“Fawlty Towers” is a British television sitcom that is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential comedy series in television history. Created by and starring John Cleese, it originally aired for two series (seasons) in 1975 and 1979, with a total of 12 episodes.
The show is renowned for its sharp wit, farcical humor, and memorable characters. “Fawlty Towers” is set in a dysfunctional, shambolic, fictional hotel located in the town of Torquay, Devon, on the English Riviera.
The series primarily focuses on the chaotic and often absurd life of the hotel’s proprietor, Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese. Basil is an incredibly rude, snobbish, and perpetually frustrated individual who constantly finds himself in various embarrassing and outrageous situations.
The series also features Basil’s long-suffering wife, Sybil Fawlty (Prunella Scales), who is often the voice of reason, despite her own eccentricities. Manuel (Andrew Sachs), a bumbling and language-challenged Spanish waiter, adds to the chaos. Polly Sherman (Connie Booth), a resourceful and sensible chambermaid, rounds out the main cast of characters.
Connie Booth co-wrote Fawlty Towers with her husband, John Cleese. She met Cleese while he was working in New York City; they married on February 20, 1968. In 1971, Booth and Cleese had a daughter, Cynthia, who appeared alongside her father in the films A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. Booth and Cleese divorced in 1978.
“Fawlty Towers” explores themes of social class, cultural misunderstandings, and the absurdity of human behavior. Basil Fawlty’s futile attempts to climb the social ladder often lead to his humiliation, and the clash of personalities and backgrounds among the staff and guests of the hotel drives many of the comedic situations.
- John Cleese as Basil Fawlty: John Cleese is a towering figure in the world of comedy. He is best known for his work as a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe, where he co-created and starred in the iconic sketch comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Cleese’s acting career extends beyond “Fawlty Towers,” with notable roles in films like “A Fish Called Wanda” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” His distinctive voice has also led to voice-acting roles in animated films and TV shows.
- Prunella Scales as Sybil Fawlty: Prunella Scales is a respected British actress with a diverse career. In addition to “Fawlty Towers,” she has appeared in numerous stage productions and television series. She is known for her work in the “E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia” series, as well as her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the TV film “A Question of Attribution.” Her career spans both comedic and dramatic roles.
- Andrew Sachs as Manuel: Andrew Sachs had a successful acting career beyond his role as Manuel in “Fawlty Towers.” He appeared in various British television series, including “Coronation Street” and “Casualty.” He also had a career in radio, and his voice was well-known to listeners of BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers.” Sachs was an accomplished character actor known for his versatility.
- Connie Booth as Polly Sherman: Connie Booth is not only known for her acting but also for her work as a writer and co-creator of “Fawlty Towers.” In addition to her role as Polly, she appeared in various television series and films. Her acting career includes appearances in shows like “Doctor Who” and “The Tomorrow People.” Booth’s contribution to the writing and creation of “Fawlty Towers” solidified her place in comedy history.
- Ballard Berkeley as Major Gowen: Major Gowen was a permanently residing guest at the hotel. He was known for his love of cricket and his absent-mindedness. Ballard Berkeley’s portrayal of the Major added a touch of eccentricity to the show.
- Brian Hall as Terry Hughes: Terry was a chef at the hotel who often found himself caught up in Basil’s schemes and mishaps. Brian Hall’s performance as Terry added an extra layer of comedic tension to the kitchen scenes.
- Gilly Flower and Renee Roberts as Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby: These two elderly, loyal, and somewhat senile guests frequently stayed at the hotel. Their interactions with Basil and the other staff members provided opportunities for humorous misunderstandings and wordplay.
“Fawlty Towers” has left an indelible mark on the world of comedy. It is celebrated for its clever wordplay, impeccable timing, and unforgettable one-liners. Despite its relatively short run, the series has endured as a classic, and its influence can be seen in subsequent sitcoms.
John Cleese’s portrayal of Basil Fawlty is often considered one of his most iconic roles. The show has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, and it continues to be beloved by audiences worldwide. In 2019, it was ranked first on The Guardian’s list of the 100 best TV shows of the 21st century.
- “A Touch of Class” (Season 1, Episode 1): Basil Fawlty pretends that his hotel caters to a higher class of clientele when a wealthy guest, Lord Melbury, arrives. However, it turns out that Lord Melbury is not quite who he claims to be.
- “The Builders” (Season 1, Episode 2): Basil decides to have some work done on the hotel, but things quickly spiral out of control when the builders he hires prove to be inept and disruptive.
- “The Wedding Party” (Season 1, Episode 3): A group of rowdy wedding guests descends on the hotel, causing chaos and mayhem, while Basil struggles to maintain order.
- “The Hotel Inspectors” (Season 1, Episode 4): Basil becomes convinced that a group of guests are hotel inspectors, leading to a series of comical mishaps as he tries to please them.
- “Gourmet Night” (Season 1, Episode 5): Basil decides to host a gourmet evening at the hotel, but everything goes awry, from a drunk chef to a rat in the kitchen.
- “The Germans” (Season 1, Episode 6): A group of German tourists stays at the hotel, and Basil’s efforts to avoid mentioning the war lead to absurd misunderstandings and slapstick comedy.
- “Communication Problems” (Season 2, Episode 1): A demanding and hard-of-hearing guest, Mrs. Richards, causes frustration for Basil, who must try to accommodate her needs without losing his temper.
- “The Psychiatrist” (Season 2, Episode 2): A renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Abbott, stays at the hotel, and Basil becomes convinced that the doctor wants to commit him to an asylum.
- “Waldorf Salad” (Season 2, Episode 3): Basil gets involved with a dubious American businessman, Mr. Hamilton, who is staying at the hotel. Meanwhile, a group of nurses adds to the confusion.
- “The Kipper and the Corpse” (Season 2, Episode 4): A guest dies in the hotel, leading to a series of absurd situations as Basil tries to hide the body from the other guests and the authorities.
- “The Anniversary” (Season 2, Episode 5): Basil’s efforts to plan a surprise anniversary party for Sybil go awry when a misunderstanding with Manuel leads to chaos.
- “Basil the Rat” (Season 2, Episode 6): Basil unknowingly serves up contaminated food at the hotel, leading to a health inspection and a potentially disastrous situation involving a rat.
A Few of the Actors Who Made an Appearance on the Show
- David Kelly as O’Reilly: In the episode titled “The Builders,” David Kelly played O’Reilly, a notoriously inept builder hired by Basil. Kelly’s portrayal of the bumbling contractor added to the show’s farcical elements.
- Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Richards: Mrs. Richards was a particularly demanding and cantankerous guest known for her hearing impairment. Elizabeth Spriggs’ performance as Mrs. Richards in the episode “Communication Problems” created memorable moments of frustration and humor.
- Nicky Henson as Mr. Johnson: Mr. Johnson was a guest who had a penchant for playing loud music in his room, much to Basil’s chagrin. Nicky Henson’s portrayal added to the hotel’s chaotic atmosphere in the episode “Gourmet Night.”
- Julia Deakin as Joan: Julia Deakin appeared in the episode “Basil the Rat” as a health inspector named Joan. Her character’s visit to the hotel resulted in a series of comical misunderstandings and panic.
The idea of the show came from Cleese after he stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, Devon, in 1970 (along with the rest of the Monty Python troupe), where he encountered the eccentric hotel owner Donald Sinclair. Stuffy and snobbish, Sinclair treated guests as though they were a hindrance to his running of the hotel (a waitress who worked for him stated “It was as if he didn’t want the guests to be there”).
Sinclair was the inspiration for Cleese’s character Basil Fawlty. Four albums were released by BBC Records on vinyl LP and cassette. These consisted of the original television soundtracks, and from the second album onwards had additional voice-over from Andrew Sachs (in character as Manuel) describing scenes that relied on visual humor.
Some Fawlty Towers Quotes
I’ll put an ad in the papers. Wanted, kind home for enormous savage rodent. Answers to the name of Sybil.
Manuel will show you to your room – if you’re lucky.Basil Fawlty
Oh, (you’re) German! I’m sorry, I thought there was something wrong with you.
Listen, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right.
I learn, I learn, I get better
Mr. Fawlty, I no want to work here any more.
- Torquay, nestled on the southwest coast of England in Devon, is a picturesque seaside town renowned for its scenic beauty and maritime heritage. As a jewel of the English Riviera, Torquay boasts sandy beaches, historic harbors, and a temperate coastal climate that has drawn visitors for centuries. Its cultural scene thrives with theaters, music venues, and festivals, including the Torbay Airshow and the Torquay Regatta, celebrating its rich maritime history. With attractions like Kents Cavern Prehistoric Caves and Cockington Country Park, Torquay offers a diverse range of experiences for tourists. The town’s hospitality sector is well-developed, providing accommodation options for various tastes. Torquay’s stunning coastline, outdoor activities, and cultural offerings make it a prime destination for those seeking a quintessential English coastal getaway. [Back]
- “Fawlty Towers” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fawlty_Towers
- “Fawlty Towers” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072500/
- “Fawlty Towers” https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/fawlty_towers
- “Fawlty Towers.” British Comedy Guide. https://www.comedy.co.uk/tv/fawlty_towers/
- “Fawlty Towers: the greatest sitcom ever, and don’t you forget it.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/sep/16/fawlty-towers-john-cleese
- Visit English Riviera. “Torquay.” https://www.englishriviera.co.uk/explore-the-english-riviera/torquay
- English Riviera Global Geopark. “Kents Cavern.” https://www.englishrivierageopark.org.uk/kents-cavern/
- Torbay Regatta. “Home.” https://www.torbayregatta.co.uk/
- Princess Theatre Torquay. “About Us.” https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/princess-theatre-torquay/information/
- Cockington Country Park. “Home.” https://www.cockingtoncourt.org/