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Characters / Fawlty Towers

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Basil Fawlty
Tranquil Fury summed up in one image.
Played by: John Cleese
  • Accidental Pervert: He became this in "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.
  • The Alleged Car: His Austin 1100 Countryman. When it refuses to start, he proceeds to scream at his car before giving it a "damn good thrashing" with a tree branch.
  • Bad Boss: He is incredibly verbally abusive and demeaning to his employees, and even gets physically violent with Manuel.
  • Berserk Button: Whenever anyone suggests that he's incapable of running a hotel, his behavior goes from rude to insanely vindictive.
  • British Stuffiness
  • Cassandra Truth: His 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?"
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  • The Chew Toy: Fate really likes to dump on Basil Fawlty. Unusually for this trope, Basil tends to set himself up for the trouble he gets into, thanks to his compulsive lying, miserliness, penchant for crazy schemes despite being nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is, and other numerous character faults.
  • Cutting Corners: One of Basil's more notable vices is his obsession with doing things as cheaply as possible; for this reason, he continually is willing to employ notorious Crooked Contractor Mr. O'Reily despite the man's ineptitude — indeed, the only reason that Manuel has a job in Fawlty Towers is that Basil has decided the low wages he can pay Manuel due to his immigrant status compensates for the fact Manuel's pathetic grasp of English makes him a completely unreliable worker. He persists in this behavior despite the fact he is repeatedly hit over the head with the fact that low price for low quality is not a good trade.
  • Crying Wolf:
    • He works so hard to set up a fire drill and gets into a spat about it (you have to see the whole conversation to understand), where Manuel is supposed to yell "Fire!" and then they all calmly walk out. Then Manuel screws it all up by starting not one, but two real fires in the kitchen. Basil then calmly ushers Manuel back into the burning kitchen as he tries to explain that it's just a drill.
    • His 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Probably one of the most sarcastic characters in history. Almost 80% of what he says is sarcastic and rude. There are a lot of deadpan snarkers in this comedy series, but Basil just takes it up to a whole new level.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: It doesn't take much provocation in the slightest to set Basil off on anything from a sarcastic quip to an angry tirade, depending on how personally he takes it.
  • Henpecked Husband: As bad as Basil can be, it's made very clear that being married to Sybil isn't particularly fun either.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: He was based on a real hotel owner named Donald Sinclair. You might think his flaws were exaggerated for comedic effect, but at least one of his former employees says he was even worse than Basil.
  • Jerkass: One of the most iconic in British (and possibly international) comedy.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: He does have a point when he complains about the guests, as some of them really are as obnoxious and unpleasant as he is.
  • Large Ham
  • Lean and Mean: His wife calls him an "an ageing, brilliantined stick insect".
  • Motor Mouth: Has a tendency for fast-paced rants when he's upset.
  • Never My Fault: This is basically the core of his 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.
  • No Accounting for Taste: He and Sybil actively hate each other. Her mother has no idea how they even ended up together, suggesting black magic.
    Basil: Well she'd know, wouldn't she? Her and that cat.
  • One Head Taller: Basil towers over Sybil, but hilariously, he still jumps a mile whenever she barks "BASIL!" at him.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: He can throw extremely child-like tantrums or get caught up in silliest schemes, but his mad-eyed viciousness at whoever he feels has slighted him can honestly be kind of scary.
  • Sexless Marriage: Given how little Basil and Sybil actively like each other, it's made pretty obvious that their marriage involves absolutely nothing sexual at all.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: He desires to move up in social standing and attract a better class of customer to his hotel, but he's also verbally abusive to the help, only superficially nice to his guests, and his Hair-Trigger Temper and persistent zany schemes built on webs of lies keep getting him into all kinds of trouble. Were Basil simply more honest and maybe a little cooler-headed, most of his problems would disappear, but any attempts to dig beneath the surface show how petty and shallow he is, and any lessons he learns are quickly forgotten. Creator John Cleese has said that, were Basil a good person, Fawlty Towers would be the greatest tragedy ever made.
  • Villain Protagonist: In some episodes.

Sybil Fawlty

Played by: Prunella Scales
  • Annoying Laugh: Basil compares it to "somebody machine-gunning a seal".
  • Beehive Hairdo: Which Basil refers to as a "rat's maze" during a row.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Perhaps "brilliant" is too strong a word, but she's a far more competent hotelier than Basil on the rare occasions that she stops gossiping and actually does some work.
  • Catchphrase: "Oh, I knooow!"
  • Gossipy Hens: Fond of tying up the phone line chatting with best mate Audrey.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Much like her husband, she is easily provoked, constantly snapping off rude comments and quickly rising to actual clench-fisted rages.
  • Hypocrite: Always quick to bollock Basil for apparent laziness, flirtatiousness, rudeness etc, but is certainly Not So Above It All herself.
  • Jerkass: Nowhere near the same level of Jerkassery as Basil, but that's not saying much.
  • Not So Above It All: She's obviously had enough of Mrs Richard's too "Communication Problems", for whilst she tells Basil not to pretend the hearing aid is broken, she does so in a whisper and makes no attempt to tell Mrs. Richards herself.
  • Only Sane Woman: Along with Polly, one of the most reasonable members of the staff.
  • Sexless Marriage: Given how little Basil and Sybil actively like each other, it's made pretty obvious that their marriage involves absolutely nothing sexual at all.
  • The Tease: Some of the male guests (particularly Mr Johnson in "The Psychiatrist") definitely grab her attention, and she enjoys a spot of shameless flirting.
  • Tsundere: Nice to guests, hostile to her husband (and Irish builders).


Played by: Andrew Sachs
  • Bumbling Sidekick: He often gets dragged into whatever mad scheme someone else at the hotel has cooked up.
  • Butt-Monkey: To an extent. Basil does slap him around a lot, but the way Manuel is treated seems quite tame in comparison to what Basil himself goes through.
  • Catchphrase: "Qué?"
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Even given that his grasp on English is far from adequate and so he is constantly misunderstanding the English his companions speak, Manuel is prone to extremely strange ideas and behaviors.
  • Funny Foreigner: He can speak In-gul-eesh! He learned it from a boo-ook!
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Being from Barcelona, he speaks an almost incomprehensible mixture of Spanish and English.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: In "The Wedding Party", he says he has five brothers and four sisters.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Both "The Germans" and "The Builders" imply 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.
  • Phrase Catcher: "He's from Barcelona", which is the excuse Basil and in one situation, Sybil invariably trot out to "explain" Manuel's latest cock-up due to his pathetic grasp of English.
  • You No Take Candle: Much of the humour in his character comes from his poor understanding of English.

Polly Sherman

Played by: Connie Booth
  • Butt-Monkey: While Manuel suffers the worst direct abuse from Basil, Polly, being more reliable, is always first to be Press-Ganged into some degrading and ill-devised scheme to cover up his incompetence.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Given that she is well aware that she seems to be the only person in the hotel who has her head screwed on right, she is prone to making cutting remarks about the absurdity and stupidity that surrounds her.
  • Hidden Depths: She 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.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: She always manages to conjure up a career and livelihood-saving lie for Basil in the heat of the moment. She's still a pretty lousy waitress though.
  • Not So Above It All: Despite being the Only Sane Man of the group, Polly has her moments: notably, in "The Kipper And The Corpse", after a rather unpleasant guest's dog bites her, her response is to poison the dog's food, which by the end of the episode has killed it.
  • Only Sane Employee: Polly is pretty much the only person in the entire hotel staff who has all of her marbles, completely lacking in both the craziness of the Fawltys and Manuel's ineptitude.
  • Only Sane Man: Because she's the only sensible person around, Polly's contribution to the comedy is trying vainly to defuse the inevitable chaos when Basil gets one of his cockamamie ideas.

Major Gowen

Played by: Ballard Berkeley

Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby

Played by: Gilly Flower and Renee Roberts
  • Old Maid: A pair of elderly spinsters. They are often seen clucking at Basil like he's the son neither of them ever had.
  • Those Two Guys: Well, Those Two Little Old Ladies.


Played by: Brian Hall
  • Berserk Button: Implying he cannot cook something or having someone besides him do the cooking was enough for Terry and Manuel to come to blows.
  • Consummate Liar: John Cleese describers Terry as being "a very easy ready liar who is very good at negotiating." That said he does get caught out about his "karate".
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Possibly a subversion in that Terry actually stays out of most schemes (being somewhat smart/independent enough to do so), but he's very capable and like Polly is usually a step ahead of Basil mentally when solving problems.
  • Only Sane Employee: Note that it's very rare that the actual food Terry cooks is considered truly bad (though the service tends to wind up causing it to be badly received). He never shirks his duties and is very quick to provide sensible solutions to the problems Basil has such as his quickly solving the rat poison dilemma.
  • Only Sane Man: Terry is much cooler headed than the rest of the staff and is generally much more relaxed even during bad situations. Even Polly is more highly strung. He's also much less moral about his actions such as simply cutting the chewed (by a cat) part off of a steak to serve.
  • Sixth Ranger
  • Team Chef


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