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Fawlty Towers

Fawlty Towers

Category: Comedy Sitcom

Created by: John Cleese and Connie Booth

Stars: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, and Connie Booth

Number of Episodes: 12

Original Run: September 19, 1975 to October 25, 1979 Fawlty Towers is British sitcom made by the BBC. The show had a lot of influence on other shows.

The show is about a fictional hotel and it’s owners, Mr. and Mrs. Fawlty. The hotel is in the Devon Town of Torquay on the “English Riviera”. John Cleese and Connie Booth wrote the series and played the main characters on the show. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was placed first. It was also voted fifth in the BBC's "Britain's Best Sitcom" poll in 2004.

Fawlty Towers was inspired by the Monty Python teams stay in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay in May 1970.  Cleese and Booth stayed on at the hotel after filming for the Python show had finished. The owner was rude and to customers, including putting Eric Idle's suitcase behind a wall in the garden on the suspicion that it contained a bomb. He criticised Terry Gilliam's table manners as being "too American". The episode which closely matches that situation is "Waldorf Salad".

John Cleese was a writer on the 1970s British TV Sitcom series Doctor in the House and Doctor at Large for London Weekend Television. The character was developed in an episode of Doctor at Large entitled "No Ill Feeling" about an aggressive and incompetent manager of a small town hotel. The show was broadcast on 30 May 1971.

Until the 1970s, the proprietors of English seaside boarding houses had a reputation for firmness and intransigence. Bill Cotton, the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment in the mid-1970s, said after the first series was produced that the show was a prime example of the BBC's relaxed attitude to trying new entertainment formats and encouraging new ideas. He said that when he read the first scripts he could see nothing funny in them, but trusting that Cleese knew what he was doing, he gave the go-ahead. He said that the commercial channels, with their emphasis on audience ratings, would never have let the show get to the production stage on the basis of the scripts.

The writers, Cleese and Booth, were married at the time of the first series (1975). By the second series (1979), Cleese and Booth had divorced after ten years (1968–78).Most episodes were about Basil dealing with a situation. The episodes were built around Basil's frustrations about his mistakes and those of others. Basil insults guests, usually having a witty argument.

He would also have arguments with his staff and his mean wife. He would refer to her as "that golfing puff adder"---(I think that's a snake that can be found on a folf course) or "my little piranha fish", or even "my little nest of vipers". She is able to get him back just as well. At the end of some episodes the things he did to annoy guests comes back at him.

The plots deal with coincidences, misunderstandings, cross-purposes, missed meetings, and accidental meetings. Basil is sometimes trying to prevent sexual activity from happening in the hotel but he ends up looking like he is the source of the activity.

Fawlty Towers

Basil encounters many kinds of guests some reasonable and others with impossible requests. Basil doesn't have much luck with the reasonable guests or is just annoyed that they expect any service at all. The impossible guests want more than they are due. In "Communication Problems", there is an homage to the banter of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on first" when Mrs. Richards gets the impression from Manuel that the manager's name is Mr. What.

Basil abuses Manuel (a very emotional, bumbling Spanish waiter who doesn't understand English) when Manuel makes innocent mistakes. Basil hits him in someway including with a frying pan. Often Basil keeps hitting Manuel and Manuel keeps pleading for mercy. This could be compared to the antics of the Three Stooges. This violence has gotten Fawlty Towers negative criticism.

Basil is a snob and he believes many guests stay at his hotel to climb the social ladder. He makes many social mistakes when trying to get chummy with the wealthy and ends up finding himself forces to serve and help people he sees as beneath him. Many guests leave in disgust. His marriage is always being put to the test.

Fawlty Towers Characters

Basil Fawlty

Fawlty Towers

Basil Fawlty is played by John Cleese. He is a snob and is desperate to climb the social ladder. He expects to do this by being a success at running his hotel. This is made hard for him because the job forces him to be polite to people he hates or wants to climb over on his way up the social ladder. He is scared of his wife and wishes he could stand up to her. His plans don't match with her plans. She verbally abuses him. He is bigger than her but she usually wins, verbally or physically. Basil uses Manuel or Polly to help him with schemes. They (Basil and helper(s)) have to sneak around while at it so Sybil doesn't find out. Basil does care for Sybil. There is evidence of that in the episode called "The Germans". Basil was in the Catering Corps of the British Army. He claims: "I fought in the Korean War, you know; I killed four men." Sybil's reply to this was "He was in the Catering Corps; he used to poison them." He is often seen wearing a military tie and a military-type moustache. He also claims to have sustained an injury to his leg in the Korean War caused by shrapnel, although this tends to flare up at surprisingly convenient times. 

Cleese says Basil thinks "he could run a first-rate hotel if he didn't have all the guests getting in the way". Cleese also says that in comedy if an awful person makes people laugh, people will feel for him.

Sybil Fawlty

Fawlty Towers

Sybil Fawlty, played by Prunella Scales, is Basi's wife. She is seen as the more effective manager of the hotel. She distracts him with simple work or keeps him in line when she gives him important work. She doesn't directly run the hotel. She is usually on the phone with a friend and can be heard saying "Oohhh I Knoooooooow" or laughing in a wierd way. Basil would describe this laughter as "someone machine-gunning a seal". Basil has called Sybil a few things including: "the dragon", "toxic midget", "my little nest of vipers", "my little piranha fish", "the sabre-toothed tart", "my little kommandant", "that golfing puff adder", and "a rancorous, coiffured old sow".

Polly Sherman 


Click here to see a great Fawlty Towers video clip

Fawlty Towers

Polly Sherman, played by Connie Booth, is the waitress. She ends up doing other jobs around the hotel too. She helps bring things under control when necessary. She loyally tries to help Basil when he is trying to cover up a mistake he's made, or is trying to keep something from Sybil.

She seems to be a part-time empoyee (during meal times). She is an art student. Because she is the most competent of the staff she is often doing other things around the hotel. She, like Manuel, has a room of her own at the hotel.


Andrew Sachs plays Manuel, a waiter. He tries hard but get confused easily. He is a Spaniard from Barcelena. He barely understands English and can often be heard saying "Que?" Manuel's character was used to demonstrate Basil's lack of sensitivity and tolerance. Basil would be angry at Manuel in every episode after Manuel has tried to accomplish Basil's bidding. He is scared of Basil but thankful for the job.  Sachs has suffered serious injuries twice during the making of the series. Cleese had used a metal pan to hit Sachs on the head in "The Wedding Party". He would have preferred to use a rubber one. The original producer/director had made Basil use a metal pan and says he was responsible for most of the violence on the show which he felt was essential.  Later, when his clothes were treated in order to make them give off smoke after he had been let out of the burning kitchen in "The Germans", the corrosive chemicals used went through them and gave Sachs severe burns.

Sachs' Spanish accent when in character is an integral part of the show. Sachs' native language is actually German. When the series was dubbed for broadcast in Germany, he voiced the German translation of Manuel, with a Spanish accent.

The character's nationality was switched to an Italian called Paolo for the Spanish dub of the show broadcast, while in Catalonia he is a Mexican called Manuel 

Fawlty Towers Other Regular Characters

Terry the Chef, played by Brian Hall, is the chef at Fawlty Towers. Terry's cooking style is quite relaxed, and Basil occasionally gets frustrated with his "It's all right" attitude. Terry appears in only the second series of episodes. During the first series there was no regular chef character seen in the show. The only first series chef was "new" chef Kurt, only seen in "Gourmet Night", who quickly proved himself incapable of holding the job due to a fondness for large volumes of wine, and a baffling passion for Manuel. Terry used to work in Dorchester (not at The Dorchester).

Major Gowen, played by Ballard Berkeley, is a slightly senile old soldier who holds a permanent residence in the hotel, but is one of the few that Basil likes. He is often introduced as their "oldest resident". He enjoys talking about the world outside (especially the cricket scores and bemoaning workers' strikes) and is always on the lookout for the newspaper. He seems to have trouble forgiving the Germans due to the World Wars. He has outdated mannerisms towards race, calling black people golliwogs in an innocent manner. Major Gowen, despite his good intentions, can cause Basil's devious plans to go catastrophically awry, notably in "Communication Problems" when Basil tried his best to keep his secret (albeit successful) betting from Sybil .

Fawlty Towers

Miss Tibbs & Miss Gatsby, played by Gilly Flower and Renee Roberts respectively, are the other two (often inseparable) permanent residents, who are slightly scatty spinsters. They seem to take a fancy to Basil, and feel as though they need to take care of him, although he switches from being overly kind to utterly rude during various talks with the two.

Audrey, a mostly unseen character, had one onscreen appearance in "The Anniversary". Audrey is Sybil's lifelong best friend, and mostly appears in the form of gossiping, trivial telephone calls to Sybil. Audrey is used as a source of refuge for Sybil from the hotel and from Basil's ludicrous situations. When times get tough for Audrey (she has a dysfunctional relationship with her husband George), Sybil will offer solutions and guidance, often resulting in the infamous catchphrase Ooh, I know... when Mrs. Fawlty tries to commiserate with her problems.

Fawlty Towers

The paperboy, though not seen often, is responsible for changing the "Fawlty Towers" sign to read various (sometimes crude) phrases, such as "Fatty Owls", "Flay Otters", "Farty Towels", "Watery Fowls", and "Flowery Twats". (The last of those is the only anagram shown that uses all the letters.) The shot of the sign with the hotel appears at the beginning of every episode but one, "The Germans", when a shot of a hospital is used, as Sybil is having an operation on her ingrown toenail. The series was not as popular on it's original broadcast as it is today. By the time the series had ended, it was a great critical success. The critic from Television Today wrote a very scathing review of the show.

Another critic of Fawlty Towers was Richard Ingrams, then television reviewer for The Spectator. Cleese got his revenge by naming one of the guests in the second series "Mr Ingrams", who is caught in his room with a blow up doll.


Three BAFTAs were awarded to people for their involvement with the series. Each of the two series were awarded the BAFTA in the category for "Best Situation Comedy", the first won by John Howard Davies in 1976, and the second by Douglas Argent and Bob Spiers in 1980. John Cleese won the BAFTA for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" in 1976.






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