Fawlty Towers redefined British Comedy. John Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth decided to collaborate to write it, and that’s essentially the moment that chocolate got in peanut butter. Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Ricky Gervais have all openly cited this show as inspirational in both its humour and its format. It constantly combined fast-paced dialogue, high-brow humour, low-brow physicality, and a dynamic cast that could handle it all. The pacing on the show has rarely been replicated, because Cleese and Booth originally wrote it to be an hour-long show and didn’t cut much of the dialogue when they were told episodes could only be 30 minutes. They just spoke faster. In other words, there’s mathematically more humour in most of the episodes than other television shows. And yes, I spelled humor the “British” way in that paragraph in their honour.
Basil Fawlty (Cleese) is a misanthrope of the highest caliber, and is obsessed with class standings to a level that even the British consider a bit overboard. He seems to hate his wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales), to the extent that her physical pain brings him happiness. However, because of his natural incompetence, he is constantly suffering her wrath. He’s prone to excited outbursts, jumping to wild conclusions, physically abusing his staff, and lying poorly. One of his most famous quirks is that he gets nominal aphasia when he tries to come up with a lie on the spot, saying such things as “I pain my wife. I never want her to be in love.”
Basil runs Fawlty Towers, a hotel in the fictional town of Torquay. The hotel staff includes the chambermaid Polly (Connie Booth) and the Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs). The plots generally involve a relatively simple problem which gets elevated to catastrophic proportions, either due to Polly’s disinterest, Manuel’s inability to understand the English language , or Basil’s general scheming and incompetence. This episode is no exception, except in its exceptionalism.
This episode is most remembered for the phrase, uttered throughout it, “don’t mention the war.” When a group of German tourists decides to visit Fawlty Towers, Basil, who hates the Germans on principle of them being German and him being English in the 70s, still tries to run his business while avoiding any discussion of WWII. Unfortunately, due to a recent concussion, Basil ends up making a reference in every single sentence, to the point of him goose stepping while giving himself the Hitler mustache in order to cheer up one of the guests. All while telling his employees “don’t mention the war.” The rest of the staff try to catch him, which results in him running through the hotel, only to be knocked unconscious by a moose head he had failed to properly hang on the wall throughout the episode. Having watched this entire display, the German leader can only say “How ever did they win?” The fact that he can ask that after seeing the physical prowess of Cleese leads me to conclude that Germany doesn’t get how tough pratfalling is. Take 2 minutes, and love this:
This really was the perfect timing for an episode like this. Europe was trying to move forward after the war, but tensions were understandably still running high. People were being encouraged to reconcile, but it wasn’t always easy, even if it was necessary for Europe’s economy to start catching up to the US’s dominant global market power. So, this episode is the culmination of those elements.
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