Fawlty Towers, also known in my house as Friday Towers (see About Page) is a dry, quick witted, English comedy, aired on the BBC network. It is about a small country hotel owned by Basil Fawlty and his wife Sybil, played by Prunella Scales. Why they ever got into the hospitality business is beyond any of us viewers’ imagination since the character of Basil is “annoyed by the general public who insist on staying at hotels.”
You would think they would be better suited to work in something like the construction industry as a landscaper or Hamilton paving contractor where you don’t have to deal with people every waking minute of the day. Sybil is wound tighter than a cat’s hairball. She always finds Basil to be a complete boob and doesn’t hesitate to tell him so. Sybil can best be described as “harpy” with her screen spouse, but the digs are clever and worth the ear.
The backdrop of the hotel business, of course lends itself perfectly to any number of scenarios where Basil, played by John Cleese, is hoisted by his own petard. The combination of being self-employed in a business that he is fairly inept, and having a partner /aka wife who can’t see him doing anything right paves the way for one convoluted and hilarious disaster after another. The British dry sense of humor is the perfect backdrop for the condescension that Basil shows towards guest and employees alike.
The other prominent character is Manual, the hapless Spanish waiter, played by Andrew Sachs. Manual doesn’t speak great English and unwittingly – and constantly sets Basil up for a fall. This acts as fodder for Sybil to lambaste the quirky Basil. Along with the natural consequences of servicing hotel guests, any peace of mind he may have started the episode with is ultimately shattered. Apparently, the actor Andrew Sachs was physically abused as part of his role. Not uncooperatively, but nevertheless treated a bit rough. Although John Cleese claimed not to be a method actor, he felt it was more authentic to actually hit Manual with a dope slap on frequent occasions than to fake it. Sachs must have been well compensated, or hoped to be, for sustaining the physical assaults, but they both pulled it off and the scenes were effective.
Polly the maid/waitress was played by Connie Booth who at the time was married to John Cleese. Connie co-wrote the show with him.
Basil is tall and lanky and seemingly self-composed, but nonetheless easily rattled. His perspective on what is happening around him is often off center to the real case at hand. However, that doesn’t stop him, and in fact impels him to give it his personal touch. This set-up usually renders him his own worst enemy. John Cleese plays Basil with a touch of vaudevillian antics that lends itself to the hilarity. Cleese holds nothing back and his facial expressions alone can put you in stitches. Basil’s superior attitude is tempered by his high jinks. Under the guise of Britain’s rudest hotel proprietor you can’t help but wonder how such a silly character could possibly be so audacious. He’ll tackle any challenge that comes his way out of a sense of authority. He isn’t necessarily equipped to handle said challenge, but he doesn’t necessarily see that as an obstacle.
Today, Fawlty Towers celebrates it’s 40th year since it’s first season. Only 12 episodes were taped, but it was regularly televised from 1975 to 1979. It has continued to grow it’s fan base throughout the last 4 decades. It’s durability is a tribute to a simpler time when being politically correct was thrown out the window for a good laugh.
Take the time to watch just one 30 minute installment and treat yourself to clever writing, perfect timing, great acting and just an overall silly time.
Leave a comment below and tell me which is your favorite episode. Who is your favorite actor on the show? How long have you been watching? Are you just discovering Fawlty Towers? Let me hear from you.