Fawlty Towers: The Builders (BBC2, 26 September 1975, John Howard Davies)


These reviews reveal plot twists.

The hotel needs some minor construction work, but Basil has hired a no-hope builder on the cheap…

Hotel sign: FAWLTY TOWER, with a wonky L.


* Polly’s left in charge of the hotel while Basil and Sybil have a weekend in Paignton. Before he heads off, Basil complains that Polly has left one of her sketches lying around – he describes it as a junkyard with a tie and collar underneath, but Manuel accurately spots that it’s a caricature of Basil. She also sketches Manuel in a bullfighter pose, but is tetchy because she’s not been sleeping well. She then tells Manuel that she’s going to have a siesta. (“Siesta?” he says. “Little sleep? Ah, same in Spanish!”) She therefore naps through the building work she should be overseeing… She later colludes with Basil in a failed lie: she pretends to be builder Mr Stubbs on the phone, but Sybil rumbles her.

* Basil has secretly hired Mr O’Reilly – who was mentioned in episode one – to add a new door and close up another. Sybil thinks they’re using the more trustworthy but more expensive Mr Stubbs, and reckons O’Reilly is a “cut-price cock-up artist”. When Sybil later finds out O’Reilly’s men have fucked up, she’s furious and asks Stubbs to come round to give a quote – so Basil demands O’Reilly put everything right before Stubbs arrives. Their superficially sound work, however, does not stand up to scrutiny…

* Sybil doesn’t seem to be looking forward to her and Basil’s trip (their first weekend off since friend Audrey’s hysterectomy). When she pops back early and discovers what O’Reilly’s men have done, she physically attacks the builder – but she’s later embarrassed when Basil seemingly rectifies the mess before Mr Stubbs comes in to give his opinion.

* Manuel is still slowly learning English (he’s proud that he’s very nearly mastered the phrase “I will get your bill!”). Basil tasks him with cleaning all the windows over the weekend, but when Basil and Sybil go away and Polly has a nap, Manuel revels in being in charge. He preens behind the reception desk and pretends to take important phone calls. However, he makes a royal mess of things when O’Reilly’s men show up.


* The Major is befuddled when the doorway to the dining room is closed off. “Now, I wonder where it’s got to?”

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby (now played by Gilly Flower and Renée Roberts) admonish Basil for having a dirty weekend away with his wife. They’re told that, because of the building work, they have to have their dinner at another hotel – Gleneagles, which is a sneaky reference to the real hotel that inspired the series.


* A delivery man with a south-west accent (George Lee) brings a garden gnome to the hotel (Sybil’s ordered it). Manuel mistakes first him and then the gnome as a guest.

* O’Reilly’s three workmen (Michael Cronin, Michael Halsey, Barney Dorman) show up when Manuel is in charge and have comical miscommunications with him over their names and what needs doing.

* Mr O’Reilly (David Kelly) isn’t seen until the day after the work has been done. He’s a calm, not-quite-all-there man with a mellifluous Irish accent. Basil bullies him into putting right what his men did wrong.

* Mr Stubbs (James Appleby) arrives after the mess has been ‘corrected’. At first he’s impressed, but when Basil reveals that O’Relly used a wooden lintel in a supporting wall, Stubbs is shocked: the hotel could collapse at any moment. (As a thank you for providing them technical information, John Cleese and Connie Booth named the character after the builder father of their friend Una Stubbs.)


* “Where’s the real boss? The Generalissimo?” the delivery man asks Manuel. Manuel looks shocked: “In Madrid!” (Franco was still fascist dictator of Spain when this episode was made.)

* Manuel holding out the phone receiver to prove to the caller than Basil isn’t in the hotel. (It’s actually Basil on the phone, but Manuel hasn’t twigged that yet.)

* Basil, over the phone, cons Manuel into calling a burly builder a “hideous orang-utan.”

* Basil walking into the empty hotel lobby to find that the work hasn’t been done… but the dining-room door has been bricked up and an extra door has been added at the foot of the stairs. Cleese does a fantastic slow realisation of the latter.

* Polly: “Don’t panic!” Basil, panicking: “What else is there to do?!”

* Polly slaps a hysterical Basil, who then goes to punch her.

* Basil tripping over the out-of-sight gnome.

* Basil bashing a bemused Manuel’s head against the new wall.

* O’Reilly repeatedly uses the term “If the good Lord…”. On the third occasion, Basil interrupts: “…is mentioned once more I shall move you closer to him.”

* Sybil vs O’Reilly.

Outside? We see Basil driving up to the hotel; Sybil also arrives later on and spots that O’Reilly’s van is parked outside.

Dated: ‘Dago’ is a word that’s thankfully vanished from our popular culture.

Henry Kissinger: Still no mention of HK, but another cricketer is invoked when Basil rages at Polly: “Whose fault is it, you cloth-eared bint? Denis Compton’s?!” Compton (1918-1997) played for Middlesex and England, and also played football for Arsenal.

Review: A beautifully paced farce without a single ounce of fat on it anywhere. The momentum is sometimes at a breath-taking speed, while there’s a relentless rush of jokes. But they’re not ‘gags’ plastered on top of the plot. They’re all borne of the characters and the situation. We also get a supreme burst of Basil anger, during which Cleese shows sensational comic energy and control. Polly plays a nice, big role too, and relative TV novice Connie Booth goes toe-to-toe with comedy giant Cleese. One thought, though: why doesn’t Polly hear the building work going on?

Ten licks of paint out of 10.


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