In my opinion, there are several British TV shows that are true classics, that stand the test of time, can be watched even today and are still as funny as they were when they first aired. These include Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Good Life, and Fawlty Towers. (And there are several more classics I have yet to post about!)
Basil Fawlty is a hotelier who really doesn’t like people all that much. He and his wife, Sybil, run Fawlty Towers, a hotel in the small seaside town of Torquay, on the “English Riviera.” Along with his waitress/maid, Polly, and porter/waiter Manuel, they try to deal with their eccentric guests.
Apparently, the idea for the show was born when the Monty Python team stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. The owner of that hotel, whom John Cleese described as “the most marvelously rude man I’ve ever met,” became the inspiration for Basil Fawlty.
There are a lot of words to describe Basil Fawlty, none of them good. He’s aggressive, short tempered, impatient and snobby. Basil can’t stand the “lower class” clientele that stay at his hotel. He’s constantly trying to attract guests with higher social status. Yet he’s so cheap he hires an inept contractor to do some major remodeling with disastrous, yet hilarious, results. John Cleese himself considers Basil an “awful human being,” but because his antics make us laugh, we can’t help but like him.
Basil’s wife, or as he affectionately calls her his “little piranha fish,” is more friendly to the customers. Though it seems she might be better at managing the hotel, she’s often off doing something else when difficult guests appear, or she’s on the phone gossiping with friends.
Polly Sherman is probably the most level-headed member of the group. She’s the chambermaid and dining room waitress. She’s also the one that Basil tries to con into helping her with his crazy schemes or misunderstandings. When Sybil storms off after an argument with Basil (she thinks he forgot their anniversary) Basil recruits Polly to play an ill Sybil to fool the guests coming for the party he’s planned.
Spanish waiter, Manuel, doesn’t speak English very well, which upsets Basil to no end. He tries hard to do his job well, in between beatings from his boss. One of his best storylines is when his pet “hamster,” actually a rat, goes missing while the health inspector is visiting.
In 2000, the British Film Institute voted Fawlty Towers the Best British TV series of all time. I have to agree. You can watch all 12 episodes over and over and still laugh out loud.
John Cleese – Basil Fawlty
Prunella Scales – Sybil Fawlty
Connie Booth – Polly Sherman
Andrew Sachs – Manuel
Brian Hall – Terry
Ballard Berkeley – Major Gowen
Gilly Flower – Miss Tibbs
Renee Roberts – Miss Gatsby
Total Seasons: 2 (12 episodes)
Seasons Available on US Formatted DVD: 2
In Production: 1975 – 1979
Viewer Discretion: Some adult situations