Written by and starring Monty Python’s John Cleese and his wife Connie Booth, who became his ex-wife before the second series aired, Fawlty Towers is quite possibly the funniest sitcom episode for episode. The main reason being the quality of the scripts, which the two spent weeks plotting, writing, and revising in order to perfect them.
Set in the English seaside town of Torquay, Cleese plays Basil Fawlty, a character inspired by hotel owner Donald Sinclair, whom Cleese described as “the most marvelously rude man I’ve ever met.” Basil is a henpecked, put-upon hotel owner who delivers terrible customer service because he thinks so little of his guests. That is unless the guest is of a higher social class, then he fawns all over them. However, he usually pays a price for his snobbish attitudes. Basil also frequently concocts schemes to improve the hotel’s clientele or to make some money, yet that always fails.
Helping Basil run the hotel are his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), who is better with the customers though she usually only steps in after Basil has bungled; art student Polly (Booth) works as a maid and a waitress, but her duties also include assisting Basil's plans from placing a wager to posing as Sybil; and Spanish porter/waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs), whose poor grasp of English causes a great deal of confusion and frustration, which results in physical abuse from Basil. In the second series, Terry (Brian Hall) the chef joins the staff.
Each series ran six episodes, the first in 1975 and the second in 1979. Notable storylines feature Basil trying to figure out which guests are hotel inspectors and overcompensating for his rude behavior, his throwing a gourmet night though the chef passes out drunk after Manuel refuses his advances, the staff dealing with the hard-of-hearing Mrs. Richards, Basil attempting to hide the death of a guest, and Manuel’s pet rat (also named Basil) getting lose in the hotel.
Cleese is the highlight of the show. He’s hysterical whether firing off witty insults, or performing a bit of slapstick. At times, he’s like a plate spinner, running around trying to keep his plans intact. And no one does anger funnier as evidenced by the scene where Basil thrashes his car with a branch.
This collection has been remastered since the 2001 Complete Series release and the video looks good for its age. Each episode features separate commentaries from Cleese and the director, John Howard Davies for series one and Bob Spiers for series two. Cleese provides great detail and insight into the workings of comedy. There are old interviews with Cleese (53 min), Sachs (25 min), and Scales (8 min) as well as 2009 interviews with the cast, including a rare appearance by Booth (39 min), recorded for the digital comedy channel G.O.L.D. There are also about two minutes of outtakes, a clip of Basil introducing a tatty revue, an actual Torquay Tourist Guide (12 min), profiles of the cast, and an accompanying booklet.
If you enjoy laughing, Fawlty Towers – The Complete Collection Remastered has to be in your home library.