Fawlty Towers

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

Fawlty Towers
1975 and 1979-BBC series
Cast: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andy Sachs, Connie Booth

Real life more often than not provides the inspiration for most brilliant artistic creations and that’s how BBC’s comedy classic Fawlty Towers was born. In 1971, the entire team of comedians of Monty Python’ Flying Circus (one of the earlier, popular BBC comedy series) was staying at Gleneagles hotel in UK, where they came across Donald Sinclair- a man they wouldn’t forget in a hurry. With his haughty, high-strung behaviour, Sinclair-(who was the manager of that small-town hotel), practically terrorized all his hotel guests. Even though rest of his co-actors fled away to a nearby better-managed hotel, John Cleese (one of the Monty Python-actors) stayed put in the hotel and even called up his then wife Connie Booth to join him there. Together, this husband-wife duo spent all their time observing and absorbing Sinclair’s crazy way of managing his hotel. Four years later, they co-wrote Fawlty Towers- a series based on that weird man and his wackily managed hotel.
Fawlty Towers’ main appeal lies in the complete believability of its lead characters and also in the complete plausibility of the implausible situations taking place on the screen! Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and Sybil Fawlty (Prunella Scales) are running a small-town hotel (named Fawlty Towers) with the help of Manuel (Andy Sachs) and Polly (Connie Booth). If Basil is over-strung, over-reacting and over-smart; then Sybil is suave, sharp-tongued and domineering. Theirs is a real match made in heavens! Manuel is their half-wit Spanish servant, who just understands a handful of English words and phrases and creates a mess of simplest of tasks. Polly is the only sensible person in the outfit, whose job is mostly to cover up for Fawltys’ faults. Then there are some ever present hotel guests- an aging, forgetful major and a pair of equally goofy geriatric ladies, who keep the Towers’ fires burning.
To complicate the already complex farcical situation, the hotel gets its fair share of unusual guests and unusual incidents like a conman walking in as a high-placed lord; an incompetent contractor building up a wall in the wrong place; a marriage party turning into a merry-go-round escapade tour; a gourmet evening going caput; a young man smuggling in a girl-friend into his room and a guest unexpectedly dying in his bed!
Cleese delivers a powerhouse performance as Basil Fawlty. With the high and mighty of the society, Fawlty is syrupy sweet and but for the rest (the proverbial riffraff!), he presents his acerbic, mean and malicious side! He is practically the pillar on which this tower is built! Cleese brings in all the manic energy and unpredictability into this wacky portrayal and his comic timing is impeccable. The rest of the characters, too leave their mark.
In all, there were just 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers featured over 2 series aired in 1975 and 1979 but such was the comic magic of those well-written and well-acted plots that despite its countless reruns, the series remains popular even today. But surprisingly in its first run, Fawlty Towers did not impress the viewers- perhaps it was far too ahead of its time!

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