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Fawlty Towers

Fawlty Towers is a British sitcom made by the BBC, about an imaginary hotel named Fawlty Towers in Torquay, Devon on "the English Riviera". The hotel is owned and operated by the eccentric Basil Fawlty and his censorious wife Sybil, with maid Polly, porter Manuel and (in series 2) chef Terry rounding out the staff. Long-term guests were the semi-senile Major Gowen and the skittish old ladies Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby. Very few other guests ever stayed long.

The cast:

The scripts were written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, who were married at the time of the first series, 1975. By 1979 (second series), Cleese and Booth had divorced after ten years of marriage, 1968-78. The plots are as intricate and farcical as those of Feydeau, involving coincidences, misunderstandings, cross purposes, accidental meetings and missed meetings. The sexual element of the bedroom farce is present, but it is Basil Fawlty's eccentricity, not lust, that energizes the plots.

The programmes were produced and directed by John Howard Davies, Douglas Argent and/or Bob Spiers.

Much of the comedy revolves around the following key facts:

  • Basil is desperate to belong to a higher social class, and sees the successful running of the hotel as his means to this end ("turn it into an establishment of class...")
  • He is trapped in a job where he has to be pleasant to people he either despises or yearns to be above socially: people he would much rather snub.
  • He is terrified of his wife's sharp tongue, yet fiercely wishes to stand up to her.
  • Manuel is a well-meaning Spanish migrant worker with a limited grasp of English, and probably imagines that all Englishmen are as rude and insensitive as Basil, his boss.
  • Basil usually turns to Manuel or Polly to help him execute whatever scheme he has planned. It is, of course, imperative that his wife Sybil does not find out.
  • It's bound to go horribly wrong, with all the blame firmly on Basil.
  • Polly is the voice of sanity.

Even before this programme existed English seaside boarding houses and their proprietors had something of a reputation for firmness and intransigence, possibly stemming from the days when soldiers were billeted in small hotels during wartime or national service. Cleese had also parodied the contrast between organisational dogma and sensitive customer service in many personnel training videotapes issued with a serious purpose by his company Video Arts. Basil Fawlty's behaviour can often be taken to represent macho management at its worst.

It was first broadcast on BBC 2 on September 19, 1975. The episodes of the first series were:

  • A Touch of Class
  • The Builders"
  • The Wedding Party
  • The Hotel Inspectors
  • Gourmet Night
  • The Germans

The second series was transmitted three and a half years later, with the first episode being broadcast on February 19, 1979. The episodes of the second series were:

  • Communication Problems
  • The Psychiatrist
  • Waldorf Salad
  • The Kipper and the Corpse
  • The Anniversary
  • Basil the Rat

Fawlty Towers was inspired by the Monty Python team's stay in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. John and Connie stayed on at the hotel after filming for the Python show had finished. The widow of the hotel's then owner is now campaigning to remove what she sees as a slur on her husband's reputation, but former staff and visitors have remembered actual events there that were as ludicrous as those depicted in the programmes.

Arthur Mathews[?] and Graham Linehan[?] have cited Fawlty Towers as a major influence on their sitcom Father Ted (for one thing, they have the same initials....)

Remakes Two US remakes were made called Amanda's[?] and Payne[?].

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