"Don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right."—Basil Fawlty
"NO!, No, I won't have that! There's a place in Eastbourne..."—The Major
One of the all-time classic TV shows, it benefited greatly from its cheerful willingness to create horrible human beings and let them act according to their nature at all times: Basil doesn't get a single Pet the Dog moment, ever. The series was intelligent, effervescent and daring, and the only complaint one can make is that there wasn't enough of it (only 12 episodes were ever made).
In 2000, the British Film Institute declared it the best British television programme ever made. A few years ago, it was voted best UK sitcom ever in a poll, and J. Michael Straczynski said in a book on screenwriting that if a writer watches Fawlty Towers and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, they will have had the best possible grounding in how to write comedy.
In 1999, CBS attempted to remake Fawlty Towers as a John Laroquette vehicle entitled Payne (after Laroquette's character, "Royal Payne"). It lasted even fewer episodes than the original (which lasted for 12). There was also an earlier attempt by ABC to remake the show. It had the original title, but Fawlty was a woman played by Bea Arthur.
Came fifth in Britain's Best Sitcom.
- Accidental Pervert: Basil Fawlty became this in the episode "The Psychiatrist", in which his efforts to prove that one of his guests broke the rules by sneaking his girlfriend into a room lead him into one Not What It Looks Like after another.
- All Just a Dream: subverted: "No, it's not a dream; we're stuck with it!"
- The Alleged Car: Basil's Austin 1100 Countryman, with scratches from where he beat it with a fallen tree branch(!)
- All Psychology Is Freudian: Basil's viewpoint in "The Psychiatrist".
- Annoying Laugh: Basil compares Sybil's laugh to "somebody machine-gunning a seal".
- Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other: Subverted in "Communication Problems":
Basil: (takes Sybil's hand) Seriously, Sybil, do you remember when we were first... manacled together? We used to laugh quite a lot.
Sybil: (pully her hand away) Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.
Basil: That's true. That was a warning, I guess. Should have spotted that, shouldn't I?
- Based on a True Story: The story goes that when John Cleese was still a member of Monty Python, the group had gone someplace by bus, and the bus broke down in Torquay. Because they couldn't have their bus fixed that day, they had to stay at the local hotel - the Torquay Gleneagles, owned by one Donald Sinclair - overnight. About an hour after checking in, all the Pythons except John Cleese left and walked to the next town to find another hotel. Cleese? He bought pen and paper. He smelled a sitcom!
- In particular, Basil's treatment of his US guests in "Waldorf Salad" is based on Sinclair's treatment of Terry Gilliam. The man supposedly attacked Gilliam's accent and claimed his table manners were too American.
- He also apparently threw a timetable at a guest who asked about a bus, and tossed Eric Idle's suitcase over a wall because he thought it contained a bomb (actually an alarm clock).
- Amusingly, Sinclair's widow at one point made a bit of fuss in the newspapers about the treatment of her husband by the show, declaring that Cleese had exaggerated his faults and that he wasn't nearly as bad as he'd been made out to be. All this did was produce a whole lot of independent witnesses eager to testify how their dealings with Sinclair suggested that not only was Cleese's depiction not that far off, but that if anything Sinclair was even worse. His widow kept quiet after that.
- Big "What?": In "Gourmet Nights".
- Blatant Lies: Basil throws these around like confetti in the vain hope that some of them will stick. One of the best was in Waldorf Salad, wherein he tries to charm the attractive lady at the desk while pointing out the obnoxious American tourist as typical of the "rubbish" they usually get. When the lady introduces the American as her husband, Basil acts like he was talking about a random piece of paper on his desk the whole time.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Basil has to deal with an obnoxious little boy in "Gourmet Night", who complains that his chips are in the wrong shape and calls the mayonnaise puke. Basil ends up "accidentally" smacking him on the head.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: The hotel's health and safety report is fairly squick all the way through, but the last item in the Long List is definitely the punchline:
Mr. Carnegie the Health Inspector: "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 hood. Inadequate temperature control and storage of dangerous foodstuffs. Storage of cooked and raw meat in same trays. Storage of raw meat above confectionary, with consequent dripping of meat juices onto creme products. Refrigerator seals loose and cracked, icebox undefrosted, and refrigerator overstuffed. 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 at our last visit, six months ago -- and two dead pigeons in the water tank."
Basil: "Otherwise okay?"
- Brick Joke: In "The Builders", after Basil discovers the aftermath of O'Reilly's first botched job on the hotel lobby, he orders him to come straight back to the hotel to put his work right otherwise he will "insert a large garden gnome" in him. Later, after O'Reilly's attempt at fixing it is found to have left the hotel in imminent danger of structural failure, Basil is seen purposefully walking out the front door carrying said garden gnome.
- British Brevity: Twelve episodes. Which, of course, makes its continued popularity since 1975 all the more impressive.
- Brutal Honesty: Basil in "The Germans" due to his concussion:
Basil: (to his nurse) My God, you're ugly, aren't you?
Nurse: I'll... I'll get the doctor.
Basil: You need a plastic surgeon, dear, not a doctor.
- Bumbling Sidekick: Manuel.
- Busman's Holiday: "The Waldorf Salad" ends with Basil booking into his own hotel.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Most episodes begin this way, although the horrible consequences tend to be a result of Basil choosing the worst possible course of action over and over again when dealing with the results of the original act.
- Carrying a Cake
- Catch Phrase:
- "I'm so sorry, he's from Barcelona."
- "Oh, I knoooooow, I knooooooow."
- John Cleese said that they had little intention of creating catch phrases (Manuel says "¿Qué?" a lot, for instance, because... well, how could that not be the case?), though they did eventually realize that the "He's from Barcelona" line almost got funnier each time they put it in.
- Censorship by Spelling: Sibyl says they might have to put Manuel's rat 'to S-L-E-E-P,' to which Manuel responds, 'Spleep?'
- Characterization Marches On: In the first episode The Major wasn't nearly the Cloudcuckoolander he became later in the series. Only from the second episode onwards--in which, for instance, upon hearing that "the dining room door seems to have disappeared" he takes the statement literally and reassures Basil that it will surely turn up somewhere, because after all "these things happen, you know"--does his status as a member of the trope really begin to emerge. By the end of the first season he has really wandered off into his own little world, thinking that the moose head is talking to him, and therefore must have been made in Japan.
- There's a slight, but noticeable change in most of the characters in series 2. Basil becomes less obsessed with moving his hotel up a social status and more concerned with just managing the day-to-day running, Polly stands up for herself more and Manuel has more of a grasp of English (but still gets hopelessly confused by most situations).
- Chekhov's Gun: Quite often. Things that appear early on in the episode will appear to hilarious effect later on.
- Cloudcuckoolander: The Major.
- Comedic Sociopathy: Were Basil a normal human being, we'd feel so sorry for him.
- The Comically Serious: He's a doctor. And he wants his sausages!
- Many of the hotel guests played this role.
- Couch Gag: The "Fawlty Towers" sign. At first, the letters are just skewed; later they're rearranged into humorous anagrams (eg. "Farty Towels", "Flowery Twats"). In one episode, the paper boy is seen rearranging them.
- Showing the word "twat" on tv is something they would never in a million years get away with on American tv.
- Creator Couple: Cleese and Booth were married when they made the first season. They divorced by the time of the second one, but still could work together.
- Crying Wolf: Basil works so hard to set up a fire drill and gets into a spat about it (you have to see the whole conversation to understand), where Manuel is supposed to yell "Fire!" and then they all calmly walk out. Then Manuel screws it all up by starting not one, but two real fires in the kitchen. Basil then calmly ushers Manuel back into the burning kitchen as he tries to explain that it's just a drill.
- Basil's compulsive lying also leads to a huge problem in both "The Anniversary" and especially "The Psychiatrist", wherein he actually is in rare situations involving maintaining a farcical-sounding position that happens to be the exact truth.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: "I'll ruin you! You'll never waitress in Torquay again!"
- "No, no, I don't want to debate. If you're not over here in twenty minutes with my door, I shall come over there and insert a large garden gnome in you. Good day."
- And at the end of the episode he walks off to do just that.
- "No, no, I don't want to debate. If you're not over here in twenty minutes with my door, I shall come over there and insert a large garden gnome in you. Good day."
- Dead Man's Chest
- Disaster Dominoes: Happens just about every episode, even more than the Fawlty Towers Plot.
- Drop What You Are Doing: In Communication Problems, when The Major lets slip to Sybil that Basil has been betting on horse races behind her back, Basil drops the £75 antique vase he was holding.
- Polly seems to pick up on Basil's tendency for this, as in Gourmet Night, she tells him to put down a bottle before she tells him about Kurt's inebriation.
- Eagle Land: Although he does turn out to be the hero of the tale who puts Basil in his place, the American visitor in Waldorf Salad is still one of the biggest American stereotypes you'll ever see. Then again, almost everyone on the show is some kind of national stereotype.
- Eye Scream: Manuel suffers a nasty looking poke when Basil gets especially fed up in one episode. The director then says on the commentary that he wishes he'd put in some kind of squishy sound effect.
- Fawlty Towers Plot: Trope Namer
- Forgotten Anniversary: In "The Anniversary", Basil plans a surprise anniversary party for Sybil, but pretends that he's forgotten it to torture her a bit. She angrily storms off, leaving him to try and maintain a facade of normality in front of the party guests.
- Freudian Slip "Hello, Fawlty Titties."
- Freudian Slippery Slope: The quote up top is a good example. Basil also experiences several of a very Freud Was Right nature in the episode "The Psychiatrist".
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!:
- In "The Builders", Basil breaks down when confronted with a construction snafu with Sybil returning any minute. Polly slaps him and he recovers enough sense to ask her for two more.
- In "The Kipper and the Corpse", Miss Tibbs becames hysterical when she sees the titular dead body. Basil tells Polly to slap her; she does, but Miss Tibbs faints instead of recovering.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
Sybil: If I find out the money on that horse was yours, you know what I'll do, Basil.
Basil: ...you'll have to sew them back on first.
- Another incidence happens during "The Gourmet", where the new chef Kurt is in love with Manuel. At first, Basil assumes the chef must be French. When corrected that Kurt is in fact Greek he responds "Well that's even worse. I mean, they invented it." Incase you didn't get it, "it" is "sodomy", also known as "Greek sex" or "the Greek way".
- Godwin's Law: This trope is older than the Internet: "You ponce in here expecting to be hand-waited on hand and foot, well I'm trying to run a hotel here! Have you any idea of how much there is to do?! Do you ever think of that?! No, of course not: you're too busy sticking your noses into every corner, poking about for things to complain about! Well, let me tell you something: this is exactly how Nazi Germany started!"
- RAUS! RAUS!
- I'd like to welcome your war, your wall, you all...
- Hotel Hellion: The kid who changes the sign.
- Also the kid who complains that his chips are the wrong shape.
- Humiliation Conga
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Polly to Basil.
- Hypocritical Humor: In "A Touch of Class", Basil spends the entire episode fawning over Lord Melbury, who turns out to be a con artist. When his actual high-class guests arrive and see Basil violently kicking "Melbury" out, they decide to leave. Basil yells at them for being snobs.
- Ignore the Disability: Invoked in the quote up top. Note that Basil's emphatic insistence that nobody mention the war (when no one in their right mind would anyway) and his propensity to do so himself are both due to him having a concussion, causing him to act even weirder than normal.
- Also the short woman in "Gourmet Night" and her husband the Colonel, who has a prominent facial tic, which makes things awkward when Basil introduces him to Mr. and Mrs. Twitchen.
- Jerkass: Mrs. Richards, Basil and Sybil.
- Last-Second Word Swap: Basil tries it in "The Germans", but only makes it worse: "Now, would you like to eat first or would you like a drink before the war? ...ning... that trespassers will be tied up with piano wire.
- Metaphorgotten: "My dear woman, a blow like that to the head... is worth two in the bush."
- A rather brilliant case of Getting Crap Past the Radar.
- Mistaken for Gay: Three times in one episode (The Wedding Party).
- My Car Hates Me: The very pinnacle of this trope.
START!! Start, you vicious BASTARD!!!
- No Accounting for Taste: Basil and Sybil, frequently bordering on The Masochism Tango.
- On the DVD, Prunella Scales recalls that after reading the pilot script, she immediately asked Cleese why Basil and Sybil got married in the first place. In "Basil the Rat", Sybil says that none of her friends understand how did they ever get together. "Black magic," my mother says.
- No Fame, No Wealth, No Service: Basil is like this. In accordance with sitcom rules, trying to attract a better class of clientèle never works for him. In fact, even the classist bias behind it backfires for him, allowing him to be taken in by a con artist.
- Not-So-Imaginary Friend
- Not What It Looks Like: In "The Wedding Party", in which Basil is caught once with a female guest and twice with Manuel; Manuel was drunk the first time and had accidentally knocked him over, and Basil mistakes him for a burglar the second time. Meanwhile, Basil accidentally walks in on two of the wedding guests embracing (they're related), and discovers Polly hurrying out of the lovers' room after hearing some weird noises (Polly was trying on one of the girl's dresses; the girl was giving her boyfriend a massage).
- Obfuscating Stupidity: "The Germans" implies that Manuel's English isn't actually quite as bad as he lets on, and that he pretends to speak barely any English so that Basil won't expect too much from him. At the same time his English isn't really as good as he believes it to be, but he speaks it well enough to hold a conversation with the Major (who believes himself to be talking to a moose head).
- Only Sane Man: Basil seems to think it's him, but it's really Polly.
- Phrase Catcher: People are constantly excusing Manuel's incompetence, or alternatively a mistake they're pretending he made, with the phrase "It's okay, he's from Barcelona."
- The Pratfall: Manuel would sometimes perform these when Basil was physically abusing him.
- Pull the Thread
- Refuge in Audacity
- Running Gag: In 'A Touch of Class':
"A gin and orange, a lemon squash, and a scotch and water!"
"You're very cheerful this morning, Mr. Fawlty!"
"Yes, well, one of the guests has just died!"
"You are wicked!"
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Mr. Hutchinson in "The Hotel Inspectors":
Mr Hutchinson: This afternoon I have to visit the town for sundry purposes which would be of no interest to you I am quite sure, but nevertheless shall require your aid in getting for me some sort of transport, some hired vehicle that is, to get me to my first port of call.
Basil: Are you all right?
- Sexless Marriage: The one between Basil and Sybil, probably. They sleep in separate beds, and once, when he kisses her on the cheek (to throw her off), she tells him not to. In "The Psychiatrist", Basil claims that they "go for a walk" together two or three times per week, but he's probably lying.
- In an interview Cleese said that he reckons the last time Basil and Sybil had sex was somewhere around the time of the Second Punic War.
- Shout-Out: Basil's exaggerated mock goose step is quite blatantly Cleese's "ministry of silly walks" stride from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Note the huge applause for it.
- Sidetracked by the Analogy: This happens to the Major a lot.
- A Simple Plan
- Sleeping Single: Basil and Sybil, probably because they can't stand each other.
- Thanks for the Mammary: Inadvertant, but try telling Sybil that.
- The European Carry All: In "Basil the Rat", where Manuel buys a rat from a pet shop under the premise that it is "a Siberian hamster."
- This Is Sparta: In "Communication Problems"
Mrs Richards: (Counting money) "It's ten pounds short."
Basil: (Rather annoyed, having just seen £75 slip through his fingers) It's not! TEN POUNDS SHORT! Oh, My God! Don't panic! We'll have a whip 'round!
Starts shaking out the charity collection tin
- Trans-Atlantic Equivalent: The US's Amandas By The Sea (Bea Arthur as John Cleese) and Payne (John Larraquette as John Cleese). Neither lasted longer than the typical British series.
- Newhart was also noted as having some similarities, but it's different enough to just be a coincidence.
- Truth in Television: John Cleese said that he based the idea of the character of Manuel on his own experience in restaurants where the owners are too cheap to hire anyone but desperate immigrants who don't speak one single word of English, "so that the chances of you getting what you've ordered are literally about one in six".
- The Unfair Sex: Played for laughs; in "The Psychiatrist", Sybil hits the roof when Basil finds himself inadvertently getting into all sorts of compromising situations surrounding an attractive young Australian guest. However, she has spent much of the very same episode shamelessly flirting with an attractive male guest, and she has frequently done so with other male guests in the past as well.
- Unsatisfiable Customer: Ohh yeah.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Basil.
- Vomit Discretion Shot. In the episode "Gourmet Night".
- Who's on First?: In "Communication Problems":
Mrs. Richards: Now, I've reserved a very quiet room, with a bath and a sea view. I specifically asked for a sea view in my written confirmation, so please be sure I have it.
Mrs. Richards: "K"?
Mrs. Richards: "K.C."?
Manuel: No. "Qué": "what".
Mrs. Richards: K. Watt?
Manuel: Si. "¿Qué?": "what".
Mrs. Richards: C. K. Watt?? Who is C.K. Watt? Is he the manager?
Manuel: Ah! Manager! Mr. Fawlty!
Mrs. Richards: What?
Mrs. Richards: You silly little man, what are you talking about?! (to Polly) [This man is telling me] the manager is a Mr. C. K. Watt, age forty.
Manuel: No, no, Fawlty.
Mrs. Richards: Faulty? Why? What's wrong with him?
Polly: It's all right, Mrs. Richards, he's from Barcelona.
Mrs. Richards: The manager's from Barcelona?
- Visible Boom Mic: "The Psychiatrist"
- We Named the Monkey "Jack": Manuel names his pet rat Basil.
- World's Shortest Book: Johnson in "The Psychiatrist," says the guidebook about interesting things in Torquay must be "one of the world's shortest books," like "The Wit of Margaret Thatcher" or "Great English Lovers."
- You Get What You Pay For:
- Basil hired Manuel because he's cheap.
- In "The Builders", Basil's overriding of his wife's decision to hire Mr. Stubbs for some repair work in favor of the cheaper O'Reilly leads to disastrous results.