Sybil confronts Basil over an expensive advert that he has placed in an upmarket magazine. Basil explains that he is trying to attract a higher class of customer to the hotel. He tells Sybil that Sir Richard and Lady Morris will be arriving this evening.
The next guest to arrive is exactly the sort of guest that Basil loathes. Danny Brown, a leather-clad cockney, turns up wanting a room. Basil’s nose is further put out of joint when it appears that Mr Brown can converse better in Spanish with Manuel than he can.
Just then, the aristocratic Lord Melbury turns up out of the blue. Basil’s fawning goes into overdrive. He treats him as though the other guests don’t exist. An embarrassing incident occurs in the dining room and Lord Melbury finds himself deposited on the floor. Basil profusely apologises, some would call it grovelling, and asks if there is anything he could do for him. Lord Melbury asks Basil to cash a £200 cheque for him and Basil does so.
When Polly goes into town to take out the money for Basil, she comes across Danny Brown, who reveals himself to be a policeman. It transpires that Lord Melbury is, in fact, a confidence trickster aiming to pull off a large scam.
Polly confronts Basil with the information but he refuses to believe her and suggests that Brown was simply spinning stories to try to impress her. Sybil, on the other hand, takes Polly seriously and takes Lord Melbury’s “suitcase full of valuables” out of the safe. It is revealed, much to Basil’s utter disgust, to contain a pair of house bricks.
Realising that he has been taken for a ride, Basil cracks. Just as his new posh guests, Sir Richard and Lady Morris, are arriving, Basil unleashes his full fury on Lord Melbury, swearing at him and then kicking him. He takes back his £200 into the bargain. Lord Melbury is arrested by the police who have just arrived on the scene. After seeing Basil’s behaviour, Sir Richard and his wife leave the hotel vowing to never return. Basil runs outside after them and hypocritically berates them for being such utter snobs.
Basil returns inside to hang the picture that Sybil wanted on the wall. Mr Wareing, a guest that Basil has been ignoring for some time, walks in the lobby shouting out the drinks order that nobody has bothered to serve him. Basil frog-marches him into the bar to serve him.
By John Cleese’s own admission, this episode was a bit of an experiment. A Touch of Class does a good job of introducing the four main characters; Basil Fawlty the manic, sarcastic, rude, social climbing hotel manager; Sybil the nagging wife with a tendency towards laziness; Manuel the incompetent waiter with a language problem and Polly, seemingly the only normal person within driving distance.
Of all the episodes this one best exemplifies Basil’s attitudes to class. His disdain for Danny Brown is obvious after his first meeting with him and stems from how Basil tends to judge people from first appearances. The fact that Danny Brown is a cockney and, even worse, wears a leather jacket is all the evidence Basil needs to confirm to him that Danny Brown is one of the members of the lower orders.
Basil’s first meeting with Lord Melbury is very offhand. While on the telephone, Basil very rudely barks instructions to Lord Melbury, the way Basil usually treats all of his normal guests. As soon as Basil hears the magic word “Lord”, he says go away to whoever is on the other end of the telephone, and we then see him put into action one of the most unabashed displays of grovelling ever seen on television. Basil is finally snapped out of his sucking-up fest when Sybil opens the alleged Lord Melbury’s suitcase full of supposed “valuables” to reveal a pair of house bricks. Basil has to hold them and clank them together before he can digest their full import; namely that he has been hoodwinked.
A Touch of Class also touches upon the relationship between Basil and Sybil. Throughout, Sybil is nagging Basil to hang a picture when she could easily perform the task herself. Sybil spends a lot of time hob-nobbing with the guests and only seems to get off her backside to remind Basil that some chore, or the other, needs doing.
[Explaining to Sybil about the advertisement he has placed]:
Basil: If we can attract this class of customer then the sky’s the limit.
Sybil: Basil, twenty-two rooms is the limit.
Basil: Have you seen the people in room six. They’ve never sat on chairs before.
[Talking about Sybil]:
Basil: Thank you, dear. Thank you so much. I don’t know where I’d be without you – Land of the Living, probably.
[After Basil fails to stop Sir Richard and Lady Morris leaving]:
Sir Richard Morris: I’ve never been in such a place in my life. [They drive away]
Basil: You snobs. You stupid stuck-up, toffee-nosed, half-witted, upper-class piles of pus.
The hotel sign reads FAWLTY TOWERS with a crooked S. The sign in this episode is much wider than it would be in subsequent episodes. The font is also different.
Polly was initially made a philosophy student in this episode but was changed to an Art student at the last minute. Hence, some scenes had to be re-filmed.
Terence Coloney played an entirely different character in the episode Waldorf Salad.
Michael Gwynn (Lord Melbury) died less than six months after filming this episode.
Several modifications were enacted after this episode. In the next episode, The Builders, the wallpaper is a different colour, and the layout of the hotel slightly wider. The theme music was also re-recorded.
Basil picks up Lord Melbury’s cases outside the hotel. When he brings them into reception, they have swapped hands.
Basil is constantly being distracted from hanging a picture throughout the episode. The picture has no glass, but when Basil smashes it on the floor in exasperation, we can hear the distinct sound of glass breaking.
When Basil is in reception and the Morrises leave, his hair is messy. He runs outside to stop them leaving and his hair is neatly combed. Walking back into reception, his hair is messy again.
The music Basil listens to in his office is by the 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms.
Talking to the Irishman O’Reilly over the telephone, Basil mentions the potato famine as a reason for him not completing work – Basil Fawlty: Yes, I should have guessed, Mr O’Reillythat and the potato famine I suppose… The Irish potato famine (1845) was caused by a fungal infection and it devastated the country.
The CID ( Criminal Investigation Department ) is a plainclothes detective division of the British police force.
Michael Gwynn — Lord Melbury
Robin Ellis — Danny Brown
Martin Wyldeck — Sir Richard Morris
David Simeon — Mr Mackenzie
Terence Coloney — Mr Wareing
Lionel Wheeler — Mr Watson