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Why is ‘Fawlty Towers’ so good?

In April 2019 Fawlty Towers was voted (ahead of Father Ted and Alan Partridge) as Britain’s Best Ever Sitcom. See the final list below.

Launched in 1975 and with only 12 episodes in 2 Seasons this classic BBC sitcom is having a surging lease of life and attracting new fans on Netflix.

Synopsis – Haughty Basil Fawlty and his bossy wife Sybil try to raise the profile of their Fawlty Towers Hotel, but endless mix-ups arise, leading to farcical lunacy.

John Cleese stars as Basil Fawlty, the manic and much-put-upon hotel manager whose life is plagued by dead guests, hotel inspectors and riffraff.

Also starring: Prunella Scales (Sybil) and Andrew Sachs (Manuel)

Creators: John Cleese & Connie Booth who plays the ever-suffering hotel maid Polly … and also at the time married to John Cleese.

The Fawlty Towers story…

Fawlty Towers is one of the best-known, and most-loved, series from the halcyon days of British comedy

It starred John Cleese as irascible Torquay hotel owner Basil Fawlty, and Prunella Scales as his domineering wife Sybil—his “little nest of vipers”. Connie Booth played Polly the dependable maid and general assistant, and last but certainly not least, little Manuel superbly played by Andrew Sachs—the tyrannized waiter from Barcelona, dogsbody and subject of frequent physical attacks by the demented Basil! Terry the Chef, played by Brian Hall, was employed for the second series.

The other regular guests were the slightly senile Major Gowen (retired), and the hard of hearing old dears Miss Tibbs & Miss Gatsby.

Business seldom ran smoothly at Fawlty Towers: if you didn’t pay for your stay with your life! (The Kipper and The Corpse), you could expect to be at least verbally assaulted by Basil (just about every episode!). The insults to guests were guaranteed as were the laughs for the viewers. The first runs of Fawlty Towers in the mid 1970’s but I’m sure they were the perfect counter to what was often a pretty dismal period in Britain with frequent strikes etc. Strikes are frequently mentioned in the episodes.

Only two series of six episodes (Series One – 1975, Series Two – 1979) were ever made including classics such as The Hotel InspectorsThe Germans, and Waldorf Salad. The shows were originally broadcast on BBC2 and there are often repeat showings on the BBC and on channels such as UK Gold. And now all 12 ready to view on Netflix.

And it all began at a real-life Fawlty Towers ….

John Cleese was inspired to write what became Fawlty Towers after he and the rest of the Monty Python team were staying at a hotel in Torquay called the Gleneagles (not to be confused with the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire) whilst filming Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series in the early 1970s. The “wonderfully rude” hotel owner (Donald Sinclair) endeared himself to the Monty Python team by throwing Eric Idle’s briefcase out of the hotel “in case it contained a bomb,” complaining about Terry Gilliam’s table manners, and chucking a bus timetable at another guest after the guest dared to ask the time of the next bus to town.

Little did this hotelier realise that John Cleese was making mental notes of all this madcap behaviour and he might well have seen himself a few years later on TV, transformed into Basil Fawlty—the most infamous British hotelier ever—broadcast to the British nation and ultimately most of the world! Donald Sinclair died in 198, apparently he emigrated to Florida in the 1970s where he was once tracked down by a British newspaper after Cleese unfortunately named him in an interview. Mr Sinclair and his relatives have never been too happy about the way he has been portrayed!

It all started with someone from the BBC asking John Cleese to write a series for them and thankfully for all of us, John Cleese was having a temporary break from Monty Python and, along with his wife (at that time) Connie Booth, set to work writing. Cleese first wrote the hotel-owning couple into a TV series based on books by Richard Gordon and the producer of that series, on seeing the future Mr and Mrs Fawlty, remarked to John Cleese, “There’s a series in those two.” It was now 1973 and Cleese had to agree, after all he was made for the part of Basil Fawlty.

John Cleese and Connie Booth co-wrote those hotel owners into a new series of their own and two years later Fawlty Towers opened for business — that real-life impertinent hotel owner’s frustrations were about to get a much bigger audience than the relatively few members of the public who inconvenienced him by staying in his hotel.

Polly and Manuel were ready and waiting to make everyone’s stay as pleasant as possible, Basil just wanted to throttle most of them! Sybil, well, she just tried to pick up the pieces…

The programme is a British comedy classic. Go see for yourself – Netflix now have all 12 eps.

The Radio Times Best British sitcoms

  • Fawlty Towers (1975-9, BBC Two)
  • Father Ted (1995-8, Channel 4)
  • I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002, BBC Two)
  • Blackadder (1983-9, BBC One)
  • Dad’s Army (1968-77, BBC One)
  • Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003, BBC One)
  • Porridge (1973-8, BBC One)
  • The Royle Family (1998-2012, BBC One)
  • Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2012, BBC Two)
  • Dinnerladies (1998-2000, BBC One)
  • The Thick of It (2005-12, BBC Four and Two)
  • The Office (2001-3, BBC Two)
  • Peep Show (2003-15, Channel 4)
  • The Vicar of Dibley (1994-2007, BBC One)
  • The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-9, BBC One)
  • The Young Ones (1982-4, BBC Two)
  • Gavin & Stacey (2007-10, BBC Three and One)
  • The Good Life (1975-8, BBC One)
  • Detectorists (2014-17, BBC Four)
  • Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (1973-4, BBC One)

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