Think of a classic British sitcom from the 1970s and Fawlty Towers is likely the first name to come to mind. With its hilariously witty scripts, iconic characters and memorable scenes, it’s no wonder that Fawlty Towers has been rated as the top British Television Programme by the British Film Institute.

Overview

Surprisingly, Fawlty Towers almost never got made. BBC producers weren’t keen on the initial idea for the show, brandishing it as cliched and a potential disaster. Despite this, a pilot was filmed in 1974, and later broadcast on BBC2 in 1975.

Two series of the show were produced, in 1975 and 1979, with each series consisting of six episodes. Each episode took six weeks, or even longer, to write, with filming taking place in London and Buckinghamshire.

Although initial audience reaction to Fawlty Towers was lukewarm, its popularity steadily grew. The show eventually became a massive hit both in the UK and overseas, earning three BAFTA awards. Although attempts have been made to remake and adapt the show over the years, this has met with little success.

Inspiration

Monty Python star John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth are the masterminds behind Fawlty Towers.

They wrote the show based on an experience the Monty Python cast had whilst staying at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, during filming. The owner of the hotel, Donald Sinclair, was reportedly extraordinarily rude to the crew. It was his personality that inspired the show, and the character of Basil Fawlty.

Storylines and characters

Fawlty Towers is a fictional hotel set in Torquay. It’s run by emotionally-charged, snobby owner Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) and his domineering wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales). Other main characters include dependable, peace-making maid and general assistant Polly (played by Connie Booth) and hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs). In the second series, Brian Hall plays the role of Terry the chef. Regular guests in the show include retired Major Gowen and elderly, hard-of-hearing spinsters, Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby.

Much of the show focuses on the interactions between the staff and the guests, often ending in farcical situations and misunderstandings that challenge Basil’s patience. In particular, Basil’s desire to ‘better’ his premises regularly results in him insulting guests and staff alike.

Although Basil feels intimated by his bossy wife Sybil, he’s not adverse to dishing out verbal put-downs to Manuel, who even gets a bashing over the head with a frying pan. Hotel guests usually leave in annoyance.

Favourite scenes

Fawlty Towers is littered with memorable comedy moments, but some stand out as truly iconic. In particular, in the episode, ‘The Germans’, Basil’s attempts not to mention the war have audiences in stitches.

On the other hand, Manuel’s ill-fated efforts at playing boss in the episode ‘The Builders’ also result in hilarious moments of miscommunication and mismanagement.

Another fan favourite scene is in ‘The Hotel Inspectors’ episode, when unidentified inspectors arrive and the restaurant descends into chaos.

A further classic scene occurs in the ‘Waldorf Salad’ episode, where Basil is trying his best to appease an American guest who demands one such salad.

Fawlty Towers certainly doesn’t make a great impression on its guests.

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