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Fawlty Towers Notes

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The Story

This enduring comedy "Fawlty Towers", based on a real-life guesthouse in the English seaside resort of Torquay, is one of the most celebrated TV series of all time. Despite being written in the early nineteen hundred and seventies, it remains as fresh and funny as ever. So stand by for all your favourite scenes with the irrepressible Basil Fawlty, his overbearing wife Sybil Fawlty, the very patient Polly, and, of course, the hapless waiter from Barcelona, Manuel.

Fawlty Towers proves British humour in a classic way. Its "Master of hoteliers", Basil Fawlty, is the protagonist and tragic figure in one person. It's not only the hotel inspections, impostors or other "cretins" and "riff-raff" that brings him up during a normal day. Basically it is the daily work with the guests which seem to be impossible to cope with. To complete his rotten life he has to deal with Major Gowen, a regular guest who is regular drunk as well and his Spanish waiter Manuel who has less knowledge of the English language but even more in driving his boss crazy. These two fellows are not co-operative in trying to hide Basil Fawlty's inadequate behaviour towards the guests so that in the end Basil Fawlty sees no way to repair things. Mostly it's his wife Sybil Fawlty who suffers from his deeds, and it is Polly, the chambermaid and maid for everything, who has to save him regularly. You see, with this constellation it is just great fun for everyone. Expect Basil Fawlty of course!

The Characters

Click on a photo to see a larger version of it.

Basil Fawlty

Basil Fawlty

Protagonist with a tragic relation to luck and to life as such. His pathetic tries to hide anything or solve any problem end up - pathetically. His cynical-ironical way of going through life occur difficult situations, but unfortunately it's himself who suffers from them. He brings very little respect towards Spaniards and Germans, as well as he thinks that polite behaviour towards guests is completely unnecessary. Altogether, Basil is a perfect "bad example".

The hotel manager from hell, Basil Fawlty (masterfully portrayed by John Cleese) is convinced that Fawlty Towers would be a top-rate establishment, if only he didn't have to bother with the guests. They always seem to get in the way and make unreasonable demands.

The only guests not greeted with a barrage of insults, are those with a title. An inveterate snob, prepared to brown-nose anyone with a bit of breeding, Basil Fawlty is unfortunately an appalling judge of character.

Besides the guests, the other thorn in Basil Fawlty's side is his wife Sybil Fawlty, whom he affectionately refers to as his "little nest of vipers". Her nagging is more than a match for his hysterical rages and sarcastic diatribes. Only Sybil Fawlty could make you actually feel sorry for Basil Fawlty.

John Cleese on Basil Fawlty:
"We saw Basil [Fawlty] as someone who was tremendously class-conscious, who was always a little bit grand, who adopted attitudes of superiority to people that were really quite unjustified, and someone who was fundamentally terrified of his wife. If you look at the episodes, they're almost all fuelled by the fact that he is trying to hide something very, very basic from Sybil [Fawlty]."
Sybil Fawlty

Sybil Fawlty

Fulfils every cliché of women. She likes to chat with friends on the phone for hours and needs to know every gossip. Anyway, she is the real boss of "Fawlty Towers". Basil's lies are based on fear and Sybil is the reason for that. She leads the way and Basil has to follow - obviously not without a couple of statements. Without Sybil, Basil would have less things to worry about, his life would be so much easier but also completely worthless.

With her truly distinctive laugh (strangely similar to "someone machine-gunning a seal") and her endless phone calls to her friend Audrey, Sybil Fawlty (played by Prunella Scales) is a worthy opponent for Basil Fawlty. He can be in full, ranting flow, but one sharp "Basil!" from her is all it takes to bring him to heel. A stranger to menial tasks, Sybil Fawlty sees her role as socialising with the guests, ordering Basil Fawlty around and humiliating him in public.

John Cleese on Sybil Fawlty:
"Connie [Booth] and I had a different conception, I can't remember now through the mists of time what it was, but we had a different conception of the character from the way Pru[nella Scales] played it at the first read-through. We were a bit worried, but then after a couple of days we actually saw that what she was doing was better, and that really helped us when we came to write the rest of the episodes, as we began to have her voice in our heads." "I think Sybil [Fawlty] is much stronger and more independent than Basil [Fawlty]. She could really function very well if Basil [Fawlty] buzzed off or fell under a bus. I don't think Basil [Fawlty] could. He's very much more dependent on Sybil [Fawlty] and that's why he is so frightened of her."


Charming girl with an undefined working description in this hotel. Officially she has to deal with the guests, but her real "patient" is Basil. It's him she is rescuing from one disaster to another. Without her brightness and her glorious ideas, the series would find a quick end. Although she knows that their little "secrets" will blow up on time anyway, she gives her best to help Basil. Polly is the salt in the soup, Basil has to eat every day.

Polly the waitress (played by Connie Booth) is really an art student, working to supplement her grant. She is the only sane member of the team. With an impressive ability to think on her feet, she is always on hand to help Basil Fawlty out of his worse scrapes. Whether it's impersonating a poorly Sybil Fawlty, or explaining away dead bodies hidden in laundry baskets, Basil Fawlty definitely couldn't cope without her.

John Cleese on Polly:
"Getting Connie [Booth]'s character right was not too difficult because she is the sensible one, but she's also Basil [Fawlty]'s confidante. When he gets in terrible trouble, he will go to Polly and say: "This has happened and this is what I have to achieve" and it's terribly useful as a writing device. Someone once described her as Horatio to Hamlet."


Spanish Waiter, with an adorable sense for not wanted stand-up comedy. In fact, he is the real star of this series for his childish way to make people laugh. Basil would not agree to that. Manuel does not even understand basic stuff, so that he drives Basil crazy all day long, which Basil thanks which a lot of physical punishment. Without Manuel, this series would be "just" great, but with him it's world-class comedy.

Manuel (played by Andrew Sachs), the waiter from Barcelona, is a walking disaster. Hired by Basil Fawlty because he is cheap, his command of English is so slight that he finds it hard to tell the difference between the words "Sybil" and "the bill". Most of Basil Fawlty's exasperated commands are met with the plaintive cry: "Que?"

Despite being used from time to time as a human battering ram and punch bag, Manuel remains devoted to Basil Fawlty. Except when his Filigree Siberian hamster is under threat.

John Cleese on Manuel:
"I saw Andrew [Sachs] in a marvellous play by John Mortimer called Habeas Corpus and he had just made me laugh till I hurt, and I realised how good he was at physical comedy. And this just touched something in him, because he is so quiet, he's an immensely thoughtful, extraordinarily kind man, very considerate, almost introverted, and then you put that moustache on him and it was ding! And this energy explodes and it's something that you don't normally see."

The Cast

Basil Fawlty

Played by John Cleese (Born / Født1939 - ). English actor and comedian. He has written for and appeared in both television programs and films. Married on the 20 February 1968 to Connie Booth, divorced in 1978.

On British television, he is particularly associated with the comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers. His films include Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1974, The Life of Brian 1979, and A Fish Called Wanda 1988.

He also wrote for and appeared in the satirical television programs That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report.


This parrot is no more. It's ceased to be. It has expired. The parrot has gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot... If you had't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushin' up the daisies.

John Cleese
"Monty Python's Flying Circus" 1969

Sybil Fawlty

Played by Prunella Scales.


Played by Connie Booth. Married on the 20 February 1968 to John Cleese, divorced in 1978.


Played by Andrew Sachs.

The Sign in Front of the Hotel

First of all the sign at the drive to the hotel is decorated by the character "Fawlty Towers". But after some defects the sequence of letters gets mixed up. Here is the complete List of the variations:

No   Episode Character
1.  A Touch of Class FAWLTY TOWERS
2.  The Builders FAWLTY TOWER [the "L" hangs down]
3.  The Wedding Party FARTY TOWER [the "W" hangs down]
4.  The Hotel Inspectors FAW TY TO ER
5.  Gourmet Night WARTY TOWELS
6.  The Germans [the sign is not shown]
7.  Communication Problems FAWLTY TOWER [the "L" hangs down]
8.  The Psychiatrist WATERY FOWLS [a child is "fixing" it]
9.  Waldorf Salad FLAY OTTERS
10.  The Kipper and the Corpse FATTY OWLS
11.  The Anniversary FLOWERY TWATS
12.  Basil the Rat FARTY TOWELS

The Episode Guide

Series I · Episode 1-6

Series I · Episode 1


 1. A Touch of Class

- Basil tries to endear himself with some of the guests only to drive away the classy ones.

Chapters Series I · Episode One

  1. Opening Credits
  2. To Attract A Better Class Of Clientele
  3. Riff-Raff
  4. Lord Melbury
  5. A Small Check
  6. A Confidence Trickster
  7. Snobs
  8. Closing Credits

Series I · Episode 2


 2. The Builders

- Basil hires a cheap builder (O'Reilly) to do some work in the hotel. While Basil & Sybil are away, the men mistakenly block off the dining room and put a doorway on his stairwell. Basil finds out this has happened and needs to fix the problem quickly before his wife comes back and sees that he didn't hire Stubbs like she had said. She can kill a man with one blow of her tongue.

Chapters Series I · Episode Two

  1. Opening Credits
  2. A Weekend Retreat
  3. Manuel's In Charge
  4. You're A Naughty Boy, Fawlty
  5. Sybil Returns
  6. Somebody's From Stubbs
  7. That's A Supporting Wall
  8. Closing Credits

Series I · Episode 3


 3. The Wedding Party

- Manuel gets drunk on his birthday. A French woman flirts with Basil. Basil almost throws out some guests and Polly because he thinks they are having some sort of immoral relationships with each other.

Chapters Series I · Episode Three

  1. Opening Credits
  2. A Room With A Double Bed
  3. Is There A Chemist Open?
  4. Intoxication
  5. The Stepfather
  6. A Good Time At Basil's Expense
  7. "Are You Romantic, Mr. Fawlty?"
  8. Closing Credits

Series I · Episode 4


 4. The Hotel Inspectors

- Basil finds out that some hotel inspectors are in town and assumes which guests they might be. Of course he finds out later that they aren't inspectors and gets mad at them. Then when the real inspectors arrive...

Chapters Series I · Episode Four

  1. Opening Credits
  2. Hutchinson
  3. A Hotel Not A Borstal
  4. Hotel Inspector
  5. He Sells Spoons
  6. A Bit Of Cheese In The Windpipe
  7. The Real Inspectors
  8. Closing Credits

Series I · Episode 5


 5. Gourmet Night

- Basil tries to get some upper-class people to come for a gourmet night but only four show up. The chef gets drunk and Basil is forced to go get the meal from a friend's restaurant.

Chapters Series I · Episode Five

  1. Opening Credits
  2. Car Trouble
  3. Plans For The Gourmet Evening
  4. The Guests Arrive
  5. "If You Don't Like Duck, You're Rather Stuck"
  6. "It Got Trodden On"
  7. A Damn Good Thrashing
  8. Closing Credits

Series I · Episode 6


 6. The Germans

- Basil conducts a fire drill in the Hotel with a few minor problems. However, Manuel starts a fire in the kitchen and the fire extinguisher misfires, sending Basil to the Hospital with a concussion. He comes back anyway and manages to insult the German guests who arrived while he was away.

Chapters Series I · Episode Six

  1. Opening Credits
  2. Ingrown Toenail
  3. The Moose Head
  4. Next Morning...
  5. Fire Drill
  6. Concussion
  7. Don't Mention the War
  8. Closing Credits

Series II · Episode 1-6

Series II · Episode 1


 7. Communication Problems [Mrs. Richards]

- Basil wins 75 on a horse race. Sybil forbids him from betting though so he tries to hide it. Also a disgruntled hard-of-hearing old woman claims to have had 85 stolen.

Chapters Series II · Episode One

  1. Opening Credits
  2. You Haven't Finished With Me Yet
  3. Hearing Aid
  4. Luck On The Gee-Gees
  5. Stolen Money
  6. Ten Pounds Short
  7. Ten Pounds Up On the Deal
  8. Closing Credits

Series II · Episode 2


 8. The Psychiatrist

- Basil suspects one of the male guests has snuck in a girl and tries to find some sort of proof by looking in the window, listening through the walls etc. However, the rooms next door are all occupied. One room contains a psychiatrist and his wife, and the other room has an attractive Australian woman whom Sybil thinks Basil is after.

Chapters Series II · Episode Two

  1. Opening Credits
  2. The Bravest Orangutan In Britain
  3. My Mother Has More Of A Death Force
  4. A Psychiatrist
  5. "Quite Normal In Torquay"
  6. Just Checking The Wall
  7. Enough Material For An Entire Conference
  8. Closing Credits

Series II · Episode 3


 9. Waldorf Salad [American(s)]

- Two American guests arrive after the kitchen is closed and pay Basil 20 to keep the chef there. However, Basil gets angry with the chef and tells him to leave, forcing Basil to cook the meal. He has no idea how to make what they order and they subsequently find out.

Chapters Series II · Episode Three

  1. Opening Credits
  2. "We All Need Solitude"
  3. The American
  4. Waldorf Salad
  5. Ritz Salad
  6. A Letter From Chef
  7. "Are You Satisfied?"
  8. Closing Credits

Series II · Episode 4


10. The Kipper and the Corpse

- One of the guest dies during the night and Basil fails to notice when he brings up the breakfast. He believes that a kipper poisoned the guest until he finds out the man died in the night. Basil and Manuel carry the body all over the hotel trying to keep it out of sight, but a few of the other guests are in for a surprise...

Chapters Series II · Episode Four

  1. Opening Credits
  2. Mr. Leeman
  3. Expired Kippers
  4. Number 8 Is Dead (No. 8 Is Dead)
  5. Move The Body
  6. "He's In The Basket"
  7. "Laundry's Ready"
  8. Closing Credits

Series II · Episode 5


11. The Anniversary

- Basil secretly plans for some of Sybil's friends to come on his and Sybil's anniversary. He pretends to have forgotten and Sybil gets mad and leaves the hotel before the friends arrive. Basil tells the friends that Sybil is ill in bed and when they want to see her, he gets Polly to do some impersonating...

Chapters Series II · Episode Five

  1. Opening Credits
  2. Pretending To Forget
  3. "She Go"
  4. She's All Puffed Up
  5. A Hundred For The Car
  6. A Visit With Sybil
  7. Sybil's Lookalike From The North
  8. Closing Credits

Series II · Episode 6


12. Basil the Rat

- Manuel's pet rat gets loose in the hotel the same day a health inspector is to show up. Basil puts some rat poison on a piece of veal and it gets mixed in with the rest of the veal. Then the inspector wants to order some veal...

Chapters Series II · Episode Six

  1. Opening Credits
  2. Otherwise OK?
  3. Siberian Hamster
  4. Wanted: Kind Home For Savage Rodent
  5. A Homing Rat
  6. The Rat Inspector
  7. Bomb Scare
  8. Closing Credits


Fawlty Towers Notes

Production year: Episode 1-6: 1975 · Episode 7-12: 1979.

The History

The origins of "Fawlty Towers" go back to 1971 when the "Monty Python's Flying Circus"*) team were filming scenes for their television series in the Torbay area (of course, the fictional location of Fawlty Towers). They had been booked to stay at the "Gleneagles Hotel" (later mentioned in the episode "The Builders"). The owner of the hotel had a profound impact on the Python's and the history of television comedy.

*)    "Monty Python's Flying Circus," a weekly British television program that started in 1969 and ended in 1974, took its title from a six-man comedy act. Graham Chapman specialised in drag and military roles; Terry Jones, disguises; Michael Palin, innocent types; John Cleese, invective; and Eric Idle, fatuous bores. The only American in the group, Terry Gilliam, provided the animated cartoons. The program became a cult and was also successful in the United States, and the six members of the group have made several films, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974), The Life of Brian (1979), and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983).

The name of the hotel owner was Donald Sinclair, and it is he who must be afforded the title "the real Basil Fawlty". The details of the encounter between the Python's and Donald Sinclair are now legendary, mistaking Eric Idle's bag for a bomb and complaining about the way Terry Gilliam used his knife and fork. Graham Chapman, in his book "A Liars Autobiography" describes him as ".... completely round the twist, of his chump, out of his tree.", and that he ".... found the hotel intensely disagreeable in that it was impossible to get a drink".

All the Pythons except John Cleese transferred from the Gleneagles Hotel to the more agreeable Imperial Hotel. John Cleese remained to watch and observe this bizarre character, whose behaviour was a gift to a comedy writer such as John Cleese. His then wife Connie Booth later joined him. She could also see the comedy potential of this man.

Basil Fawlty was not however the first television appearance of a character inspired by Donald Sinclair. In 1973 John Cleese wrote a group of episodes for "Doctor at Large", part of London Weekend Television's long running "Doctor ......" series (inspired by the books of Richard Gordon). One particular episode "No Ill Feelings" (first screened on 3rd February 1973) was set in a hotel and featured a manager with more that a passing resemblance to Basil Fawlty. It was not until 1975 that Basil Fawlty appeared to the unsuspecting British public in a series of six episodes on the BBC.

The conversion from "Doctor at Large" to "Fawlty Towers" came after John Cleese decided to leave the "Monty Python's Flying Circus" team in 1973 after the completion of the third television series. However, John Cleese remained with the group to make three more films and collaborated on several other projects with the group, including live performances in the USA, most notably at The Hollywood Bowl.

John Cleese having finished with "Monty Python" (for the moment at least) began to look around for another project to employ his creative talents. Jimmy Gilbert at the BBC approached him in order to write a series for them, and it seemed only natural that he should team up with his wife Connie Booth for his next project. Remembering their experiences in Torbay in 1971, they decided to write a series about a hotel manager and the people who get in the way of the smooth running of the hotel, that annoying section of the general public who insist on staying at hotels.

John Cleese and Connie Booth had married on the 20 February 1968, and since that time have collaborated on several projects before the first series of "Fawlty Towers". They continued to work together after their divorce in 1978, with the second series of "Fawlty Towers" being made the following year.

Evidence of their work together can be found on the album "The Mermaid Frolics" (where they are described as the "Wacky Twosome"). The album is a record of the charity show "An Evening Without Sir Bernard Miles" that took place in May 1977. It features the pair performing the bookshop sketch, which also turned up on the Monty Python album "Monty Python's Contractual Obligation". It was originally written by John Cleese and his other long term writing partner, Graham Chapman, for the "At Last the 1948 Show" in 1967. Besides making appearances together in "Monty Python" the husband and wife team can also be seen together in the film "Romance with a Double Base".

The Facts

My Sources

Sources: Various books, the Internet, newspaper articles, information gathered from libraries, and various encyclopedias.

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