A Sitcom created by John Cleese and Connie Booth which focused on Basil Fawlty, a bad-tempered snob who runs "the crummiest, shoddiest, worst-run hotel in the whole of Western Europe".
"NO!, No, I won't have that! There's a place in Eastbourne..."
— The Major
One of the all-time classic TV shows, it benefited greatly from its cheerful willingness to create horrible human beings and let them act according to their nature at all times: Basil hardly ever gets a Pet the Dog moment, and even if he does, it's quickly undone by multiple Kick the Dog moments. The series was intelligent, effervescent and daring, and the only complaint one can make is that there wasn't enough of it (only 12 episodes were ever made).In 2000, the British Film Institute declared it the best British television programme ever made. A few years ago, it was voted best UK sitcom ever in a poll, and J. Michael Straczynski said in a book on screenwriting that if a writer watches Fawlty Towers and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, they will have had the best possible grounding in how to write comedy.In 1999, CBS attempted to remake Fawlty Towers as a John Laroquette vehicle entitled Payne (after Laroquette's character, "Royal Payne"). It lasted even fewer episodes than the original. There was also an earlier attempt by ABC to remake the show, in which Fawlty was a woman played by Bea Arthur. That series was titled Amanda's. Before that, a pilot with Harvey Korman, called Snavely's was screened but it did not sell.Came fifth in Britain's Best Sitcom.See also Fawlty Towers Plot.
Fawlty Towers provides examples of:
Accidental Pervert: Basil Fawlty became this in the episode "The Psychiatrist", in which his efforts to prove that one of his guests broke the rules by sneaking his girlfriend into a room lead him into one Not What It Looks Like after another.
Actor Allusion: Basil's goose-stepping in "The Germans" is deliberately reminiscent of Cleese's "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch from Monty Python. Just check out the applause it gets.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: You certainly can keep rats as pets (though adopting them from the wild is not recommended). There is also such a thing as a Siberian hamster, but it looks absolutely nothing like a rat... funnily enough, it looks like a hamster.
Aside Glance: Fawlty Towers has been fairly good at avoiding this, but it does occur once in The Wedding Party when a drunk Manuel knocks Basil over and exclaims "I love you" - a guest who stumbles across them at just this moment looks at the screen in horror before running off.
Atomic F-Bomb: Nobody can scream "BASTARD!!" quite like John Cleese can.
Basil:(takes Sybil's hand) Seriously, Sybil, do you remember when we were first... manacled together? We used to laugh quite a lot.
Sybil:(pulling her hand away) Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.
Basil: That's true. That was a warning, I guess. Should have spotted that, shouldn't I?
Interestingly, he does seem to get jealous if Sybil flirts with male guests, or male guests flirt with her, such as "The Psychiatrist."
Based on a True Story: The story goes that when John Cleese was still a member of Monty Python, the group had gone someplace by bus, and the bus broke down in Torquay. Because they couldn't have their bus fixed that day, they had to stay at the local hotel - the Torquay Gleneagles, owned by one Donald Sinclair - overnight. About an hour after checking in, all the Pythons except John Cleese left and walked to the next town to find another hotel. Cleese? He bought pen and paper.
In particular, Basil's treatment of his US guests in "Waldorf Salad" is based on Sinclair's treatment of Terry Gilliam. The man supposedly attacked Gilliam's accent and claimed his table manners were too American.
He also apparently threw a timetable at a guest who asked about a bus, and tossed Eric Idle's suitcase over a wall because he thought it contained a bomb (actually an alarm clock).
Sinclair's family complained that he wasn't as bad as the show made him out to be, saying that Sinclair had simply taken a disliking to the Python members in particular. However, a former waitress from the hotel claimed that Sinclair was, if anything, even worse than Cleese had made out.
Polly: Well don't talk too loud, everybody will want one!
Colonel Hall: WHAT?!
Blatant Lies: Basil throws these around like confetti in the vain hope that some of them will stick. One of the best was in Waldorf Salad, wherein he tries to charm the attractive lady at the desk while pointing out the obnoxious American tourist as typical of the "rubbish" they usually get. When the lady introduces the American as her husband, Basil acts like he was talking about a random piece of paper on his desk the whole time.
Bratty Half-Pint: Basil has to deal with an obnoxious little boy in "Gourmet Night", who complains that his chips are in the wrong shape and calls the mayonnaise puke. Basil ends up "accidentally" smacking him on the head.
Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: During the Major's racist tirade in "The Germans", Polly poses a question for him and gets a rather non-sequitur answer:
Mr. Carnegie the Health Inspector: "Lack of proper cleaning routines. Dirty and greasy filters. Greasy and encrusted deep fat fryer. Dirty, cracked, and stained food preparation surfaces. Dirty, cracked, and missing wall and floor tiles. Dirty, marked, and stained utensils. Dirty and greasy interior surfaces of the ventilator hood. Inadequate temperature control and storage of dangerous foodstuffs. Storage of cooked and raw meat in same trays. Storage of raw meat above confectionery, with consequent dripping of meat juices onto creme products. Refrigerator seals loose and cracked, icebox undefrosted, and refrigerator overstuffed. Food handling routines suspect. Evidence of smoking in food preparation area. Dirty and grubby food handling overalls. Lack of wash hand basin — which you gave us a verbal assurance you'd have installed at our last visit, six months ago — and two dead pigeons in the water tank."
In "The Builders", after Basil discovers the aftermath of O'Reilly's first botched job on the hotel lobby, he orders him to come straight back to the hotel to put his work right otherwise he will "insert a large garden gnome" in him. Later, after O'Reilly's attempt at fixing it is found to have left the hotel in imminent danger of structural failure, Basil is seen purposefully walking out the front door carrying a garden gnome.
In the very first episode, Basil keeps ignoring a guest's drink order because he is too busy sucking up to a noble. Over the course of the episode much chaos ensues as the noble turns out to be a con man, and the episode ends with his former customer waltzing angrily into the lobby and shouting his order one last time.
Basil is confounded by a drawing of Polly's that depicts a trash heap over a smart collar and tie. Polly shrugs innocently and hangs it up at reception. A few minutes later, Manuel walks in, notices the sketch, and says, "Oh, is Meester Fawlty!"
British Brevity: Twelve episodes. Which, of course, makes its continued popularity since 1975 all the more impressive.
Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Most episodes begin this way, although the horrible consequences tend to be a result of Basil choosing the worst possible course of action over and over again when dealing with the results of the original act. Most plots could pretty easily be resolved with a bit of honesty.
Cassandra Truth: Basil's tendency to lie about anything at all that might get him in trouble (see Blatant Lies above) causes most people to not believe him when he is telling the truth. Of note, he tries to explain to his wife that he wasn't peeping on a a female guest, but rather trying to bust another guest for sneaking someone in. His wife's reaction?
"You've been out in the hall all night and that's the best you could come up with?"
John Cleese said that they had little intention of creating catch phrases (Manuel says "¿Qué?" a lot, for instance, because... well, how could that not be the case?), though they did eventually realize that the "He's from Barcelona" line almost got funnier each time they put it in. Especially when Sybil and Polly are eventually forced to use it.
Censorship by Spelling: Sybil says they might have to put Manuel's rat 'to S-L-E-E-P,' to which Manuel responds, 'Spleep?'
There's a slight, but noticeable change in most of the characters in series 2. Basil becomes less obsessed with moving his hotel up a social status and more concerned with just managing the day-to-day running, Polly stands up for herself more and Manuel has more of a grasp of English (but still gets hopelessly confused by most situations).
Chekhov's Gun: Quite often. Things that appear early on in the episode will appear to hilarious effect later on.
Contrived Clumsiness: When Basil 'accidentally' elbows a bratty kid in the back of the head for saying that the mayonnaise looked like puke.
Couch Gag: The "Fawlty Towers" sign. At first, the letters are just skewed; later they're rearranged into humorous anagrams (eg. "Farty Towels", "Flowery Twats"). In one episode, the paper boy is seen rearranging them.
Showing the word "twat" on TV is something they would never in a million years get away with on American TV.
Creator Couple: Cleese and Booth were married when they made the first season. They divorced by the time of the second one, but still could work together.
This has led to rumors that the show ended because of their divorce, by people who didn't do the research about the timing.
Crooked Contractor: O'Reilly, a criminally lazy construction manager who Basil only hires because he's cheap.
Basil's compulsive lying also leads to a huge problem in both "The Anniversary" and especially "The Psychiatrist", wherein he actually is in rare situations involving maintaining a farcical-sounding position that happens to be the exact truth.
Cultural Translation: Most adaptations try tailoring the comedy to an American audience, which is the reason that they have all fallen flat on their face in comparison to the original.
In Communication Problems, when The Major lets slip to Sybil that Basil has been betting on horse races behind her back, Basil drops the £75 antique vase he was holding.
Polly seems to pick up on Basil's tendency for this, as in Gourmet Night, she tells him to put down a bottle before she tells him about Kurt's inebriation.
Double Take: A marvellous one in "The Builders". When Basil comes back to find that O'Reilly has completely filled in the door to the restaurant, he walks as if to go through it, stops and looks around as if he's taken a wrong turn, and then does a magnificently over-the-top, full-body double take when realisation dawns.
Eagle Land: Although he does turn out to be the hero of the tale who puts Basil in his place, the American visitor in Waldorf Salad is still one of the biggest American stereotypes you'll ever see. Then again, almost everyone on the show is some kind of national stereotype.
Eye Scream: Manuel suffers a nasty looking poke when Basil gets especially fed up in "The Kipper and the Corpse." The director then says on the commentary that he wishes he'd put in some kind of squishy sound effect.
Foreshadowing: An early episode has Basil asking Manuel to fetch a hammer, and Manuel misunderstands and thinks he is asking for Manuel's pet hamster. In a later episode, we meet that "hamster"...
Forgotten Anniversary: In "The Anniversary", Basil plans a surprise anniversary party for Sybil (possibly the only nice thing he does for her over the whole show), but pretends that he's forgotten it to torture her a bit. She angrily storms off, leaving him to try and maintain a facade of normality in front of the party guests.
Four Temperament Ensemble — Combo Ensemble: Basil (sanguine and choleric), Sybil (choleric and melancholic), Polly (melancholic and phlegmatic), and Manuel (phlegmatic and sanguine).
Freudian Slip: In "The Wedding Party", Basil is annoyed by seeing Polly making out with her boyfriend and wearing a low-cut top. When he picks up the phone, he says "Hello, Fawlty Titties." He doesn't seem to notice it.
Funny Background Event: In "Hotel Inspectors", one man continually gets the wrong meal, including the same Spanish omlette twice. When Basil takes it away, he crumples it up and slips it onto the Major's table, who them proceeds to eat it in the background while an argument goes on in the foreground.
Sybil: If I find out the money on that horse was yours, you know what I'll do, Basil.
Basil: ...you'll have to sew them back on first.
Another incidence happens during "The Gourmet", where the new chef Kurt is in love with Manuel. At first, Basil assumes the chef must be French. When corrected that Kurt is in fact Greek he responds "Well that's even worse. I mean, they invented it." In case you didn't get it, "it" is "sodomy", also known as "Greek sex" or "the Greek way".
Heroic BSOD: In "Waldorf Salad"; when Basil actually gets angry enough to scream "ASS!" instead of 'arse', you know he's finally snapped. Also counts as a Villainous Breakdown if you consider Basil more of an antagonist.
Hidden Depths: Polly works as a simple domestic in Fawlty Towers, probably to help fund her college degree, but as well as being proficient in art, she is able to pick up foreign languages extremely well and knows karate.
Also the kid who complains that his chips are the wrong shape.
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Basil towers over his extremely petite wife, Sybil. Of course, this is mostly because John Cleese really is just that tall; he also towers over his own extremely petite wife, Connie Booth (Polly ... ex-wife, by the second season).
In "A Touch of Class", Sir Richard Morris and his wife are so shocked and disgusted at Basil's antics that they decide to leave Fawlty Towers only moments after arriving. Basil angrily shouts and yells at them for being stuck-up snobs, despite constantly ranting about the riff-raff and lower classes at the hotel for pretty much the entire episode.
Monochrome Casting: Accurately represents 1970s Torquay with its almost 100% white casting. The black doctor in "The Germans" is the only person of colour to appear in the entire series, and Basil is visibly freaked out by him.
Mythology Gag: In The Builders, Basil explains to Miss Gatsby and Miss Tibbs that they have to go to the Gleneagles for their dinner due to the construction work. The Gleneagles and its manager is what gave John Cleese the inspiration for Fawlty Towers.
O'Reilly, the lazy, corner-cutting Irish builder, played by David Blake Kelly, possibly the most Irish man alive.
He liked to drink, too.
The crass, loud, demanding American in "The Waldorf Salad".
Never My Fault: This is basically the core of Basil's entire personality.
Basil Fawlty: *muttering* I'm so sorry I made a mistake, I'm so sorry I made a mistake...
*opens door to guest's room*
Basil Fawlty: I'm so sorry, my wife made a mistake.
"The Builders" is a carnival of blame-shifting between the titular builders who screw up the job, Manuel who instructed and oversaw them, Polly who left Manuel in charge and went for a nap, and Basil who hired the inept builders despite past experience and Sybil's express instructions not to.
No Accounting for Taste: Basil and Sybil, frequently bordering on The Masochism Tango. In "Basil the Rat", Sybil says that none of her friends understand how did they ever get together. "'Black magic,' my mother says."
On the DVD, Prunella Scales recalls that after reading the pilot script, she immediately asked Cleese why Basil and Sybil got married in the first place.
No Fame, No Wealth, No Service: Basil is like this. In accordance with sitcom rules, trying to attract a better class of clientèle never works for him. In fact, even the classist bias behind it backfires for him, allowing him to be taken in by a con artist.
Not What It Looks Like: In "The Wedding Party", in which Basil is caught once with a female guest and twice with Manuel; Manuel was drunk the first time and had accidentally knocked him over, and Basil mistakes him for a burglar the second time. Meanwhile, Basil accidentally walks in on two of the wedding guests embracing (they're related), and discovers Polly hurrying out of the lovers' room buttoning up her dress after hearing some weird noises (Polly was trying on one of the girl's dresses; the girl was giving her boyfriend a massage).
Obfuscating Stupidity: "The Germans" implies that Manuel's English isn't actually quite as bad as he lets on, and that he pretends to speak barely any English so that Basil won't expect too much from him. At the same time his English isn't really as good as he believes it to be, but he speaks it well enough to hold a conversation with the Major (who believes himself to be talking to a moose head).
In A Touch of Class, it's clear that Mr. Brown is doing this, as while he acts like a jack the lad and can't appear to read well, he can speak Spanish fluently. He turns out to be an undercover police officer.
Oh Crap: Basil's unfortunate addiction to the Indy Ploy and Batman Gambit, coupled with his ineptitude at carrying them out, meant that many of his best moments were these. One example is in '"The Builders". Stubbs, the conscientious builder who Basil has rejected in favour of the cheap-but-incompetent O'Reilly, inspects the new doorway Basil had O'Reilly built, and remarks that it looks very good. He then asks Basil what kind of lintel he used: RSJ (known to US viewers as an I-Beam)? When Basil replies that it was 2x4, and therefore basically a wooden plank, Stubbs points out 'But that's a supporting wall', whereupon Basil delivers this trope (and Sybil in a more subdued form with an angry "What").
Old Shame: No one was really happy with how "The Builders" turned out. Cleese notes on the DVD that it was the only episode not filmed with an audience, and he felt very awkward through the whole thing with no reaction to play off of.
One Head Taller: Basil towers over Sybil, but hilariously, he still jumps a mile whenever she barks "BASIL!" at him.
Only Sane Man: Basil seems to think it's him, but it's really Polly. Sybil is capable of taking this role, but usually can't be bothered.
Phrase Catcher: People are constantly excusing Manuel's incompetence, or alternatively a mistake they're pretending he made, with the phrase "He's from Barcelona."
The Pratfall: Manuel would sometimes perform these when Basil was physically abusing him.
Mr. Hutchinson: There is a documentary on BBC 2 this evening about Squawking Bird, the leader of the Blackfoot Indians in the 1860s, now this starts at 8:45 and goes on for approximately three-quarters of an hour-
Basil Fawlty: I'm sorry, are you talking to me?
Mr. Hutchinson: Indeed I am, yes, now, is it possible for me to reserve the BBC 2 channel for the duration of this televisual feast?
Basil Fawlty: Why don't you talk properly?
Sexless Marriage: The one between Basil and Sybil, probably. They sleep in separate beds, and once, when he kisses her on the cheek (to throw her off), she tells him not to. In "The Psychiatrist", Basil claims that they "go for a walk" together two or three times per week, but he's probably lying.
In an interview Cleese said that he reckons the last time Basil and Sybil had sex was somewhere around the time of the Second Punic War.
Training from Hell: Manuel spends the series learning how to wait and how to speak English. Rarely a single episode goes by where he isn't physically assaulted by Basil with various kitchen implements.
Truth in Television: John Cleese said that he based the idea of the character of Manuel on his own experience in restaurants where the owners are too cheap to hire anyone but desperate immigrants who don't speak one single word of English, "so that the chances of you getting what you've ordered are literally about one in six".
Mrs. Richards: Now, I've reserved a very quiet room, with a bath and a sea view. I specifically asked for a sea view in my written confirmation, so please be sure I have it. Manuel: "¿Qué?" Mrs. Richards: What? Manuel: "¿Qué?" Mrs. Richards: "K"? Manuel: Si. Mrs. Richards: C? K.C.? K.C... What are you trying to say? Manuel: No, no no, no. "Qué": "what". Mrs. Richards: K. Watt? Manuel: Si. "¿Qué?": "what". Mrs. Richards: C. K. Watt??" Manuel: Yes. Mrs. Richards: Who is C.K. Watt? Manuel: ¿Qué? Mrs. Richards: Is he the manager? Manuel: Ah! Manager! Mrs. Richards: He is. Manuel: Ah, Mr. Fawlty! Mrs. Richards: What? Manuel: Fawlty! Mrs. Richards: What are you talking about, you silly little man?! (to Polly)What's going on here? I ask [this man] for my room, and he tells me the manager is a Mr. Watt, age forty. Manuel: No, no, no. Fawlty. Mrs. Richards: Faulty? What's wrong with him? Polly: It's all right, Mrs. Richards, he's from Barcelona. Mrs. Richards: The manager's from Barcelona?
World's Shortest Book: Johnson in "The Psychiatrist," says the guidebook about interesting things in Torquay must be "one of the world's shortest books," like "The Wit of Margaret Thatcher" or "Great English Lovers."
Wrong Insult Offence: An unfortunate example occurs in "The Germans" when the Major tells a story about how he took a woman to a cricket match, and she kept referring to the Indian players by the wrong racial slur.
The Major: And the strange thing was... throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as niggers. "No no no," I said, "the niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs."