Fawlty Towers: The Germans (BBC2, 24 October 1975, John Howard Davies)

5hg0tYPIISk8Rf74K0SYkNEMWuf

These reviews reveal plot twists.

The hotel has some German guests arriving – not the best time for Basil to suffer from a concussion…

Hotel sign: We don’t see it this week. This is the only episode not to start with an establishing shot of the hotel.

STAFF:

* Sybil is in hospital with an in-growing toenail, but still manages to henpeck Basil, reminding him to do various errands and carry out a scheduled fire drill. After Basil is injured during the drill, Sybil has to give up her hospital bed for him. (She’s never seen in the hotel during this episode.)

* Basil is visiting Sybil in hospital as the episode begins. We also learn he’s bought a stuffed moose’s head for £12, which he intends to display in the hotel lobby. Sybil doesn’t like it, saying it’s mangy, but wants it up so it’ll stop snagging her cardies. Later, back at Fawlty Towers, the fire drill doesn’t go well when Basil accidentally sets off the burglar alarm and confuses the guests. Then the hotel is actually set alight, and in the ensuing panic Basil is knocked unconscious. He’s taken to hospital, but ignores doctor’s orders and returns to the hotel, where he makes a mess of dealing with some German guests. (His biggest struggle is in not referring to the Second World War.) When the doctors arrive to take him away, he tries to run – but ends up with the moose’s head falling on him.

* Polly is brushing up on her German in anticipation of the guests arriving (Basil says it’s a waste of time: the language barrier is their problem). We learn that she’s only at the hotel during mealtimes, which would cause an issue during a real fire: who would make sure the upper floor was evacuated? When Basil tries to carry on working with a concussion, Polly telephones for the doctor – who arrives in the Fawlty Towers dining room 190 seconds later. Now, that’s service!

* Manuel has difficulty when Basil asks him to fetch a hammer, thinking he means either a ham sandwich or a hamster. During the drill, Manuel actually sets the kitchen aflame while cooking some food – Basil, thinking Manuel’s protestations are part of the drill, locks him in with the fire.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* The Major’s happy because Hampshire won a cricket match (“Did it?” asks Basil). He enquires after the hospital-ridden Sybil, but doesn’t quite follow Basil’s explanation of what’s wrong with her. He also thinks Elsie – a former employee who moved to Canada two years earlier – still works at the hotel. He later believes the moose’s head is speaking to him because he can’t see Manuel doing the talking.

* Various guests appear in the fire-drill sequence, arguing with Basil over emergency procedures and alarm-bell pitches. (One of them is played by Claire Davenport, who was later in both Carry On Emmanuelle and Return of the Jedi.)

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby take part in the shambolic fire drill too. Later, when Basil is confused after a bump on the head, Miss Tibbs says, “We don’t think you’re well, Mr Fawlty.” He replies, “Well, perhaps not, but I’ll live longer than you.”

* After 23 minutes of the episode, we get our first sight of a German guest. There are at least six staying at the hotel: a middle-aged couple confuse Basil by saying, “Wir wollen ein Auto mieten”; and there’s a younger group of four, with whom Basil has a catastrophic chat that mentions the war ever so slightly.

OTHERS:

* A sister at the hospital (Brenda Cowling) pisses Basil off by being brusque, so he launches into sarcasm. Later, after his accident, he upsets her by telling her she needs a plastic surgeon.

* Sybil’s doctor (Louis Mahoney) tells Basil that her operation will mean quite a bit of pain… so Mr Fawlty rubs his hands in glee. The doctor later arrives at the hotel to collect a deranged Basil.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* The Major tells Basil that he used to be so sweet on a girl that he took her to see India. “India?” asks Basil. “At the Oval!” cries the Major.

* Basil has to stop hanging the moose’s head in order to answer the phone, which turns out to be Sybil calling to remind him to hang the moose’s head. “What is the point of reminding me to do what I’m already doing? What is the bloody point?!” She then rattles off a list of other jobs that need doing, and Basil replies, “Anything else? I mean, would you like the hotel moved a bit to the left?” When she hangs up, he says to himself, “I wish it was an in-growing tongue.”

* When Sybil calls again, Polly answers the phone while Basil is dealing with moose’s head. “Tell her I’m doing it now!” he shouts. When he hears Polly ask Sybil how her nail is, Basil says, “I wish it was this one,” then hammers away at the wall.

* The entire fire-drill scene is an exquisite comedy set-piece in the middle of the episode. Just as it’s about to begin, Sybil rings from hospital once again to tell Basil she’s put the alarm key in the safe. When he goes to get it, he accidentally sets off the burglar alarm – which everyone else naturally assumes is the start of the fire drill. We then get semantic arguments, sarcasm, slapstick and stunts.

* “My God, you’re ugly, aren’t you?”

* Basil’s unsteady attempt to walk behind the reception desk.

* Basil’s attempt to translate some German. (He’s lied and said he can understand the language.)

* Basil’s rambling chatter while seeing to some other German guests. He constantly makes war-related malapropisms and Freudian slips, mixing up food orders with Nazi terminology. The harder he tries *not* to put his foot in his mouth, the further in it goes.

* “Don’t mention the war!” Basil whispers to Polly. “I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”

* One of the German guests begins to cry, upset by Basil’s insensitive obsession with the war. Basil asks what’s wrong.
“Will you stop talking about the war?!” demands her friend.
Basil: “Me? You started it.”
German guest: “We did not start it!”
Basil: “Yes, you did: you invaded Poland.”
A better-constructed joke is impossible to imagine. It works on about 17 different levels. The timing is out of this world too.

* Basil’s goose-stepping.

Outside? There’s an establishing shot of the hospital. Later on, we see outside the hotel’s front door as Basil asks the guests to come back in after the fire drill – considering it’s a bunch of actors on location for just a few seconds, it’s an amazing amount of effort to go to.

Dated: It’s, um, an interesting episode in terms of its political correctness. It was made 40 years ago – we’re further away from it now than Second World War had been at the time – but nevertheless presents some troublesome issues. Judged in context, Fawlty Towers is clearly not racist; neither are its writers. But this episode satirises racism and xenophobia by showing some pretty full-on examples. Even though the joke is about the Major being out of touch, would a less-popular sitcom be forgiven for having a character use the N-word three times during an anecdote about black and Indian cricketers? Of course, the episode is all about how idiotic prejudice is – Basil’s faux pas come from fear of embarrassment rather than any hatred, a more sensible character like Polly has no problem with there being German guests, while the Germans themselves are decent people with a sense of humour. We’re invited to laugh at Basil’s uptight attitude, a situation heightened by a concussion scrambling his concept of what’s acceptable. A bigger problem, however, might be his earlier reaction to a black doctor. I genuinely have no idea whether Basil’s recoil when he sees him is racist or not. Is it because he’s shocked to see a black man in a hospital? Or am I misunderstanding the moment?

Henry Kissinger: Basil asks whether it was Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) who said women had minds like Swiss cheese (ie, full of holes – not ‘hard’, as the Major suggests). He also blames then-prime minister Harold Wilson (1916-1995) for an exploding fire extinguisher. Later, during his attempt to steer the conversation away from the war, he name-checks Nazi twats Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), Eva Braun (1912-1945), Joseph Goebbles (1897-1945), Hermann Göring (1893-1946) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946). Seeing him about to impersonate Hitler, Polly suggests Basil do film actor James Cagney (1899-1986) instead.

Review: Fawlty Towers as sketch show. Series one ends with an episode made up of funny but only loosely connected segments. There’s Basil’s chat with the Major, a slapstick routine with Manuel, the failed fire drill, and Basil’s encounter with the Germans. All great comedy, all very entertaining. But the lack of a real through-line means it’s not quite as satisfying as some episodes.

Eight semitones out of 10

Advertisements

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

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

basil_sybil_hutchinson

These reviews reveal plot twists.

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

Hotel sign: FAW TY TO ER

STAFF:

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

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

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

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

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

NOTABLE GUESTS:

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

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

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

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby appear briefly.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten clarets out of 10.

Fawlty Towers: The Wedding Party (BBC2, 3 October 1975, John Howard Davies)

FawltyTowers1-3_63

These reviews reveal plot twists.

On a hot summer’s night, the tension bubbles over and Basil jumps to some conclusions about his fun-loving guests…

Hotel sign: FAW TY TOWER, with a wonky second W.

STAFF:

* Sybil enjoys flirting with a hotel guest at the bar and laughs ostentatiously at his jokes. (Basil compares the sound to someone machine-gunning a seal.) She’s also having to cope with unseen best friend Audrey’s marriage breakdown. After planning to spend the night with Audrey, Sybil returns home early and surprises Basil, who thinks she’s flirty guest Mrs Peignoir knocking on his bedroom door.

* Basil, while being irritated by Sybil’s manner with a male guest, is simultaneously enjoying the attention of Mrs Peignoir. However, some new guests in an even more sexual mood irritate him further. He mentions that he fought in the Korean War and killed four men (Sybil adds that he was a caterer and poisoned them). Basil is later seen by guests Alan and Jean in an accidentally compromising position with Mrs P, so he hysterically tries to laugh it off. Moments later, Alan finds him rolling around on the floor with a drunk Manuel. (Alan assumes gayness.) Basil misses the key information that the two couples staying at the hotel – Jean and Alan, Philip and Rachel – are one family and old friends of Polly’s. So when he sees Philip hugging Jean, then Polly coming out of Alan’s room, he concludes that lots of sex is going on. He decides to fire Polly and chuck the guests out. When Sybil tells him what’s really going on, he has a lot of humble pie to eat…

* Polly arrives arm-in-arm with a date, who snogs her over the reception desk. This displeases Basil, who’s also angry that she keeps leaving suggestive sketches lying around. As mentioned, she’s knows several guests but Basil doesn’t realise the connection.

* Manuel is celebrating his birthday. Basil and Sybil have given him an umbrella as a present; in his aborted thank-you speech, he reveals that he’s left a mother, five brothers and four sisters back in Spain. He goes out on the town, but returns paralytic and accidentally knocks Basil to the ground then pokes him in the eye. The next day he’s so hungover that Basil stashes him in a wicker basket.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* The Major complains of the heat.

* Mrs Peignoir (Yvonne Gilan) is a flighty Frenchwoman who’s an antique dealer (she deals in antiques – it’s not that she’s frightfully old or anything). She’s taken a shine to Basil and, after returning to the hotel tipsy at 11.15pm, needs to be let in. She then embarrasses/excites Basil by telling him she’ll sleep au natural due to the humid weather.

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby think Basil is getting taller.

* Jean (April Walker) and Alan (Trevor Adams) are an amorous and giggly young couple who have booked a double room despite not being married. This pisses Basil off, who claims it’s illegal. Their constant suggestive language and sexy behaviour also annoy him. Unseen by Basil, we learn that Jean is a friend of Polly’s.

* Rachel (Diana King) and Philip Lloyd (Conrad Phillips) are Jean’s mum and stepdad – Basil fails to spot the connection. The two couples are in Torquay for a wedding.

OTHERS:

* Richard Turner (uncredited) is Polly’s date, who’s only seen briefly at the start. Basil disapproves of them kissing in the lobby, sarcastically suggesting to Pol that she’s turning the hotel into a massage parlour.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* Basil apologises for Sybil’s raucous laugh: “I’m afraid her local finishing school was bombed.”

* Basil reprimands Polly for wearing a skimpy top then absentmindedly answers the phone: “Hello? Fawlty Titties.”

* Jean asks if her hotel room is airy. An irascible Basil replies, “Well, it’s got air in it.”

* Polly, Jean and Alan totally ignore Manuel as he carries their bags upstairs. So he throws their key into the room after them.

* Basil’s misunderstanding with Alan over why the latter needs a late-night chemists. There isn’t one open nearby. “Bit of a blow, I imagine,” Basil snipes before Alan explains it’s because he wants batteries for his electric razor.

* Sybil’s on the phone to friend Audrey and is saying, “Oh, I know…” over and over again. “Why is she telling you, then?!” snaps Basil.

* Manuel with a hangover, barely able to walk.

* Basil’s increasingly desperate attempts to prevent Rachel seeing her husband with Jean or Polly. (This run of scenes involves our first ever look at the hotel’s kitchen.)

* Basil: “I want to see you at reception in one minute in your hat and coat!” Polly: “Will they fit you?”

* Basil’s 15-second pause as the realisation sinks in that he’s cocked things up.

* Basil runs up to see the guests, repeating “I’m so sorry, I’ve made a mistake,” to himself. When he opens the room’s door, he announces, “I’m so sorry, my wife has made a mistake.”

* “Oh, what a terrible dream!”

Outside? There’s no exterior filming: this is the first episode to take place entirely inside the hotel.

Dated: Alan gives a shocked look *to camera* when he thinks Manuel and Basil are engaging in some homosexual high jinks.

Henry Kissinger: The famous-people references are highbrow this week. Basil listens to some classical music and Mrs P says she too likes Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849). She then mentions Lord Byron (1788-1824).

Review: Sex. Heat. Middle-class frustration and hypocrisy. The ingredients are there for a classic farce. And it’s a supremely structured plot, full of comic misunderstandings and moments where the audience is pleasingly ahead of the characters. However, because the story is built on Basil drawing some pretty illogical conclusions, the situation is perhaps not as believable as the best episodes. Still funny as hell, though.

Eight Jaws paperbacks out of 10

Fawlty Towers: The Builders (BBC2, 26 September 1975, John Howard Davies)

basil_sybil_builders

These reviews reveal plot twists.

The hotel needs some minor construction work, but Basil has hired a no-hope builder on the cheap…

Hotel sign: FAWLTY TOWER, with a wonky L.

STAFF:

* Polly’s left in charge of the hotel while Basil and Sybil have a weekend in Paignton. Before he heads off, Basil complains that Polly has left one of her sketches lying around – he describes it as a junkyard with a tie and collar underneath, but Manuel accurately spots that it’s a caricature of Basil. She also sketches Manuel in a bullfighter pose, but is tetchy because she’s not been sleeping well. She then tells Manuel that she’s going to have a siesta. (“Siesta?” he says. “Little sleep? Ah, same in Spanish!”) She therefore naps through the building work she should be overseeing… She later colludes with Basil in a failed lie: she pretends to be builder Mr Stubbs on the phone, but Sybil rumbles her.

* Basil has secretly hired Mr O’Reilly – who was mentioned in episode one – to add a new door and close up another. Sybil thinks they’re using the more trustworthy but more expensive Mr Stubbs, and reckons O’Reilly is a “cut-price cock-up artist”. When Sybil later finds out O’Reilly’s men have fucked up, she’s furious and asks Stubbs to come round to give a quote – so Basil demands O’Reilly put everything right before Stubbs arrives. Their superficially sound work, however, does not stand up to scrutiny…

* Sybil doesn’t seem to be looking forward to her and Basil’s trip (their first weekend off since friend Audrey’s hysterectomy). When she pops back early and discovers what O’Reilly’s men have done, she physically attacks the builder – but she’s later embarrassed when Basil seemingly rectifies the mess before Mr Stubbs comes in to give his opinion.

* Manuel is still slowly learning English (he’s proud that he’s very nearly mastered the phrase “I will get your bill!”). Basil tasks him with cleaning all the windows over the weekend, but when Basil and Sybil go away and Polly has a nap, Manuel revels in being in charge. He preens behind the reception desk and pretends to take important phone calls. However, he makes a royal mess of things when O’Reilly’s men show up.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* The Major is befuddled when the doorway to the dining room is closed off. “Now, I wonder where it’s got to?”

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby (now played by Gilly Flower and Renée Roberts) admonish Basil for having a dirty weekend away with his wife. They’re told that, because of the building work, they have to have their dinner at another hotel – Gleneagles, which is a sneaky reference to the real hotel that inspired the series.

OTHERS:

* A delivery man with a south-west accent (George Lee) brings a garden gnome to the hotel (Sybil’s ordered it). Manuel mistakes first him and then the gnome as a guest.

* O’Reilly’s three workmen (Michael Cronin, Michael Halsey, Barney Dorman) show up when Manuel is in charge and have comical miscommunications with him over their names and what needs doing.

* Mr O’Reilly (David Kelly) isn’t seen until the day after the work has been done. He’s a calm, not-quite-all-there man with a mellifluous Irish accent. Basil bullies him into putting right what his men did wrong.

* Mr Stubbs (James Appleby) arrives after the mess has been ‘corrected’. At first he’s impressed, but when Basil reveals that O’Relly used a wooden lintel in a supporting wall, Stubbs is shocked: the hotel could collapse at any moment. (As a thank you for providing them technical information, John Cleese and Connie Booth named the character after the builder father of their friend Una Stubbs.)

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* “Where’s the real boss? The Generalissimo?” the delivery man asks Manuel. Manuel looks shocked: “In Madrid!” (Franco was still fascist dictator of Spain when this episode was made.)

* Manuel holding out the phone receiver to prove to the caller than Basil isn’t in the hotel. (It’s actually Basil on the phone, but Manuel hasn’t twigged that yet.)

* Basil, over the phone, cons Manuel into calling a burly builder a “hideous orang-utan.”

* Basil walking into the empty hotel lobby to find that the work hasn’t been done… but the dining-room door has been bricked up and an extra door has been added at the foot of the stairs. Cleese does a fantastic slow realisation of the latter.

* Polly: “Don’t panic!” Basil, panicking: “What else is there to do?!”

* Polly slaps a hysterical Basil, who then goes to punch her.

* Basil tripping over the out-of-sight gnome.

* Basil bashing a bemused Manuel’s head against the new wall.

* O’Reilly repeatedly uses the term “If the good Lord…”. On the third occasion, Basil interrupts: “…is mentioned once more I shall move you closer to him.”

* Sybil vs O’Reilly.

Outside? We see Basil driving up to the hotel; Sybil also arrives later on and spots that O’Reilly’s van is parked outside.

Dated: ‘Dago’ is a word that’s thankfully vanished from our popular culture.

Henry Kissinger: Still no mention of HK, but another cricketer is invoked when Basil rages at Polly: “Whose fault is it, you cloth-eared bint? Denis Compton’s?!” Compton (1918-1997) played for Middlesex and England, and also played football for Arsenal.

Review: A beautifully paced farce without a single ounce of fat on it anywhere. The momentum is sometimes at a breath-taking speed, while there’s a relentless rush of jokes. But they’re not ‘gags’ plastered on top of the plot. They’re all borne of the characters and the situation. We also get a supreme burst of Basil anger, during which Cleese shows sensational comic energy and control. Polly plays a nice, big role too, and relative TV novice Connie Booth goes toe-to-toe with comedy giant Cleese. One thought, though: why doesn’t Polly hear the building work going on?

Ten licks of paint out of 10.

 

Fawlty Towers: A Touch of Class (BBC2, 19 September 1975, John Howard Davies)

a83f8d91634d1f2fae8e753beb38529c

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Hotel manager Basil Fawlty is overjoyed when a member of the aristocracy comes to stay at his Torquay establishment. However, Lord Melbury is hiding a secret…

Hotel sign: FAWLTY TOWERS, with a wonky S.

STAFF:

* Basil (John Cleese) is teaching new waiter/dogsbody Manuel how to speak English, which is a problem because Basil can’t speak Spanish. Well, he claims he knows classical Spanish, not the “strange dialect” Manuel has picked up from somewhere. Basil has also put an advert in Country Week, which cost a whopping £40 (not the £15 he initially claims). He likes listening to Brahms, and he has a phone conversation with a builder called O’Reilly who has failed to assemble some bricks into the desired wall shape. While fawning over aristocratic guest Lord Melbury, Basil asks a family to move tables in the dining room (he’s pretending that Melbury has a usual, favoured spot). However, when he later learns that Melbury is a conman, Basil goes loopy – and we get blasts of confusion, sarcasm, anger and violence.

* Sybil (Prunella Scales) has been nagging Basil about hanging a picture in the hotel lobby, a task he still hasn’t completed by the end of the episode. Basil is clearly scared of her, but she takes charge when they learn of Melbury’s lies. Despite Basil’s attempt to forbid it, she opens the case of ‘valuables’ that Melbury’s left in the hotel safe – and discovers simply a pair of bricks.

* Manuel (Andrew Sachs) is struggling with his English, though is a well-intentioned soul. He’s over the moon when a guest speaks to him in fluent Spanish (Basil is not impressed at being upstaged), while he later takes Basil’s order to throw away a bruised grapefruit rather literally.

* Polly (Connie Booth) is an art student as well as a Fawlty Towers employee. She earns enough from selling her sketches, she says, to keep her in waitressing. Basil asks her to pop to the bank to get some cash for Lord Melbury, who’s given Basil a cheque (which unknown to Basil will bounce). While there, Polly spots a hotel guest, who reveals he’s actually a copper investigating Melbury. (When this episode was filmed as a pilot, Polly was a philosophy student. Reshoots once the show was picked up changed it to art.)

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* Miss Gatsby and Miss Tibbs (played by uncredited extras) are two of the hotel’s permanent residents. We see them only briefly: Basil and Sybil both go faux polite as they pass.

* A couple didn’t get their alarm call, as the man (David Simeon) keeps jovially emphasising. Basil forgot to wake them, claiming that he’s not perfect.

* The Major (Ballard Berkeley) is another full-time guest. He’s an absentminded old duffer who moans about news of strikes in the paper. He later bores Basil by telling him about a nature documentary he’s been watching.

* Danny Brown (Robin Ellis) appears first as a leather-jacket-wearing wideboy who flirts with Polly and rubs Basil up the wrong way. He has a white sportscar and is the guest who can parlay español. But he’s actually an undercover policeman tracking Lord Melbury.

* Lord Melbury (Michael Gwynn) – as mentioned – is a conman who easily convinces Basil that he’s a genuine posho. He deposits a case of valuable (ie, bricks) in the hotel’s safe as a way of selling the lie that he’s loaded, then tricks Basil into giving him £200 cash. He also plots to swipe Basil’s collection of antique coins before being rumbled by the cops.

* Mr Waring (Terence Conoley) and his family are staying at the hotel but are not likely to give a favourable write-up on TripAdvisor. They get a grapefruit thrown at them, have to move tables mid-meal because Basil’s sucking up to Melbury, and have their drinks order repeatedly ignored.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* Basil spots Manuel carrying three breakfast trays. “There is too much butter on those trays,” he admonishes. Manuel doesn’t understand, so Basil repeats: “There is too much butter *on* *those* *trays*.” Manuel misunderstands: “No, no, señor. Not ‘on… those… trays’. Uno, dos, tres. Uno, dos, tres.” (See the clip at the foot of this blog post.)

* Mr Brown reading from Basil’s hastily written menu, which contains such typos as ‘gralefrit’ (grapefruit) and ‘carousel’ (casserole).

* Basil ending his phonecall to O’Reilly by telling him to “Go away” after a delicious pregnant pause.

* The phone rings while Basil is hanging the picture. He calls for someone to come and answer it, but snaps “Not you!” when Manuel runs in.

* A nonplussed Basil clanking the bricks together.

* Basil shouting “YOU BASTARD!” at Lord Melbury, then both kicking and asking to punch him once he’s arrested.

* “A gin and orange… a lemon squash… and a Scotch and water please!”

Outside? There’s a fair amount of location filming. We see the steps outside the hotel a few times, most notably at the end when Melbury is being taken away. Polly is also seen in Torquay, coming out of the bank and then spotting Brown on his stakeout.

Dated: Basil’s reverence to the aristocracy is something that maybe wouldn’t fly as well in a modern sitcom.

Henry Kissinger: The former US Secretary of State is not mentioned in this episode, but cricketer Basil D’Oliveira (1931-2011) gets a namecheck – the Major is cheered when he reads that Dolly’s scored a century.

Review: What a brilliant scene-setter. It might have a simple plot when compared with what’s to follow – the twist is hardly unpredictable – but the characters and situation are set up with panache and confidence. The themes of class and social etiquette are the basis of this episode, and they’ll recur as the series progresses. Basil gets into these messes because he’s terrified of being embarrassed. The writing is so impressive, packing a huge amount into a half-hour. And it’s sheer poetry how well the script manoeuvres the pieces around the chessboard – just check out how Basil’s mood is artfully shifted, balanced and prodded so each subsequent scene gets funnier and funnier.

Nine singles (no, make it a double: I feel lucky tonight) out of 10.