Fawlty Towers is probably the most well-known and best-loved BBC sitcom of all time. More than 40 years after its first screening, it remains the benchmark by which all other comedy shows are judged. The humour is completely timeless and is just as hilarious today.
The British Film Institute voted it number one in the list of Britain's Top 100 TV programmes of all time. Despite the fact only 12 episodes were ever made, it became the jewel in the BBC's crown, winning multiple awards. Two series, each comprising six episodes, were produced and broadcast between 1975 and 1979.
The series was set in the fictional English hotel, Fawlty Towers, in Torquay, where manic owner Basil Fawlty and his cynical wife, Sybil, continually battled to inject a bit of class into their ordinary surroundings. It presented a picture of two frustrated social-climbers, who were thwarted at every turn.
John Cleese, who played Basil, came up with the idea in May 1970, while on tour with the Monty Python comedy team. Cleese and his wife, Connie Booth, developed the characters and submitted a script to the BBC. Cleese starred as Basil Fawlty and Booth played Fawlty Towers' feisty waitress, Polly Sherman.
Prunella Scales played Sybil and Andrew Sachs played the fourth regular character, Spanish waiter Manuel, who was well-meaning but permanently confused, leading to much of the humour.
Basil is rather intimidated by Sybil - and her familiar cry of "Basil!" in her loud, shrill voice stops him in his tracks, no matter where he is in the hotel.
Despite just 12 episodes being made, there are many famous escapades. In one episode, friends have gathered at Fawlty Towers to celebrate Basil and Sybil's wedding anniversary, but she has finally left him. However, instead of coming clean, Basil pretends she's upstairs ill. This leads to all sorts of confusion for everyone.
Manuel and Basil are permanently at odds with each other, suffering a lot of misunderstandings because Basil can't speak English very well and has a habit of saying, "Qué?" - meaning "What?" - to almost everything Basil says. He slowly drives Basil even more mad, often leading to violence, which always has a comic slapstick slant.
In another episode, a planned fire drill wreaks havoc when the burglar alarm accidentally goes off, minutes before the drill is due to begin.
The guests have been made aware of the impending fire drill and on hearing the burglar alarm, they begin filing out of the hotel, thinking it has started a little early. Basil causes confusion by telling them it's the burglar alarm - so some of them think the hotel is being burgled.
Basil becomes increasingly agitated when the guests insist the burglar alarm sounds like the fire bell. The situation turns into something resembling a pantomime, with Basil yelling, "Oh no it doesn't!" and the guests retorting in unison, "Oh yes it does!"
As Basil tries to explain the difference between the two bells, saying one is a "semi-tone higher", he sets off both alarms. The guests begin to file out again, thinking it really is the fire drill. Instead of letting them go, Basil gets even angrier, shouting after them "Where are you going, you old fools?"
Eventually, Basil loses his rag altogether and says to the confused guests "I don't know why we bother! We should let you all burn!"
In another episode, Basil genuinely believes the hotel is being burgled. Even though the alarm hasn't gone off, Polly hears a noise downstairs and urges him to go and investigate. Basil is just about to go to bed, but feels duty-bound to creep around in his underwear to search for the suspected burglar downstairs.
The usual confusion ensues when he spots a man sneaking across the pitch dark lobby and hits him over the back of the head, knocking him to the floor. Basil then sits on the suspected intruder to keep him captive.
Moments later, the lights go on as a party of guests arrives back after a wedding - only to find Basil, wearing his boxer shorts, sitting on top of a semi-conscious Manuel in the lobby, in an extremely compromising position!
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