Fawlty Towers

by Alan Rapp on November 30, 2005

in Uncategorized

John Cleese considers his work on Fawlty Towers to be some of the best of his career.  Cleese co-wrote and starred as hotel owner Basil Fawlty for twelve hilarious episodes that originally aired on the BBC in the late 70’s.  The entire collection is available on DVD and for fans of Cleese or just comedy it’s a must have.

Fawlty Towers
4 & 1/2 Stars

How good is Fawlty Towers?  Well, the British Film Institute ranked it the number one television program of all time beating out Doctor Who, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and The Prisoner (read my review of The Prisoner here).  Add the fact that John Cleese considers it some of the best work of his career and you know you’ve got something pretty special here.  Written and performed with then wife Connie Booth Fawlty Towers is comic gold.

Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) owns a small hotel with his wife Cybil (Prunella Scales) in the sleepy hamlet of Torquay.  Not cut out for the hotel business Basil grouses, ignores, intimidates, spies on, and insults everyone.  In Basil’s view there is only the one thing wrong with the hotel business – the customers.  Cybil (Prunella Scales) is the shrewish wife who spends most days talking on the phone and leaving the business to Basil so she can complain about his horrid management style. 

To help them they have a small band of characters.  Manuel (Andrew Sachs) is the bellhop, waiter, and handyman who speaks little English and understands even less.  The only stable influence is maid Polly (Connie Booth) who despite her best efforts finds herself pulled into Basil’s half-baked schemes again and again.

Cleese is at his best in the role as the maniacal Basil who as my Grandmother might say is just dumb enough to be dangerous.  His seething hatred for his customers and wife boil out into such hilarious outbursts and incidents that you are amazed and entertained with each viewing; he plays the part with such wicked glee.  Surrounded with a good cast Cleese takes the character into all sorts of unsuspected places and provides laugh after laugh.

The three disc collection is bursting with extras including director commentary for every episode by the series two directors John Howard Davies and Bob Spiers.  There are long interviews with Cleese about his experience with the show and extras on the real life character on which Basil was based.  There are featurettes on the hotel and the town of Torquay as well as fun clip segments arranged by theme.


A Touch of Class
Tired of the riff-raff staying at the hotel Basil has taken out an ad in a newspaper to attract a higher level of clientele.  The problem is it attracts a confidence man who, when he is found out, sends Basil up the wall.

The Builders
To save some money Basil hires a less reputable contractor to work on the hotel while he and Sybil go away on holiday.  On returning he discovers that the dining room has been completely walled up and has to find a way to fix it before Sybil kills him

The Wedding Party
Misreading the situation Basil suspects that promiscuity and fornication may be going on right under his nose.  Not in his hotel!  He spies to try and find the truth creating a series of unfortunate incidents.  The final scene is priceless.

Hotel Inspectors
After learning that hotel inspectors are in town Basil goes into overdrive trying to please the guests he believes might be inspectors while ignoring and offending everyone else only to find out the hotel inspector might not be who he thinks.

Gourmet Night
To help bring in a higher quality of customer Basil arranges for a gourmet night.  Problems ensue when the chef drinks himself into a stupor because Manuel spurns his romantic notions.  Basil tries to balance the proceedings instead of cancelling the dinner.

The Germans
Both Cybil and Basil end up in the hospital.  Cybil for a normal operation and Basil for a concussion and head trauma caused by a stuffed moose head and an ill timed fire drill.  Basil returns to the hotel in his concussed and medicated state and can’t quite stop from telling the German guests about WWII.  (For my money the best episode of the series)

Communication Problems
Basil tries to hide his horse track winnings from Cybil who doesn’t allow Basil to gamble.  At the same time a deaf customer has replaced a large sum of money.

The Psychiatrist
Basil just knows the new male guest has smuggled a girl into his room and is out to prove it.  The pychiatrist couple watch and comment on Basil’s eccentric behavior.

Waldorf Salad
A very paticular American customer wants a Waldorf salad but the kitchen is closed and he won’t take no for an answer.

The Kipper and the Corpse
Two customers rile Basil.  The first is a woman who demands special attention and service for her dog; the second is a corpse which Basil and Manuel try to smuggle out of the hotel in a laundry basket.

The Anniversary
Cybil leaves thinking Basil has forgotten their anniversary.  As her friends arrive for the surprise party Basil had planned he has to figure out something to do.  Unwilling to admit Cybil is gone he fabricates lie after lie and even involves poor Polly into standing in as the sick Sybil who is near death’s door.

Basil the Rat
The health inspector is coming and Manuel’s pet rat, affectionately named Basil, is on the loose.


This is truly an astonishingly funny show.  My only real complaint is that there were only twelve episodes made.  A nice DVD to add to your collection and since each episode is thirty minutes in length it’s a nice thing to pop in whenever you’ve got a little free time and need a quick pick-me-up or a good laugh.  So if you’re in need of a holiday why not spend the night at Fawlty Towers?

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