So much comedy now is wry-smile kinda stuff, but Fawlty Towers is quite simply laugh out loud and roll around on the sofa. Proper. Old fashioned. Comedy.
Which is why we’re so gutted that there are only a mere twelve episodes to enjoy. But then again, this show is from before the days of Netflix and the casual renewal of shockingly bad shows – hang your head in shame, Emily in Paris. In fact, this was even before the days of streamers, Sky, and Freeview. When families would sit down after tea to enjoy a bit of telly, they had three channels to choose from: BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV. And there’s no catch up, or on demand, you had to watch what was on right now, or nothing at all. Ah, a simpler time…
And a time of great TV. The 1975 Fawlty Towers is a sitcom about a hectic Torquay hotel and its ridiculous staff – the grumpy and rude owner Basil Fawlty, his bossy wife Sybil, voice-of-reason Polly, and Manuel, the broken-English speaking Spanish waiter. And it is one of the best British shows of all time.
Fawlty Towers is not only funny, it’s smart, and it has proper belly laughs at the bizarre things us Brits say and do. And the performances are brilliant – John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth both wrote the script and star in it, and together they are comic brilliance. And its frugal twelve episodes have entered the vernacular: “Don’t mention the war” being just one of many gems.
In 2019 it was voted Britain’s best ever sitcom by a panel of experts, beating favourites such as Father Ted and I’m Alan Partridge for top spot. And according to the Independent’s Sam Kitchener, “the BFI even went so far as to name it the finest British television programme ever, full stop.” It sounds like he agrees with that decision, too, as he says: “Fawlty Towers, so far as British sitcoms are concerned, is the best of the bunch. It is the most acutely observed; the most formally accomplished and has the most virtuoso performances. It is also, most importantly, the funniest.”
First shown September 1975.