Fawlty Towers is a British Sitcom produced by the BBC which ran from 1975 to 1979. The British Film Institute declared it the Best British television programme ever made, in 2000. It is one of the jewels in the crown of British comedy. Although it only ran for two seasons, a total of 12 episodes, it withstands multiple viewings and is eminently quotable thanks to the sharp writing of John Cleese and Connie Booth.
The show never descends into mawkishness at any time and perhaps one of the reasons for its success is to allow horrid human beings to act according to their natures at all times.
John Cleese got the idea for the character of Basil Fawlty when the Monty Python team stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. The owner of the hotel, Donald Sinclair, fascinated Cleese with his incredibly rude behaviour.
Below is a list of all twelve Fawlty Towers episodes in order of airdate:-
A Touch of Class
Basil fawns over the aristocratic Lord Melbury at the expense of the other guests, but there is more to him than meets the eye.
Basil hires the cheap builders from O’Reilly for renovations to the hotel rather than the more expensive Stubbs and finds that you get what you pay for.
The Wedding Party
Basil is determined that there will be no naughty goings-on at his highly respectable hotel.
The Hotel Inspectors
Some hotel inspectors are in town and Basil is determined to find out which of his guests are among them.
In his never-ending quest to attract a higher class of customer, Basil organises a gourmet night. Unfortunately, his chef is unable to cook as he is in an alcoholic stupor, so Basil must find an alternative food source leading him to the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Basil escapes from hospital with concussion. He causes his German guests much offence as he attempts not to mention the war.
Basil’s guest from hell, the deaf Mrs. Richards, interferes with his attempts to keep his gambling winnings secret from Sybil.
The arrival of a couple, one of whom is a practising psychiatrist, sends Basil into a spiral of manic behaviour.
A brash American guest demands a higher standard of service than Fawlty Towers can provide, greatly irritating Basil.
The Kipper and the Corpse
A guest dies at the hotel, so Basil and the staff must remove the body discreetly before anybody finds out.
Basil organises a surprise wedding anniversary party for Sybil, but she leaves in a huff before the guests arrive. Basil decides to dress up Polly as Sybil and pretend she is ill to hide Sybil’s absence from the guests.
Basil the Rat
Basil must keep the presence of a rat about the hotel secret from a health inspector.
The Main Fawlty Towers Cast
Basil is a manic, rude, misanthrope and is also incredibly snobbish. He is desperate to wheedle his way to a higher social class. He yearns to be a successful hotel manager and sees this as a way to achieve his ambitions, but he is thwarted at every turn by the guests. John Cleese has said that Basil could possibly have achieved his objectives if the guests hadn’t got in his way.
The flames of passion between Basil and his wife Sybil died many years ago and now he spends most of his time drawing Manuel and polly into his ridiculous schemes while keeping them secret from his suspicious wife. These schemes, of course, never work.
In The Builders for instance, Sybil is kept in the dark about who is doing building renovations in the hotel. In Communication Problems Basil desperately tries to keep his betting habits secret from Sybil. In both of these episodes, Polly acts as Basil’s reluctant conspirator.
Sybil is actually a more effective manager of Fawlty Towers than Basil is. She is the one who makes sure that certain jobs are done and that the hotel runs as smoothly as possible, although she does have a tendency to laziness. Basil thinks that she spends most of her time in the hairdresser’s or on the telephone to her friend, Audrey. She has a distinctive braying laugh and has the habit of saying Oooh I knoooow.. when she is on the phone which greatly irritates Basil.
Sybil often looks back to the time when her relationship with Basil was more fulfilling. In the Anniversary, Basil pretends to forget that it is their fifteenth wedding anniversary in order to surprise Sybil with a party attended by all her friends. When this doesn’t go to plan, Basil has to revert to embarrassment minimisation, dragging Polly into his chicanery.
Polly Sherman is a waitress and general helper around the hotel. She is probably the most competent member of staff, and it is she who becomes involved in Basil’s many pathetic attempts at trying to avoid embarrassment. She does so because of a misplaced sense of loyalty to Basil.
In The Anniversary for instance, Polly ends up impersonating Sybil so that Basil avoids the embarrassment of having to admit to Sybil’s friends that he and Sybil had a row and she walked off in a huff. Needless to say, Basil’s scheming doesn’t go quite to plan.
In the first series it is revealed that Polly is an art student and she tries to sell some of her impressionistic pictures to the guests without much success. Quite how she is still waitressing at Fawlty Towers by the second series with all that she has to put up with from Basil is anybody’s guess.
Manuel is the Fawlty Towers bellhop and waiter. He is incompetent and disorganised ( a sort of Spanish Mr Bean ), hails from Barcelona and has a very poor grasp of the English language; hence, many orders from Basil are met with the interrogative Que. It is Manuel who provides one of the show’s few catchphrases, He’s from Barcelona, which is quoted many times throughout the series by various members of the hotel. He is verbally and physically assaulted many times by Basil, mainly because he is useless at anything involving duties that are expected to be performed
by a waiter. He is an enthusiastic chap, grateful for the employment he has been given despite the opprobrium heaped upon him by Basil.
Fawlty Towers Theme Tune
For more on the Guest characters – Fawlty Towers Guest Characters
For more on the minor regular characters – Fawlty Towers Minor Characters
A regular feature of the show is the mixed up hotel sign in the opening credits – Fawlty Towers Signs/Anagrams
For the best Fawlty Towers Quotes – Fawlty Towers Quotes
For more about the Fawlty Towers Hotel – Fawlty Towers Hotel
Another website – Best and worst of classic tv programmes
A great Us Classic Sci-Fi website – Outer Limits Original Series Episodes
Other Britcom Websites of interest:
Basil Fawlty — John Cleese
Sybil Fawlty — Prunella Scales
Polly Sherman — Connie Booth
Manuel — Andrew Sachs
Major Gowen — Ballard Berkeley
Terry — Brian Hall
Miss Tibbs — Gilly Flower
Miss Gatsby — Renee Roberts
See some of the Fawlty Towers locations at – Find that Location