Puneet Varma (Editor)

The Germans

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Episode no.
Season 1 Episode 6

Original air date
24 October 1975

Directed by
John Howard Davies

The Germans

Written by
John Cleese & Connie Booth

"The Germans" is the sixth episode of the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers. It is remembered for its line "Don't mention the war" and John Cleese's goose-stepping in a manner similar to that of the silly walk when he is impersonating Adolf Hitler.



Sybil is in the hospital for three days for minor surgery to remove an ingrown toenail. When Basil visits her, she reminds him of all his tasks over the next few days: Running a fire drill, hanging a moose head, etc. Basil fights with the Sister caring for Sybil. When Doctor Finn tells him Sybil will be in a lot of pain after the operation, Basil is thrilled.

Back at Fawlty Towers, Basil has a confusing conversation with Major Gowen about women, a cricket game and the "proper" racial slurs for Indians and West Indians (much of this dialogue has been cut in recent airings by the BBC). When the Major learns a group of German guests are coming to the hotel, he launches into an angry tirade against Germans. After the Major wanders off, Basil tries to hang the moose head, but he is interrupted by a phone call from Sybil reminding him to do just that. Basil tries to ask Manuel for a hammer, but he gives up after Manuel thinks that Basil wants a ham sandwich or wants to see his hamster, and leaves to get it himself. While he is gone, Manuel steps behind the front desk to tidy up and practise his English. The Major returns to hear a voice coming from behind the counter and thinks it is coming from the moose head. Basil returns and hangs the moose head, but it immediately falls on his head, and he trips over Manuel trying to get to the phone to talk to Sybil again.

The next morning, Basil hangs the moose head again, but one of the antlers keeps drooping. There are just a few minutes remaining until the fire drill, and Sybil calls to remind Basil of the drill and say the key for the fire alarm is in the safe. Basil retrieves the key, but he trips the burglar alarm, which the guests mistake for the fire alarm (and which The Major mistakes as an indication that there are burglars in the hotel). As Basil tries to explain, the guests ask to hear both bells so they can tell the difference. Hearing the fire bell from the demonstration, Manuel and Polly think the fire bell means the drill has started, so Basil has to explain the situation to them, too. After the demonstration, Basil says the real drill will start in 30 seconds, so the guests stand about in the lobby, to Basil's annoyance.

In the kitchen, moments before the drill is to start, Manuel accidentally starts a real fire. The drill then commences. The panicked Manuel tries to explain the situation to Basil, but he does not understand and locks the waiter in the burning kitchen. Basil lets the guests back in, but Manuel's frantic banging makes him open the kitchen door. Basil sees the fire and tells the guests to exit the building again. He tries to start the alarm again, but he cannot find the key. He hurts his hand trying to smash the glass and hurls the typewriter at it with no success, so he uses the phone instead. He tries to use the fire extinguisher, but he blasts himself in the face, which temporarily blinds him. Trying to help, Manuel accidentally smacks Basil in the head with a frying pan he had been using to try to smother the flames and knocks Basil out.

Basil comes to in the hospital, where he is being treated for a concussion. Due to his concussion, he begins acting strangely. The confused, disoriented Basil insults the Sister and insists on going home, saying the hotel needs him as "Polly can't cope". Sybil sarcastically refers to Basil falling over waiters, getting jammed under desks, etc., as evidence of his ability to cope. Dr. Finn arrives and puts him to bed, but after he is gone, Basil sneaks out and returns to Fawlty Towers in time to meet the German guests who have arrived (and whom he promptly rakes over the proverbial coals). When two German guests want to rent a car, he mistranslates their request, "Wir wollen ein Auto mieten", as their volunteering to go out to get some meat. "Not necessary," says he, "we have meat here....in ze buildink!!" Noticing something is wrong, Manuel fetches Polly, who encourages Basil to lie down, but Basil insists on serving the other German guests their lunch while Polly discreetly calls Dr. Finn. Despite his warning of "don't mention the War", Basil manages to make a reference to the war in almost every single sentence he comes up with and makes namechecks to Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Eva Braun (whom he refers to as "Eva Prawn"), Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring and Joachim von Ribbentrop. When one of the German guests starts crying due to all the war references, Basil claims that the guests "started it". When another German guest denies Basil's accusation, Basil replies, "Yes you did, you invaded Poland!" Basil then tries to cheer the crying guest up by starting to tell an anecdote, impersonating Adolf Hitler and doing a Silly Walk-inspired goose-step across the room while shouting in mock German.

Just then, Dr. Finn arrives to sedate Basil and take him back to the hospital, but Basil makes a run for it through the hotel until he spitefully hits Manuel over the head. The moose head, however, falls from the wall again, hitting Basil on the head and knocking him out while landing on Manuel's head, leading the Major once again to think the moose is talking.

The German guests watch the whole ordeal in disbelief, and one wonders aloud, "However did they win [the Second World War]?"


  • Interior scenes of this episode were recorded on 31 August 1975, in Studio TC6 of the BBC Television Centre, before a live audience.
  • This was the only episode not to begin with an exterior shot of the hotel. Instead, an exterior shot of the Northwick Park Hospital in Brent was used.
  • In the scene where Manuel attempts to put out a fire in the kitchen, firemen were on standby to put out the flames. However in the next shot where Manuel walks out to alert Basil of the fire, two chemicals were added to his arm, to create smoke. During rehearsal and filming these chemicals soaked into his clothing causing Andrew Sachs second degree chemical burns on his arm and back.
  • In 2013, the BBC edited the Major's usage of the words "niggers" and "wogs" from a repeat transmission of the episode, causing some criticism by viewers. The BBC defended its decision, claiming "We are very proud of Fawlty Towers and its contribution to British television comedy. But public attitudes have changed significantly since it was made and it was decided to make some minor changes, with the consent of John Cleese’s management, to allow the episode to transmit to a family audience at 7.30pm on BBC2." However, on 28 June 2013, Gold transmitted the unedited episode after the watershed.
  • Cultural impact

  • In 2008, John Cleese confirmed that he had been learning German for a while and described himself as "speaking simple German fluently now". Referring to the Fawlty Towers episode "The Germans", he explained "Everybody thinks that was a joke about the Germans but they missed it. It was a joke about British attitudes to the war and the fact that some people were still hanging on to that rubbish".
  • This episode popularised the phrase "Don't mention the war". Cleese turned the phrase into a song for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the first time Cleese had played Basil Fawlty in 27 years. The phrase was used as a title for a humorous travel book written by Stewart Ferris and Paul Bassett, detailing travels through Germany and other European countries. It is also the title of a book by John Ramsden, published in 2006, which examines Anglo-German relations since 1890 and a 2004 Radio 4 documentary looking at the British perception of Germans.
  • The goose-stepping Hitler impression has become famous, and has been compared with Cleese's performance in "The Ministry of Silly Walks" Monty Python sketch.
  • The episode was one of the most popular of the series in Germany when it was first shown there in 1993.
  • This episode was voted as number 11 in Channel 4's One Hundred Greatest TV Moments in 1999.
  • Gold, a channel that regularly shows Fawlty Towers, argues that while "The Germans" is the most famous episode, the best episode is "Communication Problems".
  • Empire magazine listed this as the best episode of the show in its list of the 50 greatest TV episodes of all time.
  • In the first episode of the second series of the BBC series The Office, David Brent performs an impression of a paper industry figure as Basil Fawlty, quoting the phrase "Don't mention the war", and impersonating the goosestep used by Basil.
  • In an episode of QI dedicated to Germany, the contestants were penalised for mentioning the war.
  • Cast

    Episode-credited cast:

  • John Cleese as Basil Fawlty
  • Prunella Scales as Sybil Fawlty
  • Andrew Sachs as Manuel
  • Connie Booth as Polly Sherman
  • Ballard Berkeley as Major Gowen
  • Gilly Flower as Miss Abitha Tibbs
  • Renee Roberts as Miss Ursula Gatsby
  • With:

  • Lisa Bergmayr as German Guest
  • Willy Bowman as German Guest
  • Brenda Cowling as Sister
  • Claire Davenport as Miss Wilson
  • Iris Fry as Mrs. Sharp
  • Dan Gillian as German Guest
  • Nick Kane as German Guest
  • John Lawrence as Mr. Sharp
  • Louis Mahoney as Doctor Finn
  • References

    The Germans Wikipedia