FAWLTY TOWERS. (1975-1979) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

fawlty cast

FAWLTY TOWERS. (1975-1979) WRITTEN BY JOHN CLEESE AND CONSTANCE BOOTH. STARRING JOHN CLEESE, CONSTANCE BOOTH, PRUNELLA SCALES, ANDREW SACHS, BRIAN HALL, BALLARD BERKELEY, GILLY FLOWER AND RENEE ROBERTS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Hello, Fawlty Titties…!’

‘Papers arrived yet, Fawlty?’

‘However did they win?’ (WW2)

‘I know English. I learn it from a book…!’

‘That’s Brahms, dear. Brahms’ third racket…!’

‘He try to see girl in room! She make him crazy.’

‘Do you by any chance wear A HEARING AID…?’

‘This is exactly how Nazi Germany got started…!’

‘Celery, apples, walnuts, grapes. In a mayonnaise sauce.’

‘A gin and orange, a lemon squash and A SCOTCH AND WATER PLEASE…!’

‘Right, well I’ll go and have a lie-down then. No I won’t; I’ll go and hit some guests.’

This is one of Britain’s best ever situation comedies. Consisting of two series’ each comprising six thirty-minute episodes, it originally aired on the BBC in 1975 and 1979. Set in a Torquay hotel, the concept was based on a real-life experience John Cleese had while staying in a real-life hotel as part of the Monty Python crew.

He and his then wife Constance Booth were so enchanted by the rude behaviour and hostile attitude of hotelier Donald Sinclair towards his guests that, when the chance came to write and star in their own sitcom, they knew exactly what they wanted to write about. That’s right, an animal preservation centre in North Africa, lol. No, silly, a badly-run hotel owned and managed by the rudest hotel manager in Britain. Welcome to Fawlty Towers…

John Cleese plays Basil Fawlty, owner of a small hotel in Torquay. A man with pretensions of grandeur who’s obsessed with the notion of social climbing, he’s been sadly disappointed by his life and his marriage to the efficient but bossy and annoying Sybil (Prunella Scales). He takes his frustrations out on the hotel guests and the long-suffering staff, Polly, played by his then-wife Connie Booth, and Manuel, played by the late Andrew Sachs.

Basil is forever sniping at Sybil- ‘You’re always refurbishing yourself!’– but Sybil is well able for him. ‘Do you really think that a beautiful young lady like this would be interested in an ageing, brilliantined stick insect like you?’ Theirs is a marriage based on nagging and resentment. Each of them wishes they’d done better but, for better or worse, they’re stuck with each other.

Sybil gets things done quietly and efficiently, even if she is ‘always refurbishing herself,’ while Basil complicates things in a manner worthy of a Frank Spencer, a Father Ted or a Victor Meldrew.

He covers up his many cock-ups by telling ever more elaborate lies, and then the lies grow legs and spiral out of control until Basil is in a hopeless muddle. He usually drags his staff Polly and Manuel down into the mire with him.

And it’s usually Sybil over whose eyes he’s trying to pull the wool. She rules Basil with an iron fist inside an iron glove- yes, I said iron twice!- and she has strict rules about gambling and looking at other women. Or should I say, about not doing either of these two things, lol, under any circumstances.

Polly is the sensible waitress and chambermaid. She saves Basil’s arse more than once. She’s good at her job and is fond of the hapless Manuel, the waiter, and tries to shield him, not always successfully, from Mr. Fawlty’s wrath.

Manuel is from Barcelona in Spain, speaks only limited English and misunderstands even the most basic of instructions. Basil gives him a terrible time, excusing Manuel’s shortcomings to the guests by saying: ‘I’m sorry, he’s from Barcelona…!’

Permanent guests at the hotel include the marvellous old British Major Gowen, a delightful relic of World War Two who at times still thinks he’s fighting the Germans. Whatever you tell him, he’ll have forgotten in seconds. It’s guaranteed. Miss Ursula Gatsby and Miss Abitha Tibbs are two lovely elderly ladies whom Basil thinks are completely dotty.

In the episode entitled A TOUCH OF CLASS, Basil’s crashing snobbery comes to the fore as he lavishly welcomes to the hotel a certain Lord Melbury, played by Michael Gwynn (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED).

He fawns over the toff in the usual sycophantic manner he reserves for doctors and the aristocrats of the world, everyone he considers to be a cut above the usual ‘rubbish we get in here.’ When Lord Melbury turns out to be not quite whom he says he is, Basil will only have himself to blame…

In THE BUILDERS, we see Basil using Mr. O’Reilly’s cut-price but vastly inferior construction company to carry out repairs to the hotel while he and Sybil take a short break away. This is strictly in contravention to Sybil’s direct instructions. Sybil wants Basil to use Mr. Stubbs’s outfit, because even though they cost a little more, they’ll do the job properly.

But as usual, Basil thinks he knows best. He’s a cheapskate as well as a snob, so he goes with O’Reilly, played by Irish actor David Kelly. Let’s just hope they’re using an iron girder and not a wooden one, eh?

Basil has a curiously closed-minded but maybe typically British attitude to, ahem, sex. In THE WEDDING PARTY, he flees the attentions of a flirtatious Frenchwoman and mistakes an innocent family get-together at the hotel for a sexual free-for-all. Naturally, he makes a total arse of himself and grudgingly complies when Sybil tells him he has to put right his mistake.

Although when a young man is looking for a chemist that’s still open for business in the late evening, maybe one can’t help but make the same mistake that the uptight, strangely moralistic Basil Fawlty makes, lol.

In THE HOTEL INSPECTORS, Basil makes another series of near-fatal faux pas when he mistakes both a humble but extremely fussy spoon salesman (Bernard Cribbins) and an outboard motors salesman (James Cossins) for the hotel inspectors that have been spotted plying their trade in the various hotels around town.

Basil wastes valuable time licking these two gentlemen’s boots when, as Sybil could have told him, just a little common courtesy to every guest, regardless of social status, would have seen him right. This episode has some brilliant quotes:

‘The wine has reacted with the cork and gone bad!’

‘I thought Boff was a locale…!’

‘You were RUDE, Mr. Fawlty, I say RUDE…!’ 

‘No, it would NOT be possible to reserve the BBC2 channel from the commencement of its (the TV programme’s) beginning to the termination of its ending, thank you so much…!’

GOURMET NIGHT sees Basil’s lovely specialist evening of classy gourmet dining ruined by a drunken chef. ‘He’s soused… the herrings! He’s potted… the shrimps! He’s smashed… the eggs… in his cups… under the table…!’

Basil’s ham-fisted attempts to put things right see his unreliable old jalopy getting ‘a damned good thrashing’ (SpecSavers, anyone?), Manuel wearing a cooked duck as a slipper and a quartet of local aristocracy being forcefully treated to an impromptu variety show courtesy of Manuel, Polly and Sybil. ‘Fancy putting no riff-raff…!’

THE GERMANS is a classic episode that’s actually given rise to the phrase ‘Don’t mention the war!’ A party of Germans arrive at the hotel only to be baited horribly about their country’s part in World War Two by a concussed Basil.

Who or what has concussed him? Why, it was the moose, of course. Who else? ‘You naughty moose!’ And let’s not forget: ‘Don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it alright.’

In COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS, Basil- or should that be K.C. Watt?- combines the forbidden joys of betting (‘That’s right, dear, that particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off to me.’) with trying to deal with the most disagreeable old lady guest. She’s extremely hard of hearing and dissatisfied with everything in the hotel.

‘I mean, what do you expect to see out of a Torquay bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? A herd of wildebeest sweeping majestically (across the plains)…?’

In THE PSYCHIATRIST, Basil freaks out when he discovers that the titular psychiatrist is staying at the hotel. Fiercely unwilling to be ‘analysed’ and found wanting, his attempts to remain strictly innocuous in the shrink’s eyes fail disastrously when he thinks that a heavily- medallioned and hairy-chested guest has smuggled a woman into his room, contrary to the strict rules of the hotel. ‘There’s enough material there for an entire conference.’

WALDORF SALAD is another hilarious classic episode. Basil runs afoul of a rich American businessman with an overpowering personality when he reveals he doesn’t know how to make a Waldorf salad, the businessman’s starter of choice. Erm, this letter explains everything…

By the end of the episode, the businessman has riled up the other guests into a state of mutiny against the hotel’s habitually shoddy service. When Basil huffily quits the hotel and returns as a ‘guest,’ what else would he be requiring for his breakfast-in-bed but a ‘Waldorf salad, washed down with lashings of hot screwdriver…?’

THE KIPPER AND THE CORPSE sees Basil tearing madly around the hotel trying to hide the corpse of a guest who’s died in the night. Why all the secrecy? Well, Basil thinks that the hotel’s breakfast kippers are what’s done for the rather anaemic-looking Mr. Leeman, and he’s afraid that the hotel will be ruined if word gets out. Let’s hope that Geoffrey Palmer, playing a doctor who really wants his sausages, can shed some light on the situation…

In THE ANNIVERSARY, Basil’s pitiful attempts to pretend to Sybil that he’s forgotten their fifteenth wedding anniversary lead to Sybil’s storming out of the hotel just as her surprise anniversary party is supposed to kick off. Basil tried to be too clever and now he’s got to pay the price for his little ‘joke.’

Roger the shit-stirring guest thinks that ‘they’ve had a row and she’s refused to come down,’ but Sybil’s not even in the hotel. So who’s that in Sybil’s bed then, waving and nodding and smiling like the Queen, with puffy thighs and foaming mouth and severe laryngitis? Well, to quote Roger again, ‘who wants to go to something fun when you can come to one of Basil’s dos?’ Floor-crisps, anyone? Una Stubbs co-stars in this one as Roger’s wife.

BASIL THE RAT is particularly close to my heart because we keep Syrian hamsters, which are real, genuine bona-fide hammies, unlike Manuel’s so-called ‘Siberian hamster,’ which has a tail and is clearly a giant rat, lol. Real hammies do not have tails. This fact is indisputable.

He’s cute, though, is Basil the Rat, only the Health Inspector might not think so when the furry little fella turns up in the biscuits during an extremely important inspection of the hotel… 

FLOWERY TOWELS is not at all politically correct by today’s standards. There’s blatant sexism in it, strong violence against a Spanish waiter, a slight touch of homophobia and rather a load of casual racism as well. The latter two mostly come courtesy of Major Gowen, an otherwise immensely lovable character.

He says the things he does because it was probably acceptable to do so at the time, but of course now times have changed. Nowadays, of course, you couldn’t say things like ‘you’re the rat inspector’ without being peppered full of buckshot by the PC Brigade…!

I wonder if people hold Fawlty Towers festivals the way they hold Father Ted festivals? People would pay good money, I’m sure, to stay in a mock-up version of Fawlty Towers and be grossly insulted by their hotel manager and receive poor service during their stay. That’s a good business idea for anyone with the wherewithal to set it up. I might even stay there myself sometime. I’ll bring my own batteries though…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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