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Series / Fawlty Towers

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"Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the owner of Fawlty Towers. And I would like to welcome your war, your wall, you all..."
Basil Fawlty

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".

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; the show takes a particular joy in never letting the viewer forget what a despicable person Basil is — he hardly ever gets a Pet the Dog moment, and even when he does it's quickly undone by multiple Kick the Dog moments in rapid succession. 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.

Among the show's many fans are Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, who declared Fawlty Towers the be-all, end-all accomplishment in Britcoms set in contemporary times, which convinced them to make their own acclaimed Britcom a period piece.

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.
    • Also happens in "The Wedding Party" when Basil keeps getting caught by the guests in Not What It Looks Like situations with Manuel.
  • Accidental Ventriloquism: In "The Germans", the Major believes a moose head is speaking to him, but it's actually Manuel hidden behind a desk practicing his English.
  • Actor Allusion: Basil's goose-stepping in "The Germans" is deliberately reminiscent of Cleese's "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Just check out the applause it gets.
  • All Just a Dream: Subverted. As Basil is in the middle of one of his many mental breakdowns while changing a menu, he says that perhaps today is all just a dream. Basil proceeds to bang his head on a book a few times before declaring "No, it's not a dream; we're stuck with it!"
  • The Alleged Car: Basil's Austin 1100 Countryman. When it refuses to start, Basil proceeds to scream at his car before giving it a "damn good thrashing" with a tree branch.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Basil's viewpoint in "The Psychiatrist".
  • 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: The series is 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.
  • Ass Shove: The implication of Basil's threat to O'Reilly that he will "insert a large garden gnome in you" if O'Reilly doesn't fix a wall.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Nobody can scream "BASTARD!!" quite like John Cleese can.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Basil and Sybil. What did they see in each other?
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Subverted in "Communication Problems":
    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."
    • And when he thinks Sybil is away and an attractive guest is coming to seduce him, he frantically tries to stop it from happening. Of course, he winds up locking Sybil out of the room, but...
    • In "The Anniversary", Sybil is shown crying when she thinks Basil has forgotten their wedding anniversary again (and actually he hasn't). Moreover, Basil was actually planning something nice for her, arranging for all their friends to come round for a surprise party. If only she'd waited just another few minutes...
      • Also in the same episode, when Sybil left Basil thinking he forget their anniversary he was quite upset.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: In "The Waldorf Salad", as Mr. Hamilton chews out Basil Fawlty on how poorly-run his hotel is, Major Gowen seems to spring to his defense:
    Mr. Hamilton: What I'm suggesting is that this place is the crummiest, shoddiest, worst-run hotel in the whole of Western Europe!
    Major: NO! No, I won't have that! There's a place in Eastbourne...
  • Based on a True Story: The story goes that when John Cleese was still a member of Monty Python, the group had gone on nationwide tour 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 even worse than Cleese had made out.
    • "The Kipper and the Corpse" was based on a story told to Cleese by hotelier Andrew Leeman. The dead guest was named in his honor.
  • Berserk Button: Whenever anyone suggests that Basil is incapable of running a hotel, his behavior goes from rude to insanely vindictive.
  • Big "WHAT?!": In "Gourmet Night":
    Colonel Hall: Waitress!
    Polly: Yes?
    Colonel Hall: There's a hair in my mousse.
    Polly: Well don't talk too loud, everybody will want one!
    Colonel Hall: WHAT?!
  • Black Comedy: "The Kipper and the Corpse", which has an entire scene devoted to Basil being overjoyed that the dead body he finds wasn't due to his own incompetence.
  • 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:
    Major: Hate Germans, love women.
    Polly: What about German women?
    Major: Good card players!
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: The hotel's health and safety report is fairly Squick all the way through, but the last item in the Long List is definitely the punchline:
    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.
    Basil: Otherwise okay?
  • Brick Joke:
    • 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 said garden gnome.
    • Said lawn gnome is a Brick Joke in itself, as it gets delivered while Basil and Sybil are away, and is left behind the front desk by Manuel. After Polly persuades Basil to call O'Reilly, he trips over it.
    • 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 he believes to depict 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!"
    • A dual one in In "The Kipper and the Corpse", which caps off a subplot and finishes a thread introduced earlier to no completion. Basil is concerned about the age of some kippers, but he brings them up to Mr. Leeman at the chef's assurance. When Leeman turns out to be dead, Basil panics that it was the kippers that did it, but it's proven that Leeman had already been dead, and Basil took his silence for rudeness. While the kippers weren't lethal, the sausages turn out to be, as they are served to a demanding dog lady's pet and the doctor, who is insistent on having them. When he finally makes them himself during the chaos, he declares them unfit to eat, and the lady comes down, mourning her dog.
    • Thanks to her hilarious opening conversation with Manuel, Mrs Richards thinks Basil's surname is Watt. She uses it throughout the episode, which causes even more confusion since she also says "what" a lot:
      Mrs Richards: Ah, you're Watt.
      Basil: I'm the manager!
      Mrs Richards: What?
      Basil: I'm the manager!
      Mrs Richards: Yes I know, you've just told me. What's the matter with you?
  • British Brevity: Twelve episodes. Which, of course, makes its continued popularity since 1975 all the more impressive.
  • Brutal Honesty: Basil in "The Germans" due to his concussion:
    Basil: [to his nurse] My God, you're ugly, aren't you? Mind-boggling.
    Sybil: Basil?
    Nurse: I'll... I'll get the doctor!
    Basil: You need a plastic surgeon, dear, not a doctor.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Manuel often gets dragged into whatever mad scheme someone else at the hotel has cooked up.
  • Busman's Holiday: "The Waldorf Salad" ends with Basil booking into his own hotel.
  • Butt-Monkey: Basil, of course. Manuel to a lesser extent.
  • 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 or humility.
  • Captain Obvious: Lampshaded:
    Basil: Could we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? Next contestant Sybil Fawlty from Torquay, special subject; the bleedin' obvious!
  • 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?
    Sybil: You've been out in the hall all night and that's the best you could come up with?
  • Catchphrase:
    • "¿Qué?"
    • "I'm so sorry, he's from Barcelona."
    • "Oh, I knoooooow, I knooooooow."
  • Censorship by Spelling: Sybil says they might have to put Manuel's rat 'to S-L-E-E-P,' to which Manuel responds, 'Spleep?'
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • In the first episode The Major wasn't nearly the Cloudcuckoolander he became later in the series. Only from the second episode onward—in which, for instance, upon hearing that "the dining room door seems to have disappeared" he takes the statement literally and reassures Basil that it will surely turn up somewhere, because after all "these things happen, you know"—does his status as a member of the trope really begin to emerge. By the end of the first season he has really wandered off into his own little world, thinking that the moose head is talking to him, and therefore must have been made in Japan.
    • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Manuel and the Major.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Were Basil a normal human being, we'd feel so sorry for him. Of course, if he were a normal human being, he wouldn't be in these situations in the first place.
  • The Comically Serious: Many of the hotel guests played this role.
    • He's a doctor. And he wants his sausages!
    • The Abbotts in "The Psychiatrist."
    • Mr. Hutchinson in "Hotel Inspectors."
  • 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", "Fatty Owls"). 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.
  • Crooked Contractor: O'Reilly, a criminally lazy construction manager who Basil only hires because he's cheap. By the time he's done, there's a door in front of the stairwell, and no door to the dining room. On another occasion he was contracted to build a wall in the garden. He dumped a load of bricks and mortar there and then just left them.
  • Crying Wolf:
    • Basil 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.
    • 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. People don't appreciate condescension.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon:
    • Basil once threatened Polly with "I'll ruin you! You'll never waitress in Torquay again!"
    • When Basil finds that a shoddy builder has removed the door to his dining room, Basil tells the builder "No, no, I don't want to debate. If you're not over here in twenty minutes with my door, I shall come over there and insert a large garden gnome in you. Good day." And at the end of the episode, he walks off with the garden gnome to do just that.
    • "I shall sneak into your room in the middle of the night and shove a bat up your nightdress!"
  • Cutting Corners: Basil's philosophy is that if a job's worth doing it's worth doing as cheaply as possible. This causes him no shortage of misery, but he wouldn't be Basil Fawlty if he could learn from his mistakes.
  • Dead Man's Chest: "The Kipper and the Corpse".
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Major's casual explanation on the proper use of the the racist terms 'nigger' and 'wog'.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Happens just about every episode, even more than the "Fawlty Towers" Plot.
  • 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 realization dawns.
    • Basil also does a Double Take in "Hotel Inspectors" when he places two previously ordered drinks on a table, only to find that (thanks to Manuel) a completely different guest is sitting there.
  • Dramatic Drop:
    • 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.
    • Happens in "Basil the Rat." Twice, in quick succession.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: The Germans don't find Basil's Hitler imitation funny.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Major. His last name is Gowen, but no-one really uses it.
  • 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.
  • Fake Aristocrat: The con-man who persuades Basil that he is a member of the nobility, and charms him into a personal loan, leaving a briefcase full of "valuable jewels" as surety for repayment. Basil is conned and fawning... until the case is opened and shown to contain only bricks.
  • "Fawlty Towers" Plot: Trope Namer. A good number of episodes feature Basil starting a small lie, only to have it completely spiral out of control with someone Pulling the Thread, or through a string of bad luck. Whatever the reason, Basil's schemes always came crashing down on his head at the worst possible moment.
  • Foreshadowing: "The Germans" has Basil asking Manuel to fetch a hammer, and Manuel misunderstands and thinks he is asking for Manuel's pet hamster. In "Basil the Rat", we meet that "hamster"...
    • In the very first episode, Basil takes a phone call from a Mr O'Reilly about a wall O'Reilly was supposed to build. The very next episode revolves around O'Reilly's incompetent and lazy brand of construction work.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Slippery Slope: The quote up top is a good example. Basil also experiences several in the episode "The Psychiatrist".
  • Funny Background Event: In "Hotel Inspectors", one man continually gets the wrong meal, including the same Spanish omelette twice. When Basil takes it away, he crumples it up and slips it onto the Major's table, who then proceeds to eat it in the background while an argument goes on in the foreground.
  • Funny Foreigner: Manuel can speak In-gul-eesh! He learned it from a boo-ook!
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!:
    • In "The Builders", Basil breaks down when confronted with a construction snafu with Sybil returning any minute. Polly slaps him and he recovers enough sense to ask her for two more.
    • In "The Kipper and the Corpse", Miss Tibbs becomes hysterical when she sees the eponymous dead body. Basil tells Polly to slap her; she does, but Miss Tibbs faints instead of recovering.
  • Get Out!: In "Waldorf Salad", when the guests have tried his patience one time too many, Basil orders them all, not just the especially demanding visiting American couple, to leave:
    Basil: I've had fifteen years of pandering to the likes of you, and I've had enough! I've had it! Come on, pack your bags and get out!
    Mrs. Hamilton: They're packed!
    Mr. Hamilton: Order ten taxis, will ya? I'll pay for 'em!
    Basil: Come on! Come on!
    Guests: What? What?
    Basil: Out! Everybody out! Go on upstairs, pack your bags! Adios! Out!
    Mr. Johnston: But it's raining!
    Basil: Well, you should've thought of that before, shouldn't you? Too late now! Come on, out! Rause! Rause! RAUSE!
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    Sybil: If I find out the money on that horse was yours, you know what I'll do, Basil.
    Basil:'ll have to sew them back on first.
  • Godwin's Law: This trope is older than the Internet: "You ponce in here expecting to be hand-waited on hand and foot, well I'm trying to run a hotel here! Have you any idea of how much there is to do?! Do you ever think of that?! No, of course not: you're too busy sticking your noses into every corner, poking about for things to complain about! Well, let me tell you something: this is EXACTLY how Nazi Germany started!"
  • Gratuitous Spanish:
    • Manuel, being from Barcelona, speaks an almost incomprehensible mixture of Spanish and English.
    • Basil Fawlty's "classical Spanish", meanwhile, is utterly dire. His attempt to tell Manuel there's too many pats of butter on a tray is "Hay mucho burro allí." A literal translation back to English would be "To [sic] a lot of donkey there." It's even more nonsensical in Spanish. Some of the "Spanish" words Basil alights on are Italian.
  • Henpecked Husband: Sybil spends a lot of time nagging Basil, and he usually does what she says (if he can't weasel or bluster his way out of it). On one occasion after being rude to a guest, he even glances around for her, and responds to her absence by slapping himself and saying "Basil!"
  • Heroic BSoD: In "Waldorf Salad"; when Basil actually gets angry enough to scream "ASS!" instead of 'arse', you know he's finally snapped.
    • Except that he does say arse earlier, though he doesn't scream it.
  • 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.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: Basil 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.
  • Honor Before Reason: In "The Waldorf Salad" Basil has just convinced Terry to stay on to cook for the Hamiltons, but when he finds out that Terry isn't missing a karate lesson, but only a date with his girlfriend, he decides to cook the meal himself and tells Terry to go. Had he just swallowed his pride (and his prudishness) and kept the chef on, the evening probably would have gone a lot better.
  • Hotel Hellion: The kid who changes the sign.
    • 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).
  • Humiliation Conga: Once an Episode. At least.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • 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.
    • After violently attacking Mr. Fawlty, Mr. Hutchinson says "I am not a violent man Mr. Fawlty."
      Basil: [on the floor] Yes, you are!
  • Ignore the Disability:
    • Invoked in the quote up top. Note that Basil's emphatic insistence that nobody mention the war (when no one in their right mind would anyway) and his propensity to do so himself are both due to him having a concussion, causing him to act even weirder than normal.
    • Also the short woman in "Gourmet Night" and her husband the Colonel, who has a prominent facial tic, which makes things awkward when Basil introduces him to Mr. and Mrs. Twitchen.
  • In Name Only: Slightly averted case: In the 1980s, an American production company approached John Cleese with the intention of remaking the show for an American audience. When he asked them about it, they told him they'd only made one slight change from the original; they'd removed the character of Basil Fawlty. They end up making it, without the Basil Fawlty character, but changed the name right before air. It was called Amanda's and it starred Bea Arthur.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Mr. Hamilton, the American guest in "Waldorf Salad" is loud, curses a lot, and is very demanding. But because he's loud and demanding, he actually stands up to Basil's poor service and treatment, and inspires the other (British) guests to do so (they were shown at the beginning of the episode being dissatisfied, but didn't want to complain because they didn't want to be seen as rude). In the 2009 commentary on the DVD, John Cleese said that he agreed with Mr. Hamilton, and that sometimes you have to complain before things can get better.
    • Basil himself does have a point when he complains about the guests, as some of them really are as obnoxious and unpleasant as he is.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: A concussed Basil tries it in "The Germans", but only makes it worse: "Now, would you like to eat first or would you like a drink before the warrrr...ning ... that trespassers will be tied up with piano wire?"
  • Less Embarrassing Term: In "Basil the Rat", where Manuel buys a rat from a pet shop under the premise that it is "a Siberian hamster."
  • A Man Is Always Eager: When Basil locks a woman in a cupboard with a dead body, her biggest worry was that he could spontaneously spring back to life and grope her.
  • Meaningful Name: Fa(u)lty Towers
  • Metaphorgotten: "My dear woman, a blow like that to the head... is worth two in the bush."
  • Mistaken for Gay: Three times in one episode ("The Wedding Party").
  • 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.
  • Moving The Goal Posts: Mrs. Richards in "Communication Problems" is never satisfied, and constantly shifts her position so she'll have something to be querulous about. For one example, she initially complains that the room she's been given doesn't have a bath. When Basil opens the door to her bathroom and points out the bath that is actually there, she switches her complaint to it not being big enough.
  • My Car Hates Me: The very pinnacle of this trope.
    Basil: START!! Start, you vicious BASTARD!!!
  • 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.
  • National Stereotypes:
    • The Major and Basil are both English stereotypes.
    • 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".
    • Completely averted with the Germans in "The Germans"; they are completely normal, and the joke is how English people react to them.
  • Never My Fault:
    • This is basically the core of Basil's entire personality.
      Basil: [muttering] I'm so sorry I made a mistake, I'm so sorry I made a mistake...
      [opens door to guest's room]
      Basil: 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."
    Basil: Well she'd know, wouldn't she? Her and that cat.
    • 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.
    • It's also implied that Mrs Richards can hear more than she lets on.
  • Oddly Small Organization: The entire hotel seems to be run by Mr and Mrs Fawlty (Managers), Polly (Waitress - officially, everything else - unofficially) and Manuel (Porter/Waiter). The second series introduces us to Terry (Chef), although dialogue in the final episode of Series 1 implied they did have a chef back then, he was just The Ghost. The first episode of Series 2 also mentions another girl who's being employed but can't start until Monday.
  • 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 load-bearing wall', whereupon Basil delivers this trope (and Sybil in a more subdued form with an angry "What").
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Employed throughout, notably Basil thinking the psychiatrists are talking about sex when they're actually asking about his and Sybil's holidays ("my wife doesn't see how you can manage it at all!"). "Communication Problems" also centres around the trope.
  • One Head Taller: Basil towers over Sybil, but hilariously, he still jumps a mile whenever she barks "BASIL!" at him.
  • Only Sane Man: Polly. Basil seems to think it's him; needless to say, he's the only one thinking so. Sybil is capable of taking this role, but usually can't be bothered.
  • Percussive Therapy: The iconic "damn good thrashing" scene, where Basil takes out his frustrations on his broken-down car with a tree branch.
  • Pest Episode: "Basil the Rat". Subverted as Basil and the hotel staff all desperately hunt for Manuel's pet rat which gets loose during a visit by the health inspector.
  • Pet Rat: Manuel has one (he insists it's a "Siberian Hamster") named Basil.
  • 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.
  • Properly Paranoid: Basil is convinced that Mr Johnson has smuggled a girl into his room. He has, but Basil's attempts to prove it fail because no one believes him and Sybil thinks he's just trying to get close to the pretty Australian woman in the next room.
  • Pull the Thread: Basil's eternal bane in the series is someone applying even the slightest bit of logic to his wacky schemes.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In "Waldorf Salad", Basil gives one to all of his guests, especially a particularly demanding visiting American family, when they push him too far with their demands and he orders them to leave:
    Basil: This is typical. Absolutely typical... of the kind of... (turns sharply to the guests) ARSE I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH FROM YOU PEOPLE! You ponce in here expecting to be hand... waited on hand and foot, while I'm trying to run a hotel here! Have you any idea of how much there is to do?! Do you ever think of that?! Of course not! You're all too busy sticking your noses into every corner, poking about for things to complain about, aren't you? Well, let me tell you something — this is exactly how Nazi Germany started! A lot of layabouts with nothing better to do than to cause trouble! Well, I've had fifteen years of pandering to the likes of you, and I've had enough! I've had it! Come on, pack your bags and get out!
  • Refuge in Audacity: In "Basil the Rat", said rat turns up in a tin being presented to the health inspector. Basil's immediate reaction is to ask the inspector, "Would you care for a rat?"
  • Revenge Before Reason: All Basil had to do was let Lord Melbury leave the hotel. He'd be quietly arrested, Basil would get his money back, and Sir Richard and Lady Morris would be none the wiser. Instead, he decides to toy with the con man before letting slip that he's onto him. The police swarm the hotel, Melbury takes a chair to the crotch, Basil gives him a good kick and then pulls his money right out of his pocket - and the aristocrats he had hoped would raise his reputation leave in disgust.
  • Running Gag: In "A Touch of Class":
    Mr. Wareing: A gin and orange, a lemon squash and a scotch and water PLEASE!
  • Sarcasm Mode: Basil drops into it at the slightest provocation. E.g. in "Communication Problems";
    Mrs Richards: [counting money] It's ten pounds short.
    Basil: [rather annoyed, having just seen £75 slip through his fingers] It's not! TEN POUNDS SHORT?! Oh, My God! Don't worry! We'll have a whip 'round!
    [starts shaking out the charity collection tin]
  • Sarcastic Confession: Another way Basil avoids responsibility.
    Mrs. Tibbs: You're very cheerful this morning, Mr. Fawlty!
    Basil Fawlty: Yes, well, one of the guests has just died!
  • Series Continuity Error: In "The Anniversary", Basil announces he's off to find a broom. He then runs right past a door "The Psychiatrist" revealed leads to the broom closet, instead preferring to head for the stairs to the first floor.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Mr. Hutchinson in "The Hotel Inspectors":
    Mr. Hutchinson: There is a documentary on BBC2 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 BBC2 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 have sex two or three times per week, but he's probably lying to appear normal.
    • 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.
  • Shout-Out: Basil's exaggerated mock goose step is quite blatantly Cleese's "ministry of silly walks" stride from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Note the huge applause for it.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: This happens to the Major a lot.
  • A Simple Plan: Basil frequently comes up with ways to get something around his wife, or to make a quick buck. Inevitably, the plan spirals completely out of control and lands back on his head.
  • Sleeping Single: Basil and Sybil, probably because they can't stand each other.
  • Spoiled Brat: That obnoxious boy from "Gourmet Night" who says his meal is awful just because it looks different to what he normally eats.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: In "The Psychiatrist", Basil once mistakes a guest's breast for a light switch as he was trying to turn on the light from the other side of the door. Naturally, Sybil walks in at just the right moment. Later in the same episode, Basil accidentally gets his hand covered in black paint just before he leaps out of a storage room intending to catch a girl who he believes has snuck into the hotel to spend the night with a male guest. He doesn't catch the girl he's expecting, but he does grab the same female guest from earlier, and he has just planted a black print of his entire hand on her breast. Once again, Sybil comes along just in time to see Basil's unfortunately placed hand print.
  • Title, Please!: The series originally aired without episode titles, and when other media (such as the scripts book and the soundtrack LPs) used titles, they were inconsistent (for example, the S2 opener went through a period of being titled "Mrs Richards" before settling on the now-standard "Communication Problems"). Eventually the titles settled down and at some point the episodes were edited to add the episode titles on-screen. However, the current remastered DVDs have gone back to how they were originally.
  • 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.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent:
    • The US's Amanda's By The Sea (Bea Arthur as John Cleese) and Payne (John Laroquette as John Cleese). Neither lasted longer than the typical British series.
    • Newhart was also noted as having some similarities, but it's different enough to just be a coincidence.
  • Translation by Volume: Basil often addresses Manuel, the Spanish waiter and bellboy by shouting at him, along with lots of Gratuitous Spanish (which is as often as not French, Italian or As Long as It Sounds Foreign) and slapstick violence. See this clip.
  • 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".
    • For modern viewers, it may seem odd that the Major appears to live at the hotel. At the time, it was common for British pensioners to sell their homes and move into a seaside hotel once they retired.
  • The Unfair Sex: Played for laughs; in "The Psychiatrist", Sybil hits the roof when Basil finds himself inadvertently getting into all sorts of compromising situations surrounding an attractive young Australian guest. However, she has spent much of the very same episode shamelessly flirting with an attractive male guest, and she has frequently done so with other male guests in the past as well. Though Basil did appear to be repeatedly groping and making advances towards the woman while Sybil never went beyond flirting.
  • Unsatisfiable Customer: Ohh yeah.
  • Unseen No More: Audrey, with whom Sybil often gossips on the phone, finally puts in an appearance near the end of "The Anniversary" - and what is Sybil saying to her? "I know!"
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Basil 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: Basil in some episodes.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: So discreet it's confusing. In "Gourmet Night", Basil is asking inebriated chef Kurt how to prepare the mullet ("do we fry it? Just go 'ungh'"). We barely see Kurt's head move, the camera cuts to Sybil, while the audience howls with disgust. According to the director's DVD commentary, Kurt vomited on the plate, but the BBC wouldn't even let them show enough to properly suggest it.
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": Manuel names his pet "hamster" (actually, a rat) Basil.
  • Who's on First?: In "Communication Problems":
    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."
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Basil struggling to get his story straight in "The Anniversary".
    Basil: "She only began to puff up about an hour ago."
    Virginia: "But you said the doctor came first thing this morning."
    Basil: "Yes, that's right. That was for the throat. The puffing up started after he'd gone, okay?"
    Virginia: "After?"
    Basil: "Yes, after. Are you taking notes? (Virginia makes to leave) Where are you going?"
    Virginia: "I'm going to see her. There is something very peculiar about all this. I won't stand here while an old friend like Sybil..."
    Basil: "Look, it's perfectly Sybil - simple's not well. She lost her throat and her voice hurt. The doctor came and said it was a bit serious. Not a lot - a bit. He went away, she started to puff up, he's coming back later this afternoon, and it's best for her to be on her own. Now what is so peculiar about that?"
  • You Get What You Pay For:
    • Basil hired Manuel because he's cheap.
    • In "The Builders", Basil hires the cheap (and inept) O'Reilly to do some renovation work at the hotel instead of Sybil's choice, the more expensive (but competent) Stubbs, with predictable results.
    • Basil's attempts to fix the car himself, rather than pay a professional to fix it, contribute to the chaos in "Gourmet Night".


Video Example(s):



Manuel tries his best to speak English.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / FunnyForeigner

Media sources:

Main / FunnyForeigner