First episode date
19 September 1975
John CleeseConnie Booth
John CleeseConnie Booth
John CleeseConnie Booth
John Howard DaviesBob Spiers
John CleesePrunella ScalesAndrew SachsConnie Booth
Top 10 fawlty towers moments
Fawlty Towers is a BBC television sitcom first broadcast on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. Twelve episodes were made (two series of six episodes each). The show was created and written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, who both also starred in the show. They were married at the time of series 1, but divorced before recording series 2. One of the best loved shows in British popular culture, it was ranked No. 1 on a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000.
- Top 10 fawlty towers moments
- Plot directions and examples
- Basil Fawlty
- Sybil Fawlty
- Polly Sherman
- Other regular characters and themes
- Series 2 1979
- Critical reaction
- Awards and accolades
- Remakes Adaptations and Reunions
- Fawlty Towers Re Opened
- Home video releases and merchandise
- Australian video releases
- Computer game
The series is set in Fawlty Towers, a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay -- pronounced "taw-key" in the English vernacular -- on the "English Riviera." The plots center on tense, rude and put-upon owner Basil Fawlty (Cleese), his bossy wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), comparatively normal chambermaid Polly who often is the peacemaker and voice of reason (Booth), and hapless and English-challenged Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs), showing their attempts to run the hotel amidst farcical situations and an array of demanding and eccentric guests and tradespeople.
In May 1970 the Monty Python team stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel (which is referred to in "The Builders" episode) in Torquay while filming on location. John Cleese became fascinated with the behavior of the owner, Donald Sinclair, whom Cleese later described as "the rudest man I've ever come across in my life." This behavior included Sinclair throwing a timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus to town would arrive; and placing renowned English comic actor Eric Idle's briefcase (put to one side by Idle while waiting for a car with Cleese) behind a wall in the garden on the suspicion that it contained a bomb. Sinclair justified his actions by claiming the hotel had "staff problems." He also criticised the American-born Terry Gilliam's table manners for not being "British" (that is, he switched hands with his fork whilst eating). (Idle, Cleese and Gilliam all were part of the comic acting troupe Monty Python.) Cleese and Booth stayed on at the hotel after filming, furthering their research of the hotel owner. Cleese later played a hotel owner called Donald Sinclair in the 2001 movie Rat Race.
At the time, Cleese was a writer on the 1970s British TV sitcom Doctor in the House for London Weekend Television. An early prototype of the character that became known as Basil Fawlty was developed in an episode ("No Ill Feeling") of the third Doctor series (titled Doctor at Large). In this edition, the main character checks into a small town hotel, his very presence seemingly winding up the aggressive and incompetent manager (played by Timothy Bateson) with a domineering wife. The show was broadcast on May 30, 1971. Cleese parodied the contrast between organizational dogma and sensitive customer service in many personnel training videotapes issued with a serious purpose by his company, Video Arts.
Cleese said in 2008 that the first "Fawlty Towers" script he and Booth wrote was rejected by the BBC. At a 30th-anniversary event honoring the show, Cleese said,
"Connie and I wrote that first episode and we sent it in to Jimmy Gilbert," the executive "whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, and I can quote [his note to me] fairly accurately, 'This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster.' And Jimmy himself said, 'You're going to have to get them out of the hotel, John. You can't do the whole thing in the hotel.' Whereas, of course, it's in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up."(subscription required)
Cleese was paid £6,000 for 43 weeks' work and supplemented his income by appearing in television advertisements.
Bill Cotton, the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment in the mid-1970s, said after the first series was produced that the show was a prime example of the BBC's relaxed attitude to trying new entertainment formats and encouraging new ideas. He said that when he read the first scripts he could see nothing funny in them, but, trusting that Cleese knew what he was doing, he gave the go-ahead. He said the commercial channels, with their emphasis on audience ratings, never would have let the program get to the production stage on the basis of the scripts.
Although the series is set in Torquay in Devon, no part of it was shot in Southwest England. For the exterior filming, the Wooburn Grange Country Club in Buckinghamshire was used instead of a hotel. In several episodes of the series (notably "The Kipper and the Corpse," The Anniversary" and "Basil the Rat") the entrance gate at the bottom of the drive states the real name of the location. This listed building later served for a short time as a nightclub named "Basil's" after the series ended, and before being destroyed by a fire in March 1991. The remnants of the building were demolished and a housing estate was built on the site. Other location filming was done mostly around Harrow, notably the 'damn good thrashing' scene in "Gourmet Night" in which Basil loses his temper and attacks his broken down car with a tree branch. It was filmed at the T-junction of Lapstone Gardens and Mentmore Close (51.581103°N 0.309072°W / 51.581103; -0.309072).
In the episode "The Germans," the opening shot is of Northwick Park Hospital. In the episode "Gourmet Night," the exterior of Andre's restaurant was filmed on Preston Road in the Harrow area (51.573393°N 0.294411°W / 51.573393; -0.294411). The launderette next door to the restaurant still exists but Andre's now is a Chinese and Indian restaurant called "Wings."
Both Cleese and Booth were keen on every script being perfect, and some episodes took four months and required as many as 10 drafts until they were satisfied.
The series theme music was written by Dennis Wilson and was inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's Minuet in G major.
Plot directions and examples
The series focuses on the exploits and misadventures of short-fused hotelier Basil Fawlty and his acerbic wife Sybil, as well as their employees, porter and waiter Manuel, maid Polly, and, in the second series, chef Terry. The episodes typically revolve around Basil's efforts to succeed in "raising the tone" of his hotel and his increasing frustration at the numerous complications and mistakes, both his own and those of others, which prevent him from doing so. Much of the humor comes from Basil's overly aggressive manner, engaging in angry but witty arguments with guests, staff and, in particular, Sybil whom he addresses (in a faux-romantic way) with insults such as "that golfing puff adder", "my little piranha fish" and "my little nest of vipers." Despite this, he frequently feels intimidated, she being able to stop him in his tracks at any time, usually with a short, sharp cry of "Basil!" At the end of some episodes, Basil succeeds in annoying (or at least bemusing) the guests and frequently gets his comeuppance. Basil occasionally longs for a touch of class, sometimes by playing recordings of classical music. In one episode he is playing music by Brahms when Sybil remarks, after pestering him asking to do different tasks: "You could have them both done by now if you hadn't spend the whole morning skulking in there listening to that racket." Basil replies, with exasperation, "Racket?? That's Brahms! Brahms' Third Racket!"
The plots occasionally are intricate and always farcical, involving coincidences, misunderstandings, cross-purposes and meetings both missed and accidental. The innuendo of the bedroom farce is sometimes present (often to the disgust of the socially conservative Basil) but it is his eccentricity, not his lust, that drives the plots. The events test to the breaking point what little patience Basil has, sometimes causing him to have a near breakdown by the end of the episode.
The guests at the hotel typically are comic foils to Basil's anger and outbursts. Each episode's one-shot guest characters provide a different characteristic that he cannot stand, among them being promiscuous, working class or foreign. Requests both reasonable and impossible test his temper. Even the afflicted seem to annoy him. For example, the episode "Communication Problems" revolving around the havoc caused by the frequent misunderstandings between the staff and the hard-of-hearing Mrs. Richards. By the end, Basil faints just at the mention of her name. This episode is typical of the show's careful weaving of humorous situations through comedy cross-talk. The show also uses mild black humour at times, notably when Basil is forced to hide a dead body and in Basil's comments about Sybil ("Did you ever see that film, How to Murder Your Wife? ... Awfully good. I saw it six times.") and to the guests ("May I suggest that you consider moving to a hotel closer to the sea? Or preferably in it.").
Basil's physical outbursts are primarily directed at the waiter Manuel, an emotional but largely innocent Spaniard whose confused English vocabulary causes him to make elementary mistakes. At times, Basil beats Manuel with a frying pan and smacks his forehead with a spoon. The violence towards Manuel caused rare negative criticism of the show. Sybil, on the other hand, is always condescending toward Manuel, excusing his behavior to guests with "He's from Barcelona."
Basil often displays blatant snobbishness as he attempts to climb the social ladder, frequently expressing disdain for the "riff-raff", "cretins" and "yobbos" that he believes to regularly populate his hotel. His desperation is readily apparent as he makes increasingly hopeless maneuvers and painful faux pas in trying to curry favor with those he perceives as having superior social status. Yet, he finds himself forced to serve those individuals that are "beneath" him. As such, Basil's efforts tend to be counter-productive, with guests leaving the hotel in disgust and his marriage (and sanity) stretching to breaking point.
Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, is a cynical and snobbish misanthrope who is desperate to belong to a higher social class. He sees a successful hotel as a means of achieving this ("turn it into an establishment of class...") yet his job forces him to be polite to people he hates.
He is intimidated by his wife Sybil Fawlty. He yearns to stand up to her, but his plans frequently conflict with her demands. She is often verbally abusive (memorably describing him as "an aging, brilliantined stick insect") but although he towers over her, he often finds himself on the receiving end of her temper, verbally and physically (as in "The Builders").
Basil usually turns to Manuel or Polly to help him with his schemes, while trying his best to keep Sybil from discovering them. However, Basil occasionally laments for the time when there was passion in their relationship, now seemingly lost. Also, it appears he still does care for her, and actively resists the flirtations of a French guest in one episode. The penultimate episode, "The Anniversary," is about his efforts to put together a surprise anniversary party involving their closest friends. Things go wrong as Basil pretends the anniversary date doesn't remind him of anything though he pretends to have a stab at it by reeling off a list of random anniversaries, starting with the Battle of Agincourt, for which he receives a slap from Sybil, who becomes increasingly frustrated and angry. He continues guessing even after Sybil is out of earshot, and mentions other anniversaries (none of which happened on April 17), including the Battle of Trafalgar and Yom Kippur, just to enhance the surprise. Sybil believes he really has forgotten, and leaves in a huff. In an interview in the DVD box set, Cleese claims this episode deliberately takes a slightly different tone from the others, fleshing out their otherwise inexplicable status as a couple (as well as saying that, if a third series had been made, there would have been similar episodes).
In keeping with the lack of explanation about the marriage, not much is revealed of the characters' back-stories. It is known that Basil served in the British Army and saw action in the Korean War, possibly as part of his National Service. (John Cleese himself was only 13 when the Korean War ended, making the character of Basil at least five or six years older than he.) Basil exaggerates this period of his life, proclaiming to strangers, "I killed four men." To this Sybil jokes that "He was in the Catering Corps. He used to poison them." Basil often is seen wearing regimental and old boy ties, no doubt spuriously. He also claims to have sustained a shrapnel injury to his leg; it tends to flare up at suspiciously convenient times. The only person Basil consistently exhibits tolerance and good manners towards is the old and senile Major Gowen, a veteran of one of the World Wars (which one never is specified, though he once mentions to Mrs. Peignoir that he was in France in 1918) who permanently resides at the hotel. When interacting with Manuel, Basil displays a rudimentary ability with Spanish (Basil states that he "learned classical Spanish, not the strange dialect he [Manuel] seems to have picked up"); this ability also is ridiculed, as in the first episode in which a guest, whom Basil has immediately dismissed as working-class, communicates fluently with Manuel in Spanish after Basil is unable to do so.
Cleese described Basil as thinking that "he could run a first-rate hotel if he didn't have all the guests getting in the way," and as being "an absolutely awful human being," but says that in comedy if an awful person makes people laugh they unaccountably feel affectionate toward him. Indeed, he is not entirely unsympathetic. The "Hotel Inspectors" and "Gourmet Night" episodes feature guests who are shown to be deeply annoying with constant, and unreasonable demands. In "Gourmet Night," the chef gets drunk and is unable to cook dinner, leaving Basil to scramble in an attempt to salvage the evening. Much of the time, Basil is an unfortunate victim of circumstance.
Sybil Fawlty, played by Prunella Scales, is Basil's wife. Energetic and petite, she prefers a working wardrobe of tight skirt-suits in shiny fabrics and sports a tower of permed hair augmented with hairpieces and wigs and necessitating the use of overnight curlers. She often is a more effective manager of the hotel, making sure Basil gets certain jobs done or stays out of the way when she is handling difficult guests. Despite this, she rarely participates directly in the running of the hotel. During busy check-in sessions or meal times, while everyone else is busy working, Sybil frequently is talking on the phone to one of her friends with her phrase "Oohhh, I knoooooooow" or chatting to customers. She has a distinctive conversational tone and braying laugh, which Basil compares to "someone machine-gunning a seal." Being his wife, she is the only regular character who refers to Basil by his first name. When she barks his name at him, he flinchingly freezes in his tracks.
Basil refers to her by a number of epithets, occasionally to her face, including "that golfing puff-adder," "the dragon," "toxic midget," "the sabre-toothed tart," "my little kommandant," "my little piranha fish," "my little nest of vipers" and "you rancorous, coiffured old sow." Despite these nasty nicknames, Basil is terrified of her. There is only one time he loses patience and snaps at her (Basil: "Shut up, I'm fed up." Sybil: "Oh, you've done it now.").
Prunella Scales speculated in an interview for The Complete Fawlty Towers DVD box set that Sybil married Basil because his origins were of a higher social class than hers.
Polly Sherman, played by Connie Booth, is a waitress and general helper at the hotel with aspirations of being an artist. She is the most competent of the hotel's staff and the voice of sanity during chaotic moments, but frequently is embroiled in ridiculous masquerades as she loyally attempts to aid Basil in trying to cover a mistake or keep something from Sybil.
In "The Anniversary" she snaps and refuses to help out Basil when he wants her to impersonate Sybil in the semi-darkness of her bedroom in front of the Fawltys' friends, Basil having dug himself into a hole by claiming Sybil was ill instead of admitting she had stormed out earlier in annoyance with him. Polly finally agrees, but only on condition that Basil lends her money to purchase a car, which he has previously refused to do.
Polly generally is good-natured but sometimes shows her frustration, and has odd moments of malice. In "The Kipper and the Corpse", the pampered shih-tzu dog of an elderly guest bites Polly and Manuel. As revenge, Polly laces the dog's sausages with black pepper and Tabasco sauce ("bangers a la bang"), making it ill.
Despite her part-time employment (during meal times), Polly frequently is saddled with many other duties, including manager in "The Germans" when Sybil and Basil are incapacitated. In the first series, Polly is said to be an art student who, according to Basil, has spent three years at university. In "Gourmet Night", she is seen to draw a sketch (presumably an impressionistic caricature) of Basil, which everyone but Basil immediately recognizes. Polly is not referred to as a student in the second series, although in both series she is shown to have a flair for languages, displaying ability in both Spanish and German. In "The Germans," Basil alludes to Polly's polyglot inclination by saying that she does her work "while learning two Oriental languages." Like Manuel, she has a room of her own at the hotel.
Manuel, a waiter played by Andrew Sachs, is a well-meaning but disorganized and confused Spaniard from Barcelona with a poor grasp of the English language and customs. He is verbally and physically abused by his boss. When told what to do, he often responds, "¿Qué?" ("What?"). Manuel's character is used to demonstrate Basil's instinctive lack of sensitivity and tolerance. Every episode involves Basil becoming enraged at Manuel's confusion at his boss's bizarre demands and even basic requests. Manuel is afraid of Fawlty's quick temper and violent assaults, yet often expresses his appreciation for being given employment. He is relentlessly enthusiastic and is proud of what little English he knows.
During the series, Sachs twice was seriously injured. Cleese describes using a real metal pan to knock Manuel unconscious in "The Wedding Party," although he would have preferred to use a rubber one. The original producer/director, John Howard Davies, explains that he made Basil use a metal one and that he was responsible for most of the violence on the show, which he felt was essential to the type of comical farce they were creating. Later, when Sachs's clothes were treated to give off smoke after he escapes the burning kitchen in "The Germans,", the corrosive chemicals ate through them and gave Sachs severe burns.
Manuel's exaggerated Spanish accent is part of the humor of the show. Interestingly, Sachs's original language was German; he emigrated to Britain as a child.
The character's nationality was switched to Italian (and the name to Paolo) for the Spanish dub of the show, while in Catalonia Manuel is a Mexican.
Other regular characters and themes
The first episode of Fawlty Towers originally was broadcast on September 19, 1975. The 12th and final episode was first shown on October 25, 1979. The first series was directed by John Howard Davies, the second by Bob Spiers. Both had their premieres on BBC2.
When originally transmitted, the individual episodes had no on-screen titles. The ones in common currency were first used for the VHS release of the series in the 1980s. There were working titles, such as "USA" for "Waldorf Salad," "Death" for "The Kipper and the Corpse," and "Rat" for "Basil the Rat," which have been printed in some program guides. In addition, some of the early BBC audio releases of episodes on vinyl and cassette included other variations, such as "Mrs. Richards" and "The Rat" for "Communication Problems" and "Basil the Rat," respectively.
It has long been rumored that a 13th episode of the series was written and filmed, but never progressed further than a rough cut. Lars Holger Holm, author of the book Fawlty Towers: A Worshipper's Companion, has made detailed claims about the episode's content, but he provides no evidence of its existence and it is most likely a hoax or fan fiction.
On the subject of whether more episodes would be produced, Cleese revealed (in an interview for the complete DVD box set, which was republished in the book, Fawlty Towers Fully Booked,)that he once had the genesis of a feature-length special – possibly sometime during the mid-1990s. The plot, never fleshed out beyond his initial idea, would have revolved around the chaos that a now-retired Basil typically caused as he and Sybil flew to Barcelona to visit their former employee Manuel and his family. Of the idea, Cleese said:
We had an idea for a plot which I loved. Basil was finally invited to Spain to meet Manuel's family. He gets to Heathrow and then spends about 14 frustrating hours waiting for the flight. Finally, on the plane, a terrorist pulls a gun and tries to hijack the thing. Basil is so angry he overcomes the terrorist, and when the pilot says, 'We have to fly back to Heathrow' Basil says, 'No, fly us to Spain or I'll shoot you.' He arrives in Spain, is immediately arrested, and spends the entire holiday in a Spanish jail. He is released just in time to go back on the plane with Sybil. It was very funny, but I couldn't do it at the time. Making 'Fawlty Towers' work at 90 minutes was a very difficult proposition. You can build up the comedy for 30 minutes, but at that length there has to be a trough and another peak. It doesn't interest me. I don't want to do it.
Cleese also may have relented because of the lack of Connie Booth's involvement. She had practically retreated from public life after the show finished (and had been initially unwilling to collaborate on a second series, which explains the four-year gap between productions).
The decision by Cleese and Booth to quit before a third series often has been lauded as it ensured the show's successful status would not be weakened with later, lower-quality work. Subsequently, it has inspired the makers of other shows to do likewise. Most notably, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant refused to make a third series of either The Office or Extras, citing Fawlty Towers' short lifespan. Rik Mayall, Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, the writers behind The Young Ones,', which also ran for only two series (each with six episodes), used this explanation, too. Victoria Wood also indicated this influenced her decision to limit Dinnerladies to just 16 episodes over two series.
The origins, background and eventual cancellation of the series would later be humorously referenced in 1987's "The Secret Policeman's Third Ball" in a sketch in which Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry present Cleese -- who they comically misname "Jim Cleese" -- with a Dick Emery Lifetime Achievement Award ("Silver Dick") for his contributions to comedy, then launch into a comical series of questions regarding the show, including Cleese's marriage and divorce from Booth, innocently ridiculing Cleese and reducing him to tears, to a point at which he gets on his knees and crawls off the stage while crying.
Series 2 (1979)
The second series was transmitted three-and-a-half years later, with the first episode being broadcast on February 19, 1979. In the second series the anagrams on the hotel's exterior sign were created by Ian McClane, Bob Spier's assistant floor manager.
The series was not held in as high esteem upon its original broadcast as it later was. The Daily Mirror review of the show in 1975 had the headline "Long John Short On Jokes". Eventually though, as the series began to gain popularity, critical acclaim followed. Clive James writing in The Observer said the second episode had him "retching with laughter." By the time the series had ended, it was an overwhelming critical success.
One critic of the show was Richard Ingrams, then television reviewer for The Spectator. Cleese got his revenge by naming one of the guests in the second series "Mr. Ingrams," who is caught in his room with a blow-up doll.
In an interview for the "TV Characters" edition of Channel 4's 'talking heads' strand 100 Greatest (in which Basil placed second, between Homer Simpson and Edmund Blackadder), TV critic A. A. Gill theorised that the initially muted response may have been caused by Cleese seemingly ditching his label as a comic revolutionary – earned through his years with Monty Python – to do something more traditional.
In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was placed first. It was also voted fifth in the "Britain's Best Sitcom" poll in 2004, and second only to Frasier in The Ultimate Sitcom poll of comedy writers in January 2006. Basil Fawlty came top of the Britain's Funniest Comedy Character poll, held by Five on 14 May 2006. In 1997, "The Germans" was ranked No. 12 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
Awards and accolades
Three BAFTAs were awarded to people for their involvement with the series. Both of the series were awarded the BAFTA in the category "Best Situation Comedy", the first being won by John Howard Davies in 1976, and the second by Douglas Argent and Bob Spiers in 1980. John Cleese won the BAFTA for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" in 1976, Andrew Sachs was also nominated but lost.
In a list drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was named the best British television series of all time.
Remakes, Adaptations and Reunions
Four attempted remakes of Fawlty Towers were started for the American market, with three making it into production. The first, Chateau Snavely starring Harvey Korman and Betty White, was produced by ABC for a pilot in 1978, but the transfer from coastal hotel to highway motel proved too much and the series never was produced. The second, also by ABC, was Amanda's, starring Bea Arthur, notable for switching the sexes of its Basil and Sybil equivalents. It also failed to pick up a major audience and was dropped. A third remake, called Payne, (produced by and starring John Larroquette) also was produced in 1999, but was cancelled shortly after. Although 12 episodes were produced, only three were aired on American television (though the complete run was broadcast overseas). A German pilot based on the sitcom was made in 2001, named Zum letzten Kliff, but further episodes were not made.
The popular sitcoms 3rd Rock from the Sun and Cheers (in both of which Cleese has mad guest appearances) have cited Fawlty Towers as an inspiration, especially regarding its depiction of a dysfunctional workplace "family." Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan have cited Fawlty Towers as a major influence on their sitcom Father Ted. Guest House on Pakistan's PTV also resembled the series.
Several of the characters have made other appearances, as spinoffs or in small cameo roles. In 1981, in character as Manuel, Andrew Sachs recorded his own version of the Joe Dolce cod-Italian song "Shaddap You Face" (with the B-side "Waiter, There's a Spanish Flea in My Soup"). However, the record was not released after Joe Dolce took out an injunction; he was about to issue his version in Britain. Sachs also portrayed a Manuel-like character in a series of British TV advertisements for life insurance. Gilly Flower and Renee Roberts, who played then elderly ladies Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby in the series, reprised their roles in a 1983 episode of Only Fools and Horses. In 2006, Cleese played Basil Fawlty for the first time in 27 years, for an unofficial England 2006 World Cup song, "Don't Mention the World Cup", taking its name from the phrase, "Don't mention the war," which Basil famously used in the episode "The Germans". In 2007, Cleese and Sachs reprised their roles for a six-episode corporate business video for the Norwegian oil company Statoil. In the video, Fawlty is running a restaurant called "Basil's Brasserie," while Manuel owns a Michelin Starred restaurant in London. In the 2008 gala performance We Are Most Amused, Cleese breaks into character as Basil for a cameo appearance by Sachs as an elderly Manuel.
In November 2007, Prunella Scales returned to the role of Sybil Fawlty in a series of sketches for the BBC's annual Children in Need charity telethon. The character was seen taking over the management of the eponymous hotel from the BBC drama series Hotel Babylon, interacting with characters from that program as well as other 1970s sitcom characters. The character of Sybil was used by permission of John Cleese.
In 2016, Cleese reprised his role as Basil in a series of TV adverts for High Street optician chain Specsavers. The same year, Cleese and Booth reunited to create and co-write the official theatrical adaptation of "Fawlty Towers," which premiered in Melbourne at the Comedy Theatre. It was critically well received, subsequently embarking on a successful tour of Australia. Cleese was intimately involved in the creation of the stage version from the beginning, including in the casting. He visited Australia to promote the adaptation, as well as oversee its success. Melbourne was chosen to premiere the adaptation, due to "Fawlty Towers' " enduring popularity in Australia, and also because it has become a popular international test market for large-scale theatrical productions in recent years, having recently been the city where the revised Love Never Dies and the new King Kong were also premiered. Cleese also noted he didn't believe the London press would give the adaptation fair, unbiased reviews, so he deliberately choose to premier it elsewhere.
Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened
In 2009, Tiger Aspect Productions produced a two-part documentary for digital comedy channel Gold, called Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened. The documentary features interviews with all four main cast members, including Connie Booth, who had refused to talk about the series for 30 years. John Cleese confirmed at the 30-year reunion in May 2009 that they will never make another episode of the comedy because they are "too old and tired," and expectations would be too high. In a television interview (shown in Australia on Seven Network and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) on May 7, 2009, Cleese also commented that he and Booth took six weeks to write each episode.
In 1977 and 1978 alone, the original TV show was sold to 45 stations in 17 countries and was the BBC's best-selling overseas program for that year. Fawlty Towers became a huge success in almost all countries in which it aired. Although it initially was a flop in Spain, largely because of the portrayal of the Spanish waiter Manuel, it was successfully resold with the Manuel character's nationality changed to Italian except in Spain's Catalan region where Manuel was Mexican. To show how badly it translated, Clive James picked up a clip containing Manuel's "¿Qué?" phrase to show on Clive James on Television in 1982. The series also briefly was broadcast in Italy in the 1990s on the satellite channel Canal Jimmy, in the original English with Italian subtitles.
In Australia, the show originally was broadcast on ABC Television. The first series in 1977 and the second series in 1980. The show then was sold to the Seven Network where it has been repeated numerous times. Today, the show is repeated on Seven's digital channel 7TWO.
The series still is shown in the United States on several PBS member stations.
Home video releases and merchandise
Two record albums were released by BBC Records. The first album, simply titled Fawlty Towers, was released in 1979 and contained the audio from "Communication Problems" (as "Mrs Richards") and "Hotel Inspectors". The second album, titled Second Sitting, was released in 1981 and contained audio from "Basil the Rat" (as "The Rat") and "The Builders".
Fawlty Towers originally was released by BBC Video in 1984, with three episodes on each of four tapes. Each tape was edited with the credits from all three episodes put at the end of the tape. A Laserdisc containing all episodes spliced together as a continuous episode was released in the U.S. on June 23, 1993. It was re-released in 1994 unedited and digitally remastered. It also was re-released in 1998 with a special interview with John Cleese. Fawlty Towers – The complete series was released on DVD on October 16, 2001, available in regions 1, 2 and 4. A "Collector's Edition" is available in region 2.
Series one of the show was released on UMD Video for PSP. In July 2009, BBC America announced a DVD re-release of the Fawlty Towers series. The DVD set was released on 20 October 2009. The reissue, titled Fawlty Towers Remastered: Special Edition, contains commentary by John Cleese on every episode as well as remastered video and audio. All episodes also were available as streamed video-on-demand via Netflix and Amazon Instant Videos. Both series are available for download on iTunes.
Australian video releases
A Fawlty Towers game was released on PC in 2000 and featured a number of interactive games, desktop customizing content and clips from the show.