Fawlty Towers: The Hotel Inspectors (BBC2, 10 October 1975, John Howard Davies)

basil_sybil_hutchinson

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Basil is stressed when he thinks a difficult guest is actually a hotel inspector…

Hotel sign: FAW TY TO ER

STAFF:

* Sybil’s been given some important gossip: there are some incognito hotel inspectors in town. She later overhears guest Mr Hutchinson on the phone and can subsequently disabuse Basil of the assumption that Mr H is investigating Fawlty Towers.

* Basil is in an irritable mood to begin with. He’s especially annoyed at Sybil for not pulling her weight and for hiding the pens. When a guest called Mr Hutchinson repeatedly expects special treatment, Basil takes against him – but has to switch to sycophancy when he concludes (incorrectly) that Hutchinson is a hotel inspector. Once Sybil’s put him straight, Basil focuses his anger on the guest. He then jumps to a second conclusion – that a man called Mr Walt is the inspector. But when he realises that this too is wrong, he feels free to take his revenge on Hutchinson …

* Manuel is still struggling with his English, so Basil has taken to using cards with pictures on them to communicate. At the end of the episode, Manuel helps in Basil’s revenge plan.

* Polly served Mr Hutchinson at breakfast: he moved the glass and she spilt the grapefruit juice.

* There’s mention of an unnamed chef, but we don’t see him.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* Mr Hutchinson (Bernard Cribbins) is a man with a flamboyant way of speaking. He also has a list of requests: he wants to ensure a BBC2 documentary can be screened on the hotel TV; wants Basil to order him a taxi (he can’t use the phone for fear of infection); and insists that Basil draw him a map of the local area. Because Hutchinson says he has a wide experience of hotels, Basil assumes he’s a hotel inspector so begins to pander to his fussy demands. Once Basil is told the truth – that Mr H sells spoons – the tables are turned. Basil becomes nasty, and Mr Hutchinson is even rendered unconscious during a struggle. Once awake, he physically attacks Basil – but because another guest is watching, Basil has to laugh it off. Before Mr H leaves, Basil and Manuel squeeze food into his face and fill his briefcase with cream.

* Mr Walt (James Cossins) is a dour guest staying at the hotel on his own. He rubs Basil up the wrong way by making some perfectly reasonable requests while Basil would rather be dealing with Mr Hutchinson. Walt is in the area on business – selling outboard motors, not as Basil fears for a while reviewing hotels.

* The Major asks Basil if the papers have arrived three times.

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby appear briefly.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* Basically everything Mr Hutchinson says or does. John Cleese and Bernard Cribbins share some razor-sharp dialogue, played with inch-perfect comic timing.

* Basil claiming the hotel’s table-tennis table is not in absolutely mint condition but could certainly be used in an emergency.

* An inept yet enthusiastic Manuel moving Mr Walt from one wrong table to another in the dining room. When Basil finds Walt at the second wrong table, Cleese does an exaggerated full-body double take. Walt says the waiter told him to sit there. “Well, he’s hopeless, isn’t he?” replies Basil. “You may as well ask the cat.”

* Basil’s duel with a bottle of Aloxe-Corton ’65: the cork won’t come out at all, then only in clumps; when the wine finally flows, it gushes into the glass. (Cleese and Cossins were unsure how the prop bottle would behave, so the scene was improvised to some degree.)

* Sybil telling Basil that Hutchinson is a cutlery salesman who specialises in spoons.

* Basil hitting Manuel on the head with a spoon. “You’re a waste of space.”

* Basil, Hutchinson and Polly’s disagreement over Mr H’s dinner order. Thanks to some sublimely clever plotting, he’s been brought three different meals – none of which he wants. In the ensuing argument, Basil snaps and tells him to shut up. To get out of the faux pas, Basil and Polly then improvise an explanation – they claim that Basil was telling *her* to shut up, despite looking at Hutchinson. As a run of whip-crack comedy dialogue, it’s the peer of Who’s On First?

* “I’m not a violent man, Mr Fawlty!” “Yes, you are!”

* Basil twigging that if Mr Walt isn’t the hotel inspector either he’s free to punish Hutchinson.

* Basil’s episode-capping scream as he realises the inspectors witnessed his attack on Hutchinson.

Outside? None. It’s another all-indoors episode.

Dated: Mr Hutchinson has to leave the dining room and go to the reception desk to take a phone call.

Henry Kissinger: When Mr Hutchinson says he’ll be in the lounge if anybody wants him, Basil is bemused by the presumption that someone would want him. “Anyone in particular?” he says sarcastically. “Henry Kissinger?” This is the show’s first mention of Kissinger (born 1923), who was then the US Secretary of State. Also, Polly facetiously asks Hutchinson if he’s the Duke of Kent – aka Prince Edward (born 1935), a grandson of George V.

Review: An episode built on the brilliance of Bernard Cribbins, a contender for the show’s finest guest performance. (Cleese rightly raves about him on a 2009 DVD commentary.) It’s also the first real-time episode, and is basically one 30-minute scene. The comic intensity builds with delicious skill. And it climaxes with a sensational, funny-because-it’s-signposted tag.

Ten clarets out of 10.

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