Fawlty Towers: Waldorf Salad (BBC2, 5 March 1979, Bob Spiers)


These reviews reveal plot twists.

A brash, arrogant American guest causes Basil a problem when he demands food after the dining room has closed for the evening…

Hotel sign: FLAY OTTERS


* Sybil is boring a guest as the episode begins, talking at him when he’d rather eat his meal in peace. She seems unaware that the other staff are rushed off their feet. Once the guests’ dinner has finished, she has her food and reads a Harold Robbins novel, Never Love a Stranger. Two late-arriving guests, the Hamiltons, are having their evening meal at the same time – and tell Sybil that they’re fans of Robbins too. But Sybil is furious when she discovers Mr Hamilton had to pay Basil £20 to get a meal. She takes charge and arranges their food herself with no fuss.

* Basil’s having a busy evening, dealing with a dining room full of guests – a lot of whom have complaints. His mood improves, however, when an attractive woman called Mrs Hamilton checks in. Her rude husband wants a meal, but the dining room has just closed so he pays Basil £20 to keep it open. Basil takes the cash on the understanding it’s for the chef; when Terry leaves anyway, Basil decides to do the food himself and pretend the chef has stayed. He soon puts his foot in his mouth by slagging off Harold Robbins, then struggles with Mr Hamilton’s request for a Waldorf salad. Basil is confused over the ingredients, makes up a sob story to explain why they don’t have the ingredients, then stages an audible row between himself and the absent chef. However, at the same time, Sybil has found the required foods and prepared the starter! After Basil’s lie is exposed, he still tries to placate Hamilton, but Mr H verbally attacks Basil in front of the other guests. (They’ve all been in the bar, it seems. Quite who was serving them, given that Polly and Manuel have left and Sybil’s been cooking, is another matter.) Everyone gangs up on Basil, listing their own complaints – but Basil fights back, rants at them, and kicks everyone out. Then Sybil decides it would be better if Basil left instead. He does. But it’s raining, so he returns and asks for a room.

* Polly gets a second episode running with little to do. Her contribution is to spill the beans about why Terry can’t stay after 9pm. In the scene, she wears a very fetching red outfit with crocheted hat.

* Manuel’s also got dressed up for an evening out – he leaves with Polly and Terry, but it’s unclear if they’re all going to the same place.

* Terry’s finished his shift when Basil announces two guests want a late meal. Tel says he can’t stay because he has a karate class. However, when he manages to negotiate 90 minutes of overtime pay for half-an-hour’s work, he says he’ll do it… Then Polly walks in and lets slip that Terry actually has a date with a tall, blonde, Finnish woman. Affronted by the lie, Basil tells him to stuff it: he’ll do the food himself.


* Mr Libson (Anthony Dawes) is the guest being bored by Sybil. He also appears in the mass scene at the end: he says he’s asked Basil to fix his room’s radiator three times but it hasn’t been done.

* Mr and Mrs Johnston (Terence Coloney and June Ellis) are a couple staying at the hotel. She complains that her prawn starter was off, which Basil doesn’t take kindly to. Basil then wanders off with their lamb mains, which Mr J has to collect from reception. He’s also the first guest to join in with Hamilton’s tirade at the climax. (Coloney had been in A Touch of Class, playing the guy who orders a gin and orange, a lemon squash, and a Scotch and water please.)

* Mr and Mrs Arrad (Norman Bird and Stella Tanner) also have problems with the hotel’s service – it takes Manuel half-an-hour to bring Mr Arrad the wrong meal, while Mrs A winces when there’s sugar in the salt seller. They also speak up during the showdown at the end.

* Miss Gurke and Miss Hare (Beatrice Shaw and Dorothy Frere) are two elderly women staying at the hotel – privately, they think the food is all gristle, but are too nervous to say anything when asked.

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby appear without dialogue early on, then support Basil during his climactic row with Mr Hamilton.

* The Major gets a knock-it-out-of-the-park punchline during the showdown (see below).

* Mr and Mrs Hamilton (Bruce Boa and Claire Nielson) arrive at the hotel just as the dining room is closing for the evening. They’re a couple from California. She’s friendly, English and has lived in America for 10 years. He’s brusque, American and quickly complains about the weather, the roads and British cars. When he learns they can’t get a hot meal, he’s very angry – and bribes Basil to keep the kitchen open. Like Sybil, they both enjoy Harold Robbins novels (Mrs H says her favourite is The Pirate). However, they bemuse an eager-to-please Basil by each asking for a screwdriver to drink; Mr H then confuses him further by wanting a Waldorf salad. After he’s caught Basil out in his lie, Mr Hamilton confronts him and – in front of all the other guests – stages a mutiny.


* The row about the possibly gone-off prawns. “But you’ve eaten half of them…” “Well, I didn’t notice at the start… I wasn’t sure.” “So you ate half to make sure?”

* The Arrads complain about Manuel, but Basil simply moans back: “You only have to eat here; we have to live with it.”

* “All over the plaice!” seethes Mrs Arrad.

* “Do you think we could cancel our fruit salads?” “Well, it’s a little tricky – chef’s just opened the tin.”

* “Go and have a bit of fun with a Finn!”

* Sybil enjoying banter with the Hamiltons. Basil is defending the English climate against the Hamiltons’ criticisms, saying it can change. Sybil says, “My husband’s like the climate – he changes. This morning he went on for two hours about the bloody weather!”

* Basil learns that, in California, you can swim in the morning and then drive up into the mountains and ski. “Must be rather tiring,” he says.

* Mrs Hamilton asks Sybil how long she’s been married. “Oh, since 1485.”

* Basil’s attempt to fix his faux pas. “Oh, Rob-BINS? Harold Rob-BINS? Oh, I thought you meant that awful man – what’s his name, er, Harold Robinson.”

* The *tiny* amount of time Basil is out of the room pretending to ask chef if he knows what a Waldorf salad is.

* Basil riffling through a box of veg. “What is a Waldorf, anyway? A walnut that’s gone off?”

* Mr Hamilton says he wouldn’t board his dog at Fawlty Towers. Basil, who’s still trying to appease the man, replies: “Fussy, is he? Poodle?”

* Sybil says their chef used to work at Dorchester. “At The Dorchester?” asks Mrs Hamilton, impressed. “No, *in* Dorchester, about 14 miles away.”

* The sound of Sybil hitting Basil in the kitchen. He later wears a hat to hide the bruise.

* Mr Hamilton rumbles Basil’s lie by walking into the kitchen while Basil is staging another row (and doing an impression of Terry).

* The Major’s world-class gag? Mr Hamilton: “What I’m suggesting is that this is the crummiest, shoddiest, worst-run hotel in the whole of western Europe.” The Major is offended by this: “No!” he cries. “No, I won’t have that! There’s a place in Eastbourne…”

* “I’m not satisfied.” “Well, people like you never are, are you?”

* “This is exactly how Nazi Germany started!”

Outside? There’s a brief moment at the conclusion when we see Basil in the rain, regretting his decision to walk out.

Dated: A hotelier who’s never heard of either a screwdriver or a Waldorf salad?

Henry Kissinger: Trashy novelist Harold Robbins (1916-1997) is the basis of a discussion. Two of his books are mentioned specifically: Never Love a Stranger (1948) and The Pirate (1974). Mr Hamilton says he’s heard, but doesn’t believe, the rumour that actor Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) has his own palm tree. Basil sarcastically refers to novelists Marcel Proust (1871-1922) and EM Forster (1879-1970).

Review: A slightly strange story, in that you feel sorry for Basil. A white lie about the chef aside, he’s working hard to please a horrid, ungracious bully of a guest. The episode’s centrepiece is a continuous 15-minute sequence set in the dining room and kitchen, which features just Basil, Sybil and the Hamiltons. There are too many instances where you ask “Why doesn’t Basil just…?” for it to be perfect, but it’s mostly tremendous stuff.

Nine celery, apples, walnuts, grapes (in a mayonnaise sauce) out of 10


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