Fawlty Towers: Gourmet Night (BBC2, 17 October 1975, John Howard Davies)

basil_dining_room

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Basil and Sybil prepare to host their first high-class evening of wining and dining. However, the new chef causes a series of problems…

Hotel sign: WARTY TOWELS

STAFF:

* Basil is attempting to fix his car, a red Austin 1100, as the episode begins. Sybil says he should take it to the garage, but Basil simply drives round the corner so he can tinker with it in peace. He later wants to design the gourmet night’s menu himself, but Sybil insists that Polly do it. She does let him put the advertisement in the local paper, and isn’t happy when Basil uses the phrase ‘no riff-raff’. On the evening of the gourmet night, Basil tries his best. Despite this, he repeatedly puts his foot in it with the guests. He then learns that the chef has got drunk and the food won’t be ready. So he arranges for friend André to do some emergency duck dishes, which Basil will collect in the car. He hastily types up a new menu with just three options: duck with orange, duck with cherries, and duck surprise (which is duck without any orange or cherries). Once underway, the meal goes badly: some starters have Basil’s hair in them, while another is served raw. Basil then races over to André’s restaurant, but the duck provided gets trodden on by Manuel. So Basil has to go and fetch more – this time, a mishap means he takes the wrong serving dish. Then his car breaks down and he has to run the rest of the way home. All looks good as Basil gets ready to finally present the duck to his frustrated guests, but the dish actually contains a trifle…

* Manuel’s being taught some food-prep by jovial new chef Kurt, who’s taken a shine to the Spaniard. On gourmet night itself, however, Manuel is very upset because Kurt has got drunk and tried to kiss him. This is the first episode that specifies Manuel is from Barcelona. He later entertains the bored guests by playing a dramatic flamenco song on his guitar.

* Kurt (Steve Plytas) is a Greek chef newly employed at Fawlty Towers. (It’s ambiguous whether it’s a permanent appointment or if he’s been hired in just for the gourmet night.) As the episode begins, he’s bought a sketch of Manuel from Polly, but declines her offer of a thank-you drink: “Not when I’m working…” His refusal is because he’s an alcoholic, and on the night of the big do he gets plastered on plonk, makes a move on Manuel, then passes out.

* Sybil is thrilled that local restaurateur André has found them Kurt. He’s the best chef they’ve ever had, she says. Unusually for a Fawlty Towers episode, Sybil is as much caught up in the mess as Basil. To keep the guests occupied while he collects the new food, she tells them some raucous jokes.

* Polly’s happy to have sold a sketch to Kurt, so buys a bottle of wine to share round as a celebration. When Sybil sees the drawing she asks for one too: she’ll put it on Basil’s bedside table. Polly quips that she’s had as many sales in one day as van Gogh had in a lifetime. On gourmet night, it’s down to Polly to tell Basil the inconvenient news about Kurt being half-cut. Later, to entertain the guests, her party piece is a rendition of I Cain’t Say No from Oklahoma!

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* The Major says his soup tastes off. “Well, it’s made with fresh mushrooms,” says Basil. “Ah,” replies the Major, “that would explain it!”

* The Heath family (Jeffrey Segal, Elizabeth Benson and Tony Page) feature in one scene of comedy gold (see below).

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby appear in the dining room just as the gourmet evening is due to begin, so Basil shoos them away.

OTHERS:

* André (André Maranne) is a French restaurant owner and friend of the Fawltys. He recommended Kurt for the job, but seems to know some secret about him and gives his pal a coded warning. On the night itself, he does Basil a solid and promptly provides some replacement food.

* Colonel and Mrs Hall (Allan Cuthbertson and Ann Way) are the first people to arrive for the gourmet night. Basil’s proud that two JPs are dining at his hotel, and has met the colonel before (though the colonel doesn’t remember). Mrs Hall is a short, pleasant, optimistic woman – but her humour vanishes when she’s served uncooked fish as a starter. The colonel has a dramatic facial twitch, which causes Basil a problem when he has to introduce the night’s other guests…

* Lionel and Mrs Twitchen (Richard Caldicot and Betty Huntly-Wright) actually pronounce their surname ‘twy-chen’. He’s one of Torquay’s leading Rotarians, and is this year’s treasurer.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* “This, Basil’s wife. This, Basil. This, smack on head.”

* Sybil takes Basil’s glass of wine away from him before he has a sip. “Well, that smelt nice,” he laments.

* “Are you still here, Basil?” nags Sybil. “No,” he replies, “I went a couple of minutes ago but I expect I’ll be back shortly.”

* Basil’s tennis-rally of sarcasm with Ronald Heath, the kid who’s not happy with his dinner. In 127 seconds of priceless dialogue, we cover the shape of chips, eggs that look like Basil laid them, the classic “He’s very highly strung”/”Yes, yes, he should be” gag, bread, salad cream, mayonnaise and tin openers. The encounter ends with an accidentally-on-purpose bang on the head for the boy.

* Four guests cancel at the last minute because, they claim, one of their party is ill. “Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial,” says Basil.

* In a pique of embarrassment – having been foxed by Hall’s twitch and then mentioning the man’s dead daughter – Basil forgets his own name.

* “Sorry, didn’t see you down there. Don’t get up.”

* Polly’s euphemism-loaded attempt to tell Basil that Kurt is drunk.

* Basil pretends to faint rather than say the name Twitchen to Colonel Hall.

* “And what do you do if you don’t like duck?” “If you don’t like duck, you’re rather stuck!”

* Basil and Manuel’s routine about swapping the plates.

* Polly’s cheeky response when Colonel Hall complains that there’s a hair in his mousse: a staged-whispered “Well, don’t talk too loud: everybody will want one.”

* Basil vs the car. It stalls and won’t turn over again. “Start, you vicious bastard!” he screams. He then warns the motor that he’ll count to three and there’ll be trouble if it doesn’t restart. In a stroke of comedy genius, *he’s not turning the key as he counts to three*. He then races off-screen and returns after a moment with a huge branch, which he uses to beat the car.

* The reveal of the trifle – specifically, the way a bemused Basil rummages through it to see if a duck is hidden within.

Outside? There are scenes of Basil trying to fix his car in front of the hotel and then round the corner. Later we see him dashing to André’s, collecting food from its kitchen, driving back to the hotel, returning to André’s, collecting more food, breaking down on a suburban street, attacking his car, and running towards the hotel.

Dated: Polly sells a sketch for 50p and uses the fee to buy a bottle of wine.

Henry Kissinger: He gets two mentions this week! Basil sarcastically says to the Heath family that he’ll make sure they have salad cream in future as “You never know when Henry Kissinger’s going to drop in, do you?” Later, Basil tells Sybil that “he’s” drunk. When she asks who, he snaps: “Kurt! Who do you think, Henry Kissinger?!” As mentioned, Polly also refers to Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).

Review: In a nice change of pace, Sybil colludes with her husband this week. Both she and Basil are genuinely trying to do a nice thing and better their hotel’s standing, which leads to some superb farce-like plotting. The twists and turns are so fine-tuned it takes a second viewing to appreciate just how skilfully the jigsaw pieces slot together. (It took me several watches to spot Basil’s hair getting into the mousse, for example.) It’s also a good Polly episode, and we see her as the calm problem-solver. Uproariously funny.

Ten crates of brown ale out of 10

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