Fawlty Towers: Basil the Rat (BBC2, 25 October 1979, Bob Spiers)

major_gowan_rat_basil

These reviews reveal plot twists.

A health inspector has given the hotel 24 hours to sort out its appalling hygiene problems. However, during the clean-up, Basil learns that Manuel has been keeping a pet rat, which then gets loose…

Hotel sign: FARTY TOWELS

STAFF:

* Sybil is in a grumpy mood because Basil initially said he’d go out with their friends, but now claims he has to do the accounts. Once the local health inspector, Mr Carnegie, gives the hotel a critical appraisal, Sybil sets to work cleaning the kitchen and ordering Basil get some dead birds out of the water tank. The next day, the clean-up seems to be going well – even though the hotel cat keeps popping into the kitchen. They must do a good job: Mr Carnegie is satisfied when he sees the results.

* Basil is shocked to find a man riffling through the hotel’s fridge. “Should I get you the wine list?” he deadpans. It turns out to be Mr Carnegie – not a scavenger gourmet, as Basil quips, but an official from the Public Health Department. He gives them 24 hours to get the kitchens into a proper shape. Basil is then shocked to learn that Manuel has a rat in his room as a pet – so insists he gets rid of it pronto. However, the next day, when the Major announces he’s seen a rat in the hotel bar, Basil twigs that the animal is still on the premises. Not only that, it’s loose. And the health inspector is about to return. So the staff conduct a search. Basil also puts some rat poison on a bit of veal meat and leaves it on the kitchen floor. But he’s later aghast when he realises it’s been picked up and cooked – now no one knows which one is poisoned. This causes a big problem when Mr Carnegie wants veal for his lunch. They decide to give him a slice that the cat has nibbled on – at least that means it’s not poisoned. However, just as Mr C is tucking in, Basil sees the cat retching! So he has to confiscate the inspector’s plate. When the cat is then okay, Basil has to confiscate the replacement plate too. Then he finds the rat – but it’s in the handbag of a guest who’s leaving the hotel. After Polly invents a bomb scare, Basil searches the bag. He finds the rat, but it bites him and races back into the dining room. At the episode’s conclusion, Basil collapses through stress.

* Polly has been helping Mr Carnegie inspect the kitchens. She later has to shoo away the hotel’s cat. She then comes to Manuel’s aid and says she has a friend who can look after in his pet rat. (In reality they simply hide the rodent in a shed round the back of the hotel.) The next day, Pol tries selling a picture of hers to a guest who’d said he liked it. She’s offering it for £5, saying it’s for her sister’s eye operation, but he says no. “You bastard!” she shouts. When the rat goes missing, Polly has to search the hotel without the Fawltys finding out – but Basil rumbles her. Polly later knocks some veal steaks on the floor, which Terry quickly picks up – along with the rat-poison-covered slice that Basil laid down earlier.

* Terry does a scarpering act when he spots the health inspector, but returns once Mr C has left. He’s not bothered by the lengthy list of problems – “All kitchen are filthy,” he claims. During the mix-up over the poisoned veal, he at first thinks clearly and reasons that the cat’s slice must be edible. However, a few minutes later, he seems unconcerned about dishing up a new slice *after* they’ve learnt that the cat was simply coughing up fur-balls.

* Manuel is upstairs practising his guitar when Basil bursts in. He wants Manuel to go up to the roof and get the pigeons out of the water tank. However, Basil then spots that Manuel has a pet in a cage. It’s a rat, though Manuel has naively believed the pet shop owner’s claim that it’s a Siberian hamster. When Basil wants it gone, Manuel is upset – but then Polly says she has a plan. They lie to Basil and hide the animal in an outhouse. Manuel then puts on a black armband and acts desolate – “It’s so empty without him!” – until Polly tells him he’s overegging his pudding. He then borrows a bit of fillet veal for the rat – who he’s called Basil. Panic ensues, though, when the rat goes missing (Manuel unwisely let him out of the cage so he could “exercise in shed”). When the rat has been found safe and sound, Manuel puts it in a biscuit tin for safekeeping.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby are aghast when they hear that Basil is taking Manuel’s ‘hamster’ away from him. But they then see it and shriek.

* A male guest is checking out when Polly tries to sell him a painting.

* The Major is unimpressed when he sees the papers. “Strike, strike, strike!” he laments. “Why do we bother, Fawlty?” Basil replies to himself: “Didn’t know you did, Major.” The Major then goes for a bit of quiet time in the empty bar – and is shocked to find a rat sitting on one of the tables. So he goes off to fetch his shotgun! Basil assumes that the Major is chasing Germans – then the penny drops. He tells the Major to simply keep watch, but the Major later shoots at the rodent. To stop the Major blabbing to the health inspector, Basil knees him in the balls.

* Mrs Taylor (Melody Lang) has ordered veal for lunch. Sadly for her, one steak has poison on it so Basil retrieves the food from their table. His excuse? “This is veal substitute. We’re giving it a try and it’s a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid.” When Mrs T says she’s never heard of veal substitute, Polly claims it’s a Japanese concoction made of soybeans and essence of cow.

* Ronald and Quentina (David Neville and Sabina Franklyn) are a posho couple staying at the hotel. Manuel, however, is not paying attention when taking their lunch order because he’s seen the rat at their feet. Basil is then called in and is likewise distracted. So Polly is asked to take the order, but she spots the rat in Quentina’s handbag. Annoyed by the poor service, the couple decide to leave – so Basil has to give chase and find a way of rooting through the bag.

OTHERS:

* Mr Carnegie (John Quarmby) is a local health inspector who’s come to the do the six-monthly check-up. (It’s still a surprise to both Sybil and Basil.) He’s far from impressed and has a long list of things that need dealing with – and he hasn’t even looked upstairs yet. He returns the next day to carry on the inspection, starting upstairs with the water tank. After agreeing that all is now well, Mr Carnegie wants lunch at the hotel: he’s spotted some veal on offer. Basil tries to put him off – because one slice of it is poisoned – and claims it’s an inferior Norwegian veal. Mr C wants his veal, though. For afters, he asks for cheese and biscuits, but is inadvertently presented with a tin containing a rat.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* Sybil complains that the only pleasure she gets in life is when she gets away with some of her friends. “Well, you should get away more often, dear,” says Basil.

* Sybil says her mother reckons the Fawltys got together because of black magic. “Well, she’d know, wouldn’t she?” says Basil. “Her and that cat.”

* Mr Carnegie has a damning indictment of the hotel: “These premises do not come up to the standard required by this authority. Unless appropriate steps are taken instantly, I shall have no alternative but to prosecute or recommend closure to the appropriate committee of the council. Specifically: lack of proper cleaning routines; dirty and greasy filters; greasy and encrusted deep-fat fryer; dirty, cracked and stained food-preparation surfaces; dirty, cracked and missing wall and floor tiles; dirty, marked and stained utensils; dirty and greasy interior surfaces of the ventilator hoods. Inadequate temperature control and storage of dangerous foodstuffs; storage of cooked and raw meat in same trays; storage of raw meat above confectionery, with consequent dripping of meat juices onto cream products; refrigerator seals loose and cracked; ice box undefrosted; and refrigerator overstocked. Food-handling routines suspect; evidence of smoking in food preparation area; dirty and grubby food handling overalls; lack of wash hand basin, which you gave us a verbal assurance you’d have installed on our last visit six months ago; and two dead pigeons in the water tank.” Basil, after a gloriously timed pause, says: “Otherwise okay?”

* Basil and Manuel’s cross-purposes conversation about the water tank. Basil says some pigeons are in it, but Manuel thinks he means pigs. “Not pigs!” cries Basil. “Pigeons! Pigeon! Pigeon! Like your English.”

* “You have rats in Spain, don’t you? Or did Franco have them all shot?”

* Sybil nagging Basil about the rat, telling him some self-evident truths. He responds with sarcasm: “Can we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? ‘Next contestant: Sybil Fawlty from Torquay. Special subject: the bleeding obvious.’” He then announces he’ll let the rat loose in the countryside, but Sybil fears for its safety. “Look,” he says, “he’s not going to get mugged by a gang of field mice, is he?” Basil then facetiously suggests he’ll put an ad in the local paper: “Wanted: kind home for enormous, savage rodent. [Under his breath] Answers to the name of Sybil.”

* “Spleep?”

* The beautiful visual comedy of Basil walking through the lobby and not noticing the Major carrying a gun.

* Basil’s high-pitched, Mickey Mouse-like impression of Polly.

* The Major’s gun goes off. “My God!” says Mr Carnegie. “What was that?” Basil’s explanation? “Bloody television exploding again.”

* Manuel goes berserk when he thinks Terry has cooked his pet rat so runs off in a panic, chased by Polly. Sybil, to the bemused Mr Carnegie: “He’s from Barcelona…”

* “Hooray! The cat lives!”

* Ronald thinks Manuel is trying to look at his girlfriend’s legs. When he tells Basil this, Basil says, “May I?” and has a gander himself (as a way of searching for the rat).

* “You know something? You’re getting my gander up, you grotty little man. You’re asking for a bunch of fives!”

* The mechanical rat’s head popping out of the biscuit tin. God bless the BBC in the 1970s.

Outside? The episode begins with a brief scene of Sybil and Basil arriving at the hotel. We also get an arch shot of Polly and Manuel walking away from camera while carrying the rat’s cage between them. Manuel later takes some food into the shed round the back, claps his hands in glee, and calls out, “Basil!” Finally, Basil (the man) has a breather at the back door, where he’s shocked to see the cat retching.

Dated: Polly calls Manuel a “Dago dodo”.

Henry Kissinger: When the kitchen is declared unfit, nonchalant Terry asks Basil if he’s read about the time George Orwell (aka Eric Blair, 1903-1950) spent working at Maxim’s restaurant in Paris. “No,” replies Basil. “Do you have a copy? I’ll read it out in court.” Basil later sarcastically mentions philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) and Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975). The Major is cheered to read in the newspaper that cricketer Geoffrey Boycott (born 1940) has made a century. Later, Basil says to him, “Say goodnight to the folks, Gracie…” – a reference to American comedian George Burns (1896-1996) and his catchphrase about wife and comic partner Gracie Allen (1895-1964).

Review: A glorious end to television’s finest sitcom. It builds and builds to a superb finale with regular, hilarious laughs along the way. And, like in every episode, the performances are just terrific: well rehearsed, timed to perfection, but still ‘alive’ and fresh.

Ten starling inspectors out of 10

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