Dracula (1979, John Badham)


An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The entire film takes place in and around Whitby – so we never see Castle Dracula nor go to London. It’s slightly later than the 1890s of the novel, evidenced by the presence of cars. Some sources claim it’s 1913.

Faithful to the novel? The script is based on the 1920s stage adaptation of Dracula and differs from the book in several key ways.
* As mentioned above, the action is limited to Whitby.
* The story begins with the wreck of the Demeter and the eponymous character’s arrival in Britain.
* Unlike in the novel, Count Dracula (Frank Langella) makes friends with the good guys before starting to seduce the women.
* The hero characters’ relationships have been jumbled around. Lucy (Kate Nelligan) is now the daughter of Dr Jack Seward (a fruity Donald Pleasence), rather than someone he wants to marry. Her other suitors from the book, Arthur and Quincey, have been dropped. And her role in the story has also been swapped with that of her friend Mina (Jan Francis), who now becomes Dracula’s first victim. In another break from the book, Mina is the daughter of Abraham Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier), who appears on the scene after she dies.
* Because of the Lucy/Mina switch, solicitor Jonathan Harker (an over-keen Trevor Eve) is now the boyfriend of Lucy. He also never goes to Transylvania, though is still dealing with the Count’s affairs.
* Local man Renfield (Tony Haygarth) is not an inmate at Seward’s sanatorium, as in the novel, but he still falls under Dracula’s thrall.
* The building the vampire has bought, meanwhile, is in Whitby not London – and is a Gothic castle rather than a townhouse.

Best performance: Frank Langella had been playing Dracula in a Broadway revival of the stage play since October 1977. Whether trading cool repartee over dinner or climbing down the side of a building, the Count exudes charm and authority. He wears a cape but uses a neutral accent and, at the insistence of Langella, never flashes any fangs.

Best bit: Well, it’s certainly not the bit where Mina can’t breathe after her sexual encounter with Dracula. What does medical expert Dr Seward do? He slaps her round the face and shouts the word ‘Breathe’ a few times. Not too surprisingly, she then dies. More positively, the sight of the undead Mina is a creepy bit of make-up.

Review: There’s some great staging in this film. The sets are very impressive, while the wreck of the Demeter on a beach is achieved via a full-size ship on a real location. There’s also a good attempt to beef up the gothic-romance side of the story, especially in the subplot of Lucy’s fascination with Dracula. (Their ‘sex scene’ is dramatised by trippy, music-video-like visuals put together by James Bond title-sequence designer Maurice Binder.) John Williams’s score is terrific too. But the whole enterprise has a very earnest tone. The cast – some good, some poor – are fighting against a lacklustre script and the cinematography is very cold with lots of drab, lifeless greys. (Although, perhaps I’m being unfair on that last point because the movie on DVD looks very different from its 1979 print. Director John Badham had wanted to shoot the film in black and white – partly as a homage to the 1931 Dracula – but was overruled by his bosses at Universal Pictures. So when it was released on Laserdisc in 1991, he took the opportunity to de-saturate the image, bringing it closer in line with his original vision. That’s the default version now, which is a shame.)

Six children of the night (what sad music they make) out of 10


Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979, Harry Tampa)


An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day (1979). We begin at Hotel Transylvania – ie, the former Castle Dracula. After half an hour, the action moves to New York City.

Faithful to the novel? This camp comedy has to be seen to be believed. A disco-scored horror film where Count Dracula (John Carradine) is a bitter geriatric and his granddaughter finds happiness through the power of dance? This was actually made?!
* As the story begins, Count Dracula’s granddaughter Nocturna (Nai Bonet) has converted their castle into a hotel to help him with his tax bill. She hires hip, young musicians to entertain the guests then sleeps with guitarist Jimmy (Tony Hamilton). She also takes a very slow bath so we can perv at her naked body, and has to resist the attentions of her creepy employee Theodore (Brother Theodore).
* Dracula senses that all’s not well, though. When Nocturna says she’s in love with Jimmy, her grandad reminds her that she’s not like other women. She shouldn’t settle for a normal life. She responds by leaving with Jimmy for New York City.
* She stays with an old friend, the vampire Jugulia (Yvonne De Carlo), in a rundown part of town and is introduced to the city’s undead community. But there’s dissention in the ranks due to a lack of available blood – “I’d rather suck than sniff any day,” says a female vampire when a friend suggests a powder blood substitute. Their meeting is interrupted by a cop, so they all turn into animated Batfink-style bats and fly away.
* Nocturna then walks through bustling Manhattan to the sound of disco music – you half expect John Travolta to be coming the other way. She encounters a black vampire (Sy Richardson) who’s dressed like every pimp in 1970s cinema. He shows Nocturna a massage parlour run for the benefit of vampires; its girls (referred to as slaves) are used to lure people in so they can be drained of blood.
* Next, Nocturna meets Jimmy at a nightclub called Star Ship, which is admirably full of punters for a low-budget film, and they wow everyone (except this reviewer) with their dancing.
* Meanwhile, Dracula and Theodore have shown up in America to find Nocturna. Theodore kidnaps her and is about to kill Jimmy when she escapes and attacks him. Dracula then confronts her at the disco. He wants her to return to Transylvania, but Jugulia dances with him as a distraction (!). He’s having none of it and freezes all the clubbers and threatens Jimmy’s life. So Nocturna agrees to come home.
* But Jimmy gives chase and wards off Dracula by using the T of the Star Ship sign as a crucifix. Drac heads home to Europe, while Nocturna and Jimmy watch the sunrise together. It seems a love of dance has cured her of vampirism. Or something.

Best performance: This was the final time that John Carradine played Count Dracula. He’d first taken on the role for two Universal horrors – House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) – then appeared in unrelated films Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) and Las vampiras (1969). He died in 1988. He’s overacting his heart out here, playing the Count as a doddery old man, but it’s quite endearing. “If I’m alive, what am I doing here?” he says when emerges from his coffin. “But on the other hand, if I’m dead, why do I have to wee-wee?” He’s wearing the same costume he used in House of Dracula.

Best bit: While out and about in Manhattan, Nocturna chats to a genuine passer-by who didn’t know he was being filmed.

Review: This *demented* movie is a kind of precursor of Xanadu (1980), though with vampires and nudity rather than roller skates and Gene Kelly. It was based on an idea by its star, Vietnamese belly dancer Nai Bonet, who also raised the cash to get it made. She plays Nocturna and gives a dreadfully flat, stoned-out performance. In fact, the acting is largely awful throughout, with only old hands Carradine and De Carlo able to pitch the comedy right. The best element is probably the disco soundtrack. Gloria Gaynor sings the theme tune, Love is Just a Heartbeat Away, and there are in-story performances by band Moment of Truth. The whole enterprise is high camp, so we shouldn’t take it too seriously – Dracula wears false fangs, New York vamps bicker over their blood supplies, and the plot regularly stands still so we can enjoy a full-length song. But this is a really awful film.

Two Claret Rooms out of 10

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog)


Aka: Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht

An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: This remake of 1922’s Nosferatu takes place in 19th-century Wismar and Transylvania.

Faithful to the novel? It’s more or less the same story as the 1922 movie. Stoker’s book was in the public domain by 1979, though, so we get the proper character names (unlike in the original film, where everyone was renamed for copyright reasons). There are also a few elements here that don’t come from either 1897 or 1922. The best of which is the journey that Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) takes to Castle Dracula. It’s now almost mythical – he goes past giant waterfalls, which act as a kind of barrier between the real world and Dracula’s. The film hints that Castle Dracula is in some kind of dreamscape.

Best performance: Klaus Kinski as Dracula. He’s visually similar to Count Orlok from 1922, though beefs up the sense of the character’s loneliness. (Coincidentally Kinski had played Renfield in the 1970 Spanish-Italian-German film Count Dracula.)

Best bit: A key scene in any telling of Dracula – traveller stops at inn, casually mentions he’s going to Castle Dracula, and is told not to go by freaked-out locals – is well staged. But the film’s at its best when genuinely unsettling. The creepy opening sequence, for example, was filmed at a museum in Mexico using mummified bodies from an 1833 cholera epidemic. Later, rats invade Harker’s hometown. They’re bloody everywhere. (Around 11,000 were used for the filming and reportedly were treated appallingly by the production team.)

Alternative versions: Two cuts of the film exist – one where the actors speak in English and one where they speak in German. For this write-up, I watched the German version with English subtitles.

Review: There are a number of echoes of the original Nosferatu going on here. There’s even an early scene of a playful cat, which references a similar moment from 1922. The film also sexes up the Nosferatu template a fair bit. The act of vampirism has always been a metaphor for sex, but early Dracula films had to shy away from being blatant. In Nosferatu the Vampyre, when Dracula is draining blood from Lucy Harker (Isabella Adjani), he holds onto her breast – a gesture that was later restaged in 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire. But on the whole this film tests your patience. It’s slow and stilted. Over-the-top Foley sound effects and ADR dialogue are very distracting, while the film’s low budget is all too apparent. In its favour, this lack of polish helps with the vaguely trippy vibe that’s going on – as does a scene where a boy plays a violin very badly. (The actual incidental music, by the way, is one of the film’s best elements. It features folk-rock tracks taken from a pre-existing album by German pop group Popol Vuh. Mixing choral chants with modern instruments, it feels both ancient and fresh at the same time.) Interesting rather than entertaining.

Five bitten cows out of 10

Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Nostromo is a spaceship heading back to earth with 20 million tons of mineral ore on board. However, the crewmembers are woken from their cryogenic sleep when the ship detects a strange signal…

The cast: There are only seven speaking parts in the whole film. An early ensemble scene sets up the class struggles within the team as mechanics Parker (Yaphet Kotto, a former Bond villain) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton, who mostly just says, “Right!”) argue with the officers over money. The vibe is truckers in space who live a functional, mundane, earthy life. This isn’t a Flash Gordon space opera; it feels real. The underplayed group dynamic helps hide the fact that Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, fantastic) will be the one character left standing. Early on, she’s just part of the team. Due to a miscommunication, Veronica Cartwright thought she was playing Ripley until she turned up in London for filming; she then reluctantly moved to the role of Lambert, who does a lot of crying. Tom Skerritt has a quiet authority as Dallas, while John Hurt was a late replacement for the role of Kane (John Finch began filming but was then taken ill, so Hurt was cast overnight). The best of the cast by a smidgen might be Ian Holm as Ash. Watching the film knowing that he’s actually an android with a secret mission is a joy because the clues are there in the performance. The subplot ups the ante for Ripley at the worst possible time, and also has a perverse psychosexual twist when a deranged Ash rolls up a porn magazine and attempts to thrust it down her throat.

The best scene: Well, it’s the obvious one. This film was released in the year of my birth; I didn’t see it until about 1990 when it was already a ‘classic’. How wonderful must it have been to see Alien and *not know* what happens to Kane? He’s been attacked by a ‘facehugger’ – a small alien that clasps itself around your head – and fallen into a coma. After the creature detaches itself, Kane eventually comes round. He seems fatigued but otherwise okay, so joins his crewmates for a meal. He then starts to convulse violently. His pals hold him down, but his chest explodes. Blood goes everywhere, and an alien creatures climbs out of his corpse and scuttles off. The shocked looks on the actors’ faces are partly genuine: they didn’t know exactly how the effect would be achieved. In some ways it’s a shame that the moment has become such a cliché (even being spoofed in Spaceballs), but that’s only happened because it’s so good in the first place.

Alternative version: Ridley Scott oversaw a new edit of the movie in 2003. He actually trimmed out a few shots but also added some new footage. It’s not a hugely different experience from watching the original. The most significant change is the addition of a scene near the end where Ripley discovers Dallas cocooned in alien goo. He’s still alive but in terrible pain and begging to be killed.

Review: Ridley Scott has said he was only fifth choice to direct this film. Can you imagine? It’s a world-beating performance, talking a simplistic B-movie script with a couple of decent ideas and turning it into something extraordinary. On the surface, Alien is just a haunted-house horror set in space. If made today it would no doubt have romantic subplots and hackneyed back-stories for all the characters. Not here, because Scott knew you don’t need them. The film begins deliberately slowly, with elegant titles, superb music and some brilliant model shots. When we go inside the Nostromo, the camera slowly creeps around empty sets. The ship interiors are lived-in, distressed, believable. And there’s some lovely attention to detail – a gust of wind accompanies an airlock opening, for example. Even as the crew awake and investigate a strange planet, nothing much happens in the first third. But it’s gripping stuff because of the strong cast and the textured world they inhabit. The slasher-movie format then kicks in – Scott was aware of comparisons with And Then There Were None – while the final 20 minutes feature just Ripley with virtually no dialogue. As usual with Ridley Scott, the unobtrusive camera feels like a character in its own right. It’s often our POV, moving gracefully and slowly when the scene is cautious; going handheld when it’s manic and panicked. A scene of Ripley, Dallas and Ash searching the medical room is played in a static, low camera angle, as if from the monster’s point of view, and it’s almost unbearably tense. Meanwhile, the design work of the sets and props is astonishing – again, a Ridley Scott trademark. You want to freeze-frame the movie just to check out the typography on wall panels. (The only flaw might be the Flash Gordon computer room, which feels too sci-fi for the industrial mood of the ship.) We famously never get much of a look at the fully grown alien, but the ideas behind its life cycle are horrific. This is all-out body horror where the victim is raped and forced to go through a violent labour. Terrifying.

Ten clinking chains out of 10

Next time: Ripley returns to the planet of the aliens…

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


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


* 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.


* 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.


* 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.


* 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

Fawlty Towers: The Anniversary (BBC2, 26 March 1979, Bob Spiers)


These reviews reveal plot twists.

Basil arranges a surprise party for his wife – but she gets the wrong end of the stick and flounces off…

Hotel sign: FLOWERY TWATS. Has there *ever* been a more satisfying anagram in the history of anagrams?


* Polly wants to borrow £100 from the Fawltys so she can buy a car. Sybil’s said it’s okay, but Basil’s dragging his feet. When Polly quietly tells Basil that Sybil’s upset over him forgetting their anniversary, he reveals that he’s only pretending. He’s actually planned a surprise do with their friends. But Sybil strops off upset before the pals arrive, so to avoid embarrassment Basil needs an explanation – Polly suggests that he tells them she’s ill in bed, then helps embellish the cover story. However, when Basil wants to take the friends upstairs to say hello, he ropes Polly in to impersonate Sybil! Pol says she’ll do it for £100. She puts on Sybil’s wig and sunglasses, pads out her cheeks with cotton wool, and gets into bed. The ruse is going well until Basil leaves the room. Then one of the friends wants a closer look… so Polly hits her!

* Terry is angry when he learns that Manuel is cooking the Fawltys’ anniversary meal. He’s a trained chef and can do paella, okay? A mostly off-screen feud with Manuel breaks out, which results in a huge brawl in the kitchen.

* Manuel has been out to buy “paintings brushes” for Polly and ingredients for a paella. Basil, thinking Manuel would enjoy it, has asked him to do the meal and Manuel is chuffed with the responsibility. However, chef Terry objects…

* Sybil is in a foul mood because it’s 17 April and Basil has not mentioned their 15th wedding anniversary. When she drops hints about it, he still doesn’t bring up the subject – so she gets her coat and storms out. Twenty minutes later, she returns to collect her golf clubs and – with Basil still seemingly unwilling to be nice – says she’s leaving him. It’s perhaps the only time in the whole show when we see a character genuinely, movingly, upset. However, tragedy soon turns to farce when her friends see her, and Basil has to pretend that Sybil is someone else. To stop her giving the game away, he locks her in a cupboard.

* Basil is acting like he’s forgotten the anniversary because – in a rare example of selflessness – he’s invited a gang of friends round to surprise Sybil. However, he can’t resist winding his wife up, so while she’s clearly upset he affects a jovial mood. After Sybil walks out in a huff and the friends show up, Basil doesn’t want to admit his miscalculation – so claims Sybil is ill upstairs in bed. Her friends naturally want to go and see her, so on-the-spot Basil has to invent a never-ending series of excuses and justifications for his lie. He feigns an old war injury to change the subject; he claims both a doctor and a dentist have had a look at Sybil; and he even tells his pals that Sybil’s condition is serious. However, under their constant questioning and doubting, he snaps and then *insists* that they come up to see her. He convinces Polly to impersonate Mrs Fawlty (by giving her the £100 she needs), but then Sybil herself returns to the hotel. Basil initially gets rid of her by appearing disinterested, but he can’t stop the friends seeing her – so he barefacedly claims it’s not his wife standing in front of them.


* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby appear very briefly.

* The Major is on his way out to play some golf (is he going to the same course as Sybil?) but stops to chat to Basil’s friends while they’re waiting on the upper-floor landing.


* Roger and Alice (Ken Campbell and Una Stubbs) are the first of the friends to arrive – just as Basil is beating the ground in frustration because Sybil’s run off. Rog suspects Syb’s absence is because she’s had a tiff with Basil and refused to attend the party. He’s generally a shit-stirrer and enjoys picking holes in Basil’s story.

* Virginia and Arthur (Pat Keen and Robert Arnold) show up next. She’s brought a homemade cake, but causes Basil big problems when she reminds him that she’s a nurse. Polly later hits Virginia rather than let her get too close.

* Reg and Kitty (Roger Hume and Denyse Alexander) are not surprised that Sybil’s gone AWOL from the party. They’ve just seen her driving round town. Basil quickly concocts a story about a northern woman who’s in the local area and looks similar to Sybil. During their dimly lit encounter with Polly-as-Sybil, Reg busts his ankle, Kitty her arm.

* Audrey (Christine Shaw) is Sybil’s friend – she’s been mentioned a few times during the series but this is our only sighting of her. She’s consoling an upset Sybil.


* Sybil didn’t think Basil would forget their anniversary. “Not after what happened when he forgot last year…”

* Polly asks Basil if she can borrow £100. Sybil’s already said it’s okay. Basil: “I don’t think she quite understands the cash-flow situation viz-à-viz the frozen assets.”

* Basil doesn’t know what to tell the imminently arriving friends about Sybil. Manuel has a suggestion: “It is surprise party. She no here. That is surprise.”

* Roger’s laboured gag about “Syb ill”. Manuel’s uninvited riposte – “Man-well!” – is wittier.

* Polly mishears Basil’s whispered explanation and thinks he’s said that Sybil’s thighs are inflamed. (He actually said, “Eyes.”) So she relays that information to Virginia, who then questions Basil: “Polly says her legs are puffed up!” Confused, Basil takes a look at *Polly’s* legs: “Are they?”

* Basil’s quick “Oh, no!” when Virginia announces she’s a nurse so will go and look in on Sybil.

* Basil’s flustered stammer when faced with the news that Reg and Kitty have seen Sybil on the high street.

* “Look, it’s perfectly Sybil. Simple’s not well. She’s lost her throat and her voice hurts.”

* Basil physically forcing Polly up the stairs, across the landing and into his room.

* “I’ll ruin you! You’ll never waitress in Torquay again!” (This line comes during a scene of mighty comic energy between Basil and Polly: the show’s two writers wowing us with their timing.)

* During the madness, Basil takes a moment to down a swig of wine from the bottle. However, Manuel then taps him on the arm and the wine goes all over Basil’s head.

* Basil’s withering “You read a lot of Oscar Wilde, do you, Rog?”

* Basil glancing out of his bedroom window and spotting Sybil driving up to the hotel. He screams.

* Basil walking a disorientated Sybil through the kitchen, over a brawling Terry and Manuel, and into a cupboard.

* “Piece of cake. Now comes the tricky bit.”

Outside? Two bits of location filming this week, both in the hotel’s car park. We see Sybil drive off, Basil pound the tarmac in frustration, and Roger and Alice arrive. Then later there’s a brief scene of Sybil crying in her car with Audrey.

Dated: The party has a general vibe of a 1970s soiree. Men smoking pipes; people ordering G&Ts and eating bar snacks.

Henry Kissinger: Polly is not impressed with Basil’s idea that she should impersonate Sybil, so says, “If you want to be in a Marx Brothers film that’s your problem.” She’s alluding, of course, to Chico (1887-1961), Harpo (1888-1964), Groucho (1890-1977), Gummo (1892-1977) and Zeppo (1901-1979). Also, Oscar Wilde gets another mention.

Review: The first episode of Fawlty Towers broadcast after my birth is coincidentally my favourite. It’s a beautiful example of snowball storytelling: to avoid some minor embarrassment, Basil makes a snap decision to tell a small lie… and then the situation escalates and worsens and gets more extreme during 25 minutes of priceless comedy. Seeing Basil have to deflect the constant critiquing of his lie, and continually improvise new elements of it, is a joy. It’s also the most streamlined episode: there’s only one real plot, and we never see any one-off guests. John Cleese dominates proceedings and gives a colossal performance. And the fact this is the show’s second real-time episode only adds to the unstoppable momentum.

Ten charts on the wall, ropes, wheel in the corner… that sort of thing, out of 10

Fawlty Towers: The Kipper and the Corpse (BBC2, 12 March 1979, Bob Spiers)


These reviews reveal plot twists.

When a guest dies during the night, Basil fears they’ve poisoned him…

Hotel sign: FATTY OWLS


* Basil doesn’t want to deal with dog-obsessed guest Mrs Chase, yet is happy to pander to the more respectable Dr Price. When another guest, Mr Leeman, asks for breakfast in bed, Basil can’t help being sarcastic: “Is it your legs? I mean, most of our guests manage to struggle down in the morning.” The next day, when he takes Mr Leeman his kippers, Basil doesn’t spot that the man is dead and simply witters on about car strikes. Then Polly visits the room too and returns with the news that Mr L has passed on; he’s no more; he has ceased to be; he’s expired and gone to meet his maker; he’s a stiff; bereft of life, he rests in peace; he’s pushing up the daisies; his metabolic processes are now history; he’s off the twig; he’s kicked the bucket; he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. He is an ex-guest. Basil immediately assumes he was killed by the kippers – which should have been eaten by the 6th. So he hides the fish, even though the man’s clearly been dead for hours. After a doctor’s had a look, Basil decides to move the body. It proves tricky to do it discreetly with so many people about: Miss Tibbs sees the corpse (twice) and faints (twice), so Basil stuffs it in a laundry basket. But then Mr Leeman’s friends arrive to collect him for a meeting and Basil assumes they’re undertakers…

* Manuel has to deal with Mrs Chase’s numerous fussy demands about her dog. It bites both him and Polly, so they decide to put Tabasco sauce and pepper on its food. Manuel is then roped into helping Basil move the corpse – from room to room to office to kitchen to basket to lobby to room to room and eventually back to the lobby, where an exhausted Manuel goes on strike.

* Sybil is concerned when Mr Leeman doesn’t look well. The following day, she’s busy preparing for the laundrymen arriving. After Mr L is found dead, Sybil writes out his bill and puts it in his wallet: “They’re bound to look there. Better not charge him for breakfast.”

* Polly serves guest Dr Price at breakfast, and colludes with Manuel to play a prank on Mrs Chase. She then takes some milk up to Mr Leeman’s room and finds him dead.

* Terry’s doing the breakfasts. He’s not worried about using some kippers that are past their sell-by date.


* Mrs Chase (Mavis Pugh) is a guest who’s paid extra to have her small dog stay at the hotel with her – it’s allowed to sit in the bar and eat in the dining room. After the dog falls ill, she’s so preoccupied that she doesn’t spot a corpse in plain sight.

* The Major has a drink with Mrs Chase. When he sees the body the next day, he doesn’t immediately realise the guy is dead, then assumes he must have been shot.

* Dr Price (Geoffrey Palmer) is staying at the hotel and is a big fan of sausages. He’d like some for a late-night snack, but Sybil tells him chef would have locked them away. So the next morning, he orders just sausages for breakfast. Sadly, they get covered in sugar, then forgotten about, then burnt – so he simply cooks his own. Sybil asks him to help when Mr Leeman is found dead; Price says he’ll call the coroner.

* A short, middle-aged, balding man is staying at the hotel with a tall, younger, well-built redhead. Sybil’s guessed why. (He stays with a different woman each time.)

* Mr Leeman (Derek Royle) doesn’t feel well when his colleagues drop him off at Fawlty Towers, so he goes straight to bed but conks out before morning. He stays in room eight, which was called room 22 when Mrs Richards had it three episodes ago.

* Miss Gatsby narrowly misses overhearing Polly calling for an undertaker. Her friend Miss Tibbs is not so lucky: she sees the corpse itself and goes into a screaming panic. Polly has to slap her, which knocks Miss T unconscious. So Basil and Pol hide her in a wardrobe. When awake, she sees the body again and faints all of her own accord.

* Mr and Mrs White (Richard Davies and Elizabeth Benson – the latter played a different guest in Gourmet Night) are a Welsh couple whose room is used by Basil to hide the corpse and an unconscious Miss Tibbs. However, the Whites return and want to get into their room…

* Mr Ingrams (Charles McKeown) checks in during the cadaver-moving chaos. Later Basil and Manuel walk into his room, thinking it’ll be empty. In fact, they find Ingram blowing up a sex doll.


* Mr Leeman’s colleagues (Pamela Buchner, Raymond Mason and Robert McBain).


* The Major asks Mrs Chase about her dog. “He’s a little Shih Tzu!” she says. “Is he really?” replies the Major. “Oh, dear, dear, dear – what breed is it?”

* Basil suggests it would be safer if the delicate dog were kept inside an airtight container. The Major points out it wouldn’t be able to breathe. “It could try, Major. It could try.”

* Basil is affronted when Mr Leeman doesn’t say good night. “He’s not feeling very well,” explains Sybil. Basil: “Only had to say good night, dear. It’s not the Gettysburg Address, is it?”

* Sybil asks Mr Leeman numerous questions about his breakfast order. Basil follows them up with a facetious: “Rosewood, mahogany, teak? What would you like your breakfast tray made out of?”

* Manuel’s misunderstanding with Mrs Chase. “Don’t you have dogs in Calcutta?” she snaps.

* Basil’s one-sided conversation with a clearly dead Mr Leeman.

* Basil’s rapturous happiness when he realises they *didn’t* poison Mr Leeman. Dr Price walks in while Basil is literally jumping for joy.

* Dr Price thinks it’s odd that Basil didn’t realise the man was dead. “I’m just delivering a tray, right?” says a defensive Basil. “If the guest isn’t singing, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning,’ I don’t immediately think, ‘There’s another one snuffed it in the night. Another name in the Fawlty Towers Book of Remembrance.’ I mean, this is a hotel, not a Burma railway. It does actually say ‘Hotel’ outside. Perhaps I should be more specific. ‘Hotel for people who have a better than 50-per-cent chance of making it through the night.’” Sybil then sidles over and points out he has a kipper sticking out of his jumper.

* Polly slaps a hysterical Miss Tibbs and knocks her out. “Spiffing,” says Basil. “Absolutely spiffing. Two dead, 25 to go.”

* Basil at the bedroom door, making up a story about why the Whites can’t come in. We hear Manuel clearly dropping one of the bodies he’s trying to hide. “Pick that ashtray up, will you, Manuel?” says Basil. “The big one.”

* “Have you locked this?” “Only slightly.”

* “She doesn’t mean any *arm*!”

* Manuel’s impromptu flamenco dancing.

* The notion, voiced by Mr White, that there’s a hotel “up by the prophylactic emporium.”

* When Miss Tibbs faints after seeing the corpse again, Sybil asks why Basil left it in the office. “Well, he wouldn’t fit in the safe and all the drawers were full.”

* Dr Price vs Manuel. “Look, I’m a doctor. I’m a doctor and I want my sausages.” To resolve the disagreement, Basil pokes Manuel in the eye.

* My single favourite moment in all of Fawlty Towers comes when Leeman’s colleagues arrive to collect him for a meeting. Basil assumes they’re the undertakers, so tells them Leeman is in the laundry basket. When it becomes clear who they really are, Basil struggles to talk his way out of the misunderstanding. “Oh, Mr Leeman…” he says, grasping for an explanation. Then Polly comes to the rescue: “We thought you said… ‘the linen’.” Basil is so impressed with her quick thinking that he snaps his fingers, points at her and says, “Brilliant!”

Outside? A moment on the doorstep as the Whites witness Basil and Manuel carrying the corpse and, distracted, crash their car. We also see Basil, Manuel and Polly flagging down a laundry van; then later Basil being loaded into the back of it in a basket.

Dated: The kippers should have been eaten by the 6th!

Henry Kissinger: None. No one. Not one mention of genuine famous person. There isn’t room in this script.

Review: Pretty much perfect.

Ten British Leyland concertos out of 10

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

Fawlty Towers: The Psychiatrist (BBC2, 26 February 1979, Bob Spiers)


These reviews reveal plot twists.

Basil is flustered by a mental-health professional staying at the hotel, another guest sneaking a woman into his room, and Sybil believing her husband is a sex pest…

Hotel sign: WATERY FOWLS. We even see a young lad rearranging the letters, which was the writers’ justification for the weekly changes.


* Basil is pleased as punch that a pair of guests are doctors. But he freaks out when he learns one is a psychiatrist. Assuming all psychiatrists are sex-obsessed, he misunderstands Dr Abbot’s question about holidays and thinks he’s being asked how often he and Sybil are intimate. “Two or three times a week!” is his affronted answer. Basil later meets, is enamoured with, and accidentally gropes a gorgeous female guest called Rayleene. Sybil catches him doing the latter and accuses him of experiencing the ‘male manopause’. Then, after overhearing alpha-male guest Mr Johnson laughing from his room, Basil suspects a woman has been smuggled into the hotel. So he makes it his mission to catch Johnson out: he walks in on him with no warning, studies the man’s ashtray for clues, and listens through walls. When he falls off a ladder while trying to see into the bedroom, Sybil goes potty. To prove her wrong, Basil resolves to get evidence of the extra guest. He stakes out the room from a nearby cleaning cupboard, but spills black liquid over his hand – so when he bursts out and grabs the girl, she ends up with a handprint on her breast. (To add insult to injury, it’s not even Johnson’s girlfriend: it’s Rayleene.) Furious that Sybil doesn’t believe his story, Basil then confronts Johnson and demands to see the woman in his room. Sadly for Basil, the woman currently in there is Johnson’s elderly mother…

* Sybil is very taken with Mr Johnson, even laughing at his “Pretentious? Moi?” gag. She’s also not phased by Dr Abbot being a psychiatrist – and even shows a sweet side when she humours Basil’s paranoia. However, she then comes to believe that Basil has gone sex-mad for a young female guest. She locks him out of their bedroom for the night, then the next day catches him groping Rayleene and later hiding in her wardrobe.

* Polly more or less gets a week off. She has nothing substantial to do in the whole episode!

* Manuel does some bag-carrying and gets an undeserved smack on the head after Basil drops a tray. He fucks things up, however, when he tells Sybil that Basil is spying on a girl – he means an unauthorised guest, but Sybil assumes he’s referring to sexy Rayleene. When Basil twigs the mistake, he physically attacks Manuel, picking him up and shaking him over his knee.

* Terry tells Basil to take it easy when Basil gets hyper over the psychiatrist, which motivates Basil to tell Terry that he doesn’t pay Terry to tell him to take it easy; he pays him to take it easy; no, he pays him to tell him to take it easy. All right?


* Mr Johnson (Nicky Henson) is a guest with a permanently open shirt and tight trousers. Various women take a shine to him, not least Sybil. He’s witty and charming, which just irritates Basil further. He wears a rhino’s tooth on a chain round his neck, as well as an ancient Egyptian fertility symbol (“That must come in handy,” quips Basil) and a Greek astrological sign (which he got in Colchester). He has his 77-year-old mother coming to stay from Newcastle. Later, Basil and Sybil fail to spot him sneaking a young woman upstairs.

* Dr and Dr Abbott (Basil Henson – no relation to Nicky – and Elspet Gray) are a married couple who check in at the hotel. Both hold PhDs, which initially confuses sexist Basil before he begins fawning all over them. She’s a paediatrician (“Feet?” guesses Basil incorrectly), while he’s a psychiatrist. This latter news stuns Basil, who absentmindedly downs the doctor’s glass of port in shock. The couple are later surprised to find Basil in their room – he’s sneaked in to listen through the wall, and now pretends to be surveying the wall’s quality. They later see him at their first-floor window, and he again pretends to be carrying out some impromptu examination of the building.

* Rayleene Miles (Luan Peters) is an attractive, blonde, Australian guest. Basil can’t fail to spot her cleavage as she checks in. “Very nice,” he says, quickly emphasising that he means the charm hanging in the middle. After Basil feels her up (a genuine accident), she has a nap but wakes to find him in her room (he claims he’s checking the walls – a lie she buys). He later gropes her again (again by accident) then walks in on her while she’s in her bra.

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby are worried when they hear about the psychiatrist: they fear he’s come for the Major.

* The Major is similarly concerned, assuming the psychiatrist is staying at the hotel incognito.


* Basil can’t get through to the speaking clock. So he calls the operator to complain: “It’s been engaged for 10 minutes – how is this possible? My wife isn’t talking to it.” (She’s rabbiting away on the other line.)

* Sybil flirts with Mr Johnson, telling him, “You’re only single once.” From out of view, we hear Basil shout, “Twice can be arranged.”

* Basil to the male Dr Abbott: “You’re two doctors? Well, how did you become two doctors? Did you take the exam twice?” When it’s pointed out that Abbott’s wife is a doctor, Basil says, “You’re a doctor too! So you’re three doctors?”

* Sybil talking about her worrisome mother, who has a series of morbid fears: “Vans is one. Rats. Doorknobs. Birds. Heights. Open spaces. Confined spaces. It’s very difficult getting the space right for her. Footballs. Bicycles. Cows. And she’s always on about men following her. I don’t know what she thinks they’re going to do. Vomit on her, Basil says.”

* Basil asks Sybil how old she thinks the female Dr Abbot is. “Forty-eight? 50?” Basil scoffs, so Sybil replies: “I really don’t know, Basil, perhaps she’s 12.”

* Mr Johnson asks if there’s anywhere that does French food. Basil says, “Yes. France, I believe. They seem to like it there. And the swim would sharpen your appetite.”

* Basil tells the Abbotts that he once thought about becoming a surgeon. “A tree surgeon,” Sybil interjects, pleased with her joke. “Had to give it up: couldn’t stand the sight of sap!” An annoyed Basil then tries to carry on his patter: “My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a doctor, so it was always thought I might–” Not missing a beat, Sybil interrupts: “Run a hotel.”

* Sybil: “It’s a relatively new profession, psychiatry, isn’t it?” Dr Abbott: “Well, Freud started about 1880.” Sybil: “Yes, but it’s only now we’re seeing them on the television.”

* The physical-comedy of Basil flicking Rayleen’s nipple as if it were a light switch. (Of course, Sybil walks in just as he’s fiddling with it.)

* Basil dropping a champagne bottle and bucket because he’s tried quickly opening a locked door – and his immediate reaction to blame Manuel.

* Basil’s high-pitched “What the…?” after Sybil slaps him.

* Basil goes to lean against a door – but falls over when Dr Abbott opens it.

* “Who’s this Mrs Johnson, then? The late president’s wife?”

Outside? We get our first night shoot. Basil and Manuel manoeuvre a ladder so Basil can look through Mr Johnson’s window. Sadly they get the wrong window and Basil instead sees into the Abbotts’ room. The ladder then falls backwards and lands on top of Basil. Manuel fetches Sybil but tells her Basil was trying to “see girl”, so she comes outside to slap her husband.

Dated: It’s a good job we don’t have morons who are fearful of psychiatry any more. Just imagine if there were a well-funded global religion that ignored the mountainous peer-reviewed evidence and scare-mongered about a scientifically reasonable process!

Henry Kissinger: According to Sybil, Basil thinks that women should fancy men like 19th-century prime minster William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), Field Marshall Douglas Haig (1861-1928) and the founder of the Boy Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941). Johnson makes a joke about the wit of Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) forming one of the world’s shortest books. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is name-checked. The 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973), is referred to – as is his wife, Lady Bird (1912-2007).

Review: A thematic cousin of The Wedding Party from series one. Both episodes are about sexual jealousy and Basil being uptight because, basically, other people are getting some and he’s not. It’s the longest episode of Fawlty Towers (36 minutes), but doesn’t feel flabby. And there are plenty of good gags. However, like The Wedding Party, the story is reliant on Basil making assumptions that maybe don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

Eight bits of game pie out of 10

Fawlty Towers: Communication Problems (BBC2, 19 February 1979, Bob Spiers)


These reviews reveal plot twists.

A battle-axe of a guest causes chaos when she claims cash has been stolen from her room… on the same day that Basil is trying to hide some money from Sybil…

Hotel sign: FAWLTY TOWER, with a wonky L. (It’s the same as the sign at the beginning of The Builders.)


* Manuel looks pleased when he’s asked to deal with a guest who has a complaint – but he’s bamboozled by rude Mrs Richards, and only confuses her with his Spanish. Later, Basil asks Manuel to place a bet for him in secret. The horse finishes first, but Manuel can’t immediately find Basil so gives the winnings to Polly. He then misunderstands Polly’s request to take some loo rolls up to room 22 (he takes 22 rolls). “I am from Barcelona!” he proudly announces at one point.

* Basil, we learn, is from Swanage. He gets given a racing tip by a guest, but knows Sybil disapproves of him betting so asks Manuel to nip to the bookies. He also has to deal with a grumpy guest called Mrs Richards, but is cheered when his bet is successful. (He’s won £75 from a £5 stake.) He asks the Major to hide the money for him, which causes a big issue when the Major forgets their conversation ever happened. And Basil’s devastated when Sybil sees the cash and assumes it belongs to Mrs Richards, who’s just claimed that £85 has been stolen from her room. But then a guy shows up to deliver a vase to Mrs Richards and gives Basil £95 that Mrs R left behind in the shop. Basil thinks he’s up – even if he gives Mrs R a tenner, he’s still ahead on the deal! However, then Basil smashes the vase, which cost £75…

* Sybil, as well as dealing with a busy week at the hotel, finds time for a phone call with a pal about hair colour. When Basil suggests they used to laugh a lot, she reminds him that it was never at the same time.

* Polly is asked to do the rooms until Monday because new employee Brenda can’t start until then. Pol says that’s fine as she could do with the money. When Sybil later sees Polly with Basil’s winnings, she wonders whether it’s the cash Mrs R has lost – but quick-thinking Polly claims *she* won it on the horse.

* Terry (Brian Hall) is the hotel’s new chef. We only see him briefly.


* Mrs Richards (Joan Sanderson) is a rude, arrogant, half-deaf guest who barks orders at Polly as soon as she arrives – so Polly hands her off to Manuel, which doesn’t really help. Basil also struggles with her, not least because she has a hearing aid but rarely uses it as it wears the batteries out. Once in her room, she has a raft of complaints for Basil – she disapproves of the bath, the view out of the window, the radio and the lack of toilet paper, so demands a discount. She later says that £85 has been stolen from her room. In the middle of all this, her sister rings to tell her that an offer of £87,000 has been made on her Brighton house. Mrs R tetchily says that she wants £92,750 and not a penny less. (Lovely bit of plotting, this, telling us that losing £85 won’t exactly ruin her.)

* Mr Thurston (Robert Lankesheer) is the guest who Polly is helping when Mrs Richards arrives and interrupts.

* Mr Firkin (Johnny Shannon) is a regular guest. While checking out, he gives Basil a betting tip – Dragonfly in the 3.00 at Exeter.

* The Major is looking spruce because it’s St George’s Day. Later we see him on his way to a remembrance service: he’s got a loud tie on, he says, because he didn’t like the guy. However, the following day he claims he actually went to the theatre with a woman called Winnie Atwell. Her real name is Marjorie, but he calls her Winnie because “she looks like Winnie”. “She’s not black?” says Basil. “Black?” replies the Major, confused. “Churchill wasn’t black…”

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby try to be polite to Mrs Richards, but she blanks them.

* Mr Mackintosh (Bill Bradley) is a guest who’s quibbling over his bill, so Basil scrubs the 32p extras off.


* The same delivery man from The Builders (George Lee) returns, this time bringing a vase for Mrs Richards.


* Mrs Richards vs Manuel. “CK Watt? Who is CK Watt?”

* Basil’s encounter with Mrs Richards in her room. “You *can* see the sea; it’s over there between the land and the sky,” is just one of several killer lines of dialogue.

* After Mrs Richards complains to Basil about Polly being rude (which she wasn’t), there’s a hilarious run of exasperated lines as Basil struggles to convey information to a woman lacking manners, a working hearing aid and the knowledge of where her glasses are. (Connie Booth is close to corpsing during this scene.)

* “That doesn’t work either,” Mrs Richards says when Basil dings the fully operational reception bell – a delightfully tossed-off gag, which takes a moment to sink in with the studio audience.

* Polly throws one of Mrs Richards’s lines back at her: she says she doesn’t use her eyes because it wears the batteries down. (It took me literally decades to realise that Polly wasn’t present when Mrs R said the original line. Maybe Basil’s told her about it in the interim.)

* Sybil suggests that Basil looks happy. “Oh, happy,” he says wistfully. “Yes, I remember that.” He tells her it’s just his way of getting through the day: “The Samaritans were engaged.”

* A monumentally hilarious scene where Basil tries to reinforce the idea that Manuel should keep quiet about the bet but Manuel keeps getting the wrong end of the stick. “Please try to understand,” says a frustrated Basil, “before one of us dies.”

* Basil speaking mutely as a way of winding up Mrs Richards. The fact that Sybil doesn’t give him away is a masterstroke.

* “Is this a piece of your brain?”

* Basil’s attempt to tell Polly the name of the horse through mime, and Polly’s desperate attempt to understand him.

* To calm down a hyperactive Basil, Sybil throws a cup of tea over him. (Most of it actually lands on the Major, who’s standing next to Basil, and the cast have to ignore the mistake.)

* “I know nothing!” says Manuel, proud and defiant, unaware he’s causing Basil more problems by sticking to their pre-arranged story.

* Basil’s faux-faint when the delivery man asks if he has a guest called Mrs Richards.

* At the climax, Basil fears Sybil has rumbled him – but Polly comes to the rescue with a fake explanation that just about makes sense. There’s then a delicious pause as everyone takes in the situation.

Outside? None. It’s our second all-interior episode.

Dated: To modern ears, Basil’s bemusement with the notion that the Major could have a black friend sounds strange.

Henry Kissinger: Mentions of famous people this week include actors Burt Reynolds (born 1936) and James Caan (born 1940), and singer Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). As intimated above, Trinidadian pianist Winifed Atwell (1910-1983) is the basis of a gag.

Review: A towering guest performance from Joan Sanderson is the most attention-grabbing element of this episode, but there’s class everywhere you look. It’s the most tightly plotted 30 minutes of fiction you could ever hope to see. Every line, every moment, is a vital brick in the structure. Story, character and world-class comedy all being serviced at the same time. There are more laughs per square inch than any other half-hour of television, but also lots of clever, subtle storytelling hidden behind the humour. It’s a masterpiece of set-up and pay-off.

Ten wildebeest sweeping majestically out of 10