fawlty Towers – Waldorf Salad
What a drive, huh? Everything on the wrong side of the road, the weather... Whaddaya get for livin' in a climate like this, green stamps? It's terrible!
There’s more stereotyping in this episode of Fawlty Towers, and this time it’s the turn of an American guest to face Basil Fawlty’s own unique version of customer care.
Basil is really under pressure in the hotel restaurant while Sybil relaxes and chats with a guest. One guest complains that their prawns are off, another couple has been waiting nearly an hour for their meal and guests start giving up and going to the kitchen themselves to collect their meals. To finish his day off nicely, a rude and loud American guest arrives late demanding that the restaurant is re-opened to serve him some food.
Playing, of course, on the cultural differences between Americans and the English, this particular episode of Fawlty Towers is one of the most popular. You just know that an American calling one of England’s largest motorways, a back street and demanding a Waldorf salad is going to wind Basil up.
Fawlty Towers – Basil the Rat
Well, of course it's a rat. You have rats in Spain, don't you - or did Franco have them all shot?
Sadly, Basil the Rat was the very last episode of Fawlty Towers ever made. The hotel inspector, Mr Carnegie, has visited the hotel and, after finding numerous problems, including two dead pigeons in the water tank, he threatens to have the hotel closed unless things are corrected within 24 hours.
Mr Carnegie returns to the hotel for his final inspection and all seems in order until Manuels’ pet rat escapes from where it has been hidden, in a garden shed. Basil and his staff desperately, but discretely try to find the escaped rat, also called Basil, trying to catch it before the hotel inspector sees it. Basil Fawlty puts some rat poison on some veal, to kill Basil the rat. The poisoned veal gets mixed up with the veal for the guests; Mr Carnegie decides to stay for dinner, and he, along with most of the other guests order veal for dinner.
Fortunately, no one dies of rat poisoning, but Basil the rat is still on the loose. After much chasing, false alarms and confusion over some Ratatouille, Basil the rat finally turns up in a tin of biscuits that Mr Carnegie is offered to go with his cheese.
How do you rate Fawlty Towers?
Fawlty Towers – British Farce at its best
Fawlty Towers only lasted for twelve episodes, but that is possibly what makes it so well remembered. Every episode was fresh and the show never had time to run out of steam. There have been several attempts to remake Fawlty Towers for the American market, but it never succeeded and John Cleese has said that there will never be any further episodes made. There were thoughts of making a feature length episode, that too idea too, soon disappeared.
The show received three BAFTA awards, two for best situation and comedy and John Cleese won the award for Best Light Entertainment Performance" in 1976. Other comedy shows have since cited Fawlty Towers as a major inspiration for them, including the sitcoms 3rd Rock from the Sun and Cheers.
Fawlty Towers- Which was your favourite episode?
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