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5 life lessons we can learn from Fawlty Towers

Jess Phillips
Written by
Jess Phillips

There aren’t many British TV shows that can claim British cultural cornerstone status. One such TV show is Fawlty Towers – the Fleabag of its time, if you imagine Fleabag as more middle-aged, less politically correct and based in Devon

For the uninitiated, the ’70s recession comedy is set in Torquay and was written by and starred John Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth. It brought life inside a dilapidated seaside hotel to our TV screens in 12 30-minute episodes between 1975 and 1979. And it should be a prescribed tonic for an array of ills.

As a concept, it’s a pretty simple one centred around the many trials, tribulations and tantrums of hotel manager and world’s grumpiest man, Basil Fawlty. His long-suffering, yet take-no-prisoners wife Sibyl keeps him in check, as they run a hotel with reviews worse than a beerless bar.

Then there’s the staff – Manuel, a Spanish-waiter-cum-punch-bag, and peacemaker, therapist, crisis PR extraordinaire and hotel maid Polly – who clearly missed the letters H and R when learning the alphabet. 

In honour of the show’s 44th birthday today, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to watch the classic belly-laugh comedy to bring you the life lessons Basil learnt – the hard way. 

Don’t serve out of date fish

Finding himself in a farcical whodunnit, Basil believes he’s killed a hotel guest by serving them out of date fish. In typical fashion, he overreacts on a nuclear scale and tries to dispose of the ‘weapon’, before attempting to hide the body from hotel guests. Mr Leeman’s corpse is then concealed in various ridiculous locations across the hotel, including inside a cupboard in an occupied guest room. Spoiler: this does not end well. He should really have tried to pin it on The Major with the lead piping in the dining room.

Don’t mess with a Waldorf salad

Another classic Basil failure comes when he tries to play chef for the evening. When two American guests check in late at the hotel and request a Waldorf salad, he bites off more than he can chew. With Terry the chef on a night out with Manuel and Polly, Basil attempts to make it himself, despite not knowing what it is. Long story short, the Americans don’t get their salad and Basil’s humble establishment is called a disgrace to Western Europe. Pie and mash might have been easier... 

Don’t ‘forget’ your anniversary

Trying to fool his wife into thinking he’s forgotten their anniversary again, Basil digs himself into a very deep hole. He’s planned a surprise party and arranged for Manuel to cook paella from his mother's recipe, but Sybil storms off after believing the hoax. With guests arriving and only half of the happy couple at the hotel, Polly is forced to stand in. Dressed up as Sybil and feigning illness, she unconvincingly adopts her new identity and maims a guest in the process. Trying to be too clever gets you nowhere, gentlemen. 

Don’t cut financial corners

Attempting to renovate the hotel as cheaply as possible ends badly when Basil goes behind Sybil’s back to hire a ‘cowboy builder’ to get the job done. The job does not get done. Crooked handyman O’Reilly goes rogue and redesigns the building, Inception-style. The door for the kitchen is placed in front of the stairs, and the dining room door gets completely blocked off. You just can’t get the help these days.

Don’t mention the war

Basil’s biggest faux pas? Bringing up the ‘the war’ in spectacularly inapprorpriate fashion when a group of German guests arrive for a holiday. Already holding a 40-year grudge, and with the Major doing little to assuage him, Basil begins insulting the party. He namedrops notable Nazis, tells them ‘they’ started the rift by invading Poland, and proceeds to goose-step like a mad man around the foyer. This one should go without saying, but for everyone at the back, don’t be a bigot. It’s really not a good look.

For more John Cleese content, have a gander at Classics Corner:'Monty Python's Life of Brian

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