Fawlty Towers – Series 1 & 2
May 24, 2011
Whoever said ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore’ was clearly talking about Fawlty Towers, the 1975-79 comedy dreamt up by former Python John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth.
Fawlty Towers represents the height of British comedy; a pinnacle that, despite many attempts and pretenders to the crown from comedy shows such as ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘One Foot in the Grave’, has never been matched. It is perhaps testament to the credibility of the show’s creators that they only made two series, stopping after just 12 episodes. Had a show been made today that was this popular, this successful, it would surely have been stretched out to produce series upon series, diluting the show’s effectiveness and damaging our memories of just how great the first two series truly were.
However, 12 episodes it was – even though it seems like more. In those 12 episodes came some of the finest moments of British comedy as John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, a tour de ’force of offensiveness and calamitous decisions, makes hilarious mistake after mistake in his attempts to run the best guesthouse in Torquay. His long suffering wife ‘Sybil’, played by British comedy stalwart Prunella Scales, attempts unsuccessfully to keep him in check and stop him from offending the guests. Perhaps his greatest moment of poor customer services comes in the episode entitled ‘The Germans’, where Basil tries ever so hard to insult the guests from Germany, instructing all of his staff “don’t mention the war” but proceeding to prattle on about Hitler, Goering, Himler, the concentration camps, jokes about WWII pilots and his coup de grâce, the funny walk of the Nazi Goosestep.
The pace of the episodes always builds to a crescendo in this manner, with jokes, or situations, becoming more and more ridiculous as Basil goes one stage too far, then two, then jumps over the line marked ‘too far’ and runs off into the distance.
John Cleese is perfect for the role of Basil, with his elongated body making this type of physical humour and mild slapstick come easy to him. He is aided in the calamity by another British comedy legend, Andrew Sachs (who is perhaps more famous now for being at the centre of the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand prank phone call affair). Sachs plays the butt of most of the jokes in his role as ‘Manuel’, a waiter from Barcelona who has a very limited grasp of English. This means that he doesn’t understand anything he’s told, including food orders, yet Basil often entrusts him with vital tasks.
Interestingly, Fawlty Towers has been shown all over the world but when it is shown in Spain, Manuel isn’t from Barcelona – he’s Italian!
This DVD set, containing all 12 episodes, is comedy show gold. Stand out moments include the scene where Basil insults the German guests (which you can watch below) and the famed Waldorf Salad episode, where a classic Fawlty Towers dinner show is on the cards for the American guests who order meals that Basil has never heard of.
Don’t forget, too, the scene that has also been immortalised in toy form by Corgi where Basil gives his car a ‘damn good thrashing’ with a tree branch.