About Fawlty Towers...

The year was 1973. John Cleese was on holiday from his "day job" as a member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, when a representative of the BBC suggested he might consider creating a show of his own. Searching for a subject suitable for sitcom absurdity, Cleese recalled a rather unusual hotel in Torquay where the Pythons had once stayed while filming an episode of their show. It wasn't so much the hotel that inspired Cleese as the hotelier: a "wonderfully rude," arrogant, unpredictable man given to fits of pique resulting in such outrageous behavior as chucking a timetable at a patron who dared inquire as to when the next bus would arrive, tossing Python member Eric Idle's suitcase into the garden because he thought it might contain a bomb (actually, it was a ticking alarm clock), and criticizing Python animator Terry Gilliam's crude (read: American) table manners. Pythonite Graham Chapman described the eccentric innkeeper as "completely round the twist, off his chump, out of his tree."

And therefore perfect fodder for Cleese's fertile and demented comic mind to exaggerate (slightly) and transform into "Basil Fawlty," the put-upon proprietor of a tiny, rundown resort hotel in (get ready for a real surprise) Torquay. Cleese and his then-wife, Connie Booth, co-wrote the scripts for the first series of six half-hour episodes, laboring over and polishing every situation, every gag and every line, occasionally writing as many as ten drafts before they were satisfied. The first season was broadcast on BBC2 in 1975; four years later, Cleese and Booth wrote a second series of six episodes which aired in 1979. These 12 episodes were all that were ever produced; both Cleese and Booth decided by then that they had pretty well exhausted the comic potential of the premise and decided to quit while they were ahead.

Cleese's Basil Fawlty is a masterful comic creation: an irascible, thin-skinned, short-tempered, pompous, pretentious, social climbing snob, toadying to the upper crust whenever possible, engaging in rude arguments with guests, staff, and his wife at every other moment, liberally dispensing barbed insults to them all and uttering snide, snarky comments behind their backs. Guests (or, as Basil refers to them, "the riff-raff") in particular irritate him, as their special requests and needs, whether rational or ridiculous, continually interfere with and frustrate his attempts to run the hotel efficiently. "May I suggest that you consider moving to a hotel closer to the sea?" he proposes to one complaining guest, "Or preferably in it?"

Basil is held in check only by his intimidation and abject fear of his cold, shrewish wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales) -- "that golfing puff adder," as he fondly describer her; or "my little nest of vipers" -- the one person capable of returning his insults while simultaneously withering his over-inflated ego. Add the dependable but long-suffering chambermaid, Polly (played by co-writer Connie Booth), and Manuel (Andrew Sachs), an English-impaired waiter and Basil's primary whipping boy, and the four-person ensemble cast becomes the gears of a well-oiled comedy machine.

Every episode is classic farce, starting with some simple premise (hotel inspectors are suspected to be in the area; Basil forgets his anniversary) which rapidly devolves -- through a rapid-fire series of intricate coincidences, misunderstandings, cross-purposes, and accidents -- into panic, chaos and utter pandemonium...the blame for which always rests squarely on Basil's incompetence, petulance and aggravated outbursts. Like many of the best sitcoms (British or otherwise), "Fawlty Towers" expertly combines physical humor (pratfalls; Cleese's awkward, gangly, frantic body movements; the 3 Stooges-like abuse of Manuel) with sharp verbal wit ("Why don't you have another vat of wine, dear?" Basil suggests sweetly to a tipsy Sybil; a perfect example of their prickly, passive-aggressive relationship), often climaxing with Basil receiving a final, frustrating comeuppance in a scene worthy of the most absurd Monty Python sketch.

In the three decades since its debut, "Fawlty Towers" has earned the status of a legitimate sitcom classic. A British Film Institute poll of industry professionals asked to name the "100 Greatest British Television Programmes," for instance, found "Fawlty Towers" in first place, and in the BBC's 2004 "Britain's Best Sitcom" viewer's poll, the series ranked fifth. Each of the two "Fawlty Towers" series won a BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award) for Best Situation Comedy, and John Cleese won a BAFTA in 1976 for Best Light Entertainment Performance. Stateside, "Fawlty Towers" finished second only to "Frasier" in a January, 2006, poll of comedy writers asked to name "The Ultimate Sitcom."

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