The Legacy of Classic Sitcom Fawlty Towers
“Fawlty Towers,” the classic sitcom, became an overnight sensation and propelled actor and show writer John Cleese to stardom.
Originally airing on BBC Two in 1975 and followed by another series in 1979, the show, consisting of just two series with six episodes each, didn’t initially receive glowing reviews from critics.
Nevertheless, it ultimately proved to be a massive success and earned the top spot on the British Film Institute’s list of the “100 Greatest British Television Programmes” in both 2000 and 2019.
The Hilarious Chaos of Torquay’s Fawlty Towers
Set in a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, “Fawlty Towers” revolved around the irritable and rude hotel owner, Basil Fawlty (played by Cleese), and his wife, Sybil.
The series provided viewers with barrels of laughter, but it also etched its name in history as one of the most controversial shows to date, with several aspects deemed inappropriate for modern audiences.
Controversial Episodes: “The Germans”
One of the most notorious episodes of “Fawlty Towers” is “The Germans,” the sixth episode of the first series. Aired in 1975, this episode continues to stir controversy to this day.
In this installment, hotel manager Basil, dealing with the effects of a concussion, offends a group of German guests. While instructing his staff not to mention the war, he himself repeatedly makes references to World War II and even performs an impression of Adolf Hitler while making a Nazi salute.
The episode faced backlash when it first aired, and Cleese’s intention was to satirize the British obsession with the war. In 2021, when the BBC re-aired the episode with a warning, it still drew criticism from viewers.
Racial Slurs and Major Gowen
In the same episode, hotel resident Major Gowen, portrayed by Ballard Berkeley, used a racial slur. Major Gowen was known for his foul language and lack of awareness of what most would consider offensive.
He frequently used derogatory terms in reference to members of the West Indies cricket team and referred to Indians with offensive language.
In 2020, Cleese defended the writing of these lines and criticized the removal of the episode from a streaming service, asserting that they were making fun of the character’s views rather than endorsing them.
Views on Women
“Fawlty Towers” has faced criticism for its portrayal and views on women. Basil’s wife, Sybil (played by Prunella Scales), was depicted as the only one who could manage Basil’s outbursts and turbulent personality.
However, she often appeared as Basil’s “stupid” wife and a constant nag. The show’s conversations about women being perceived as “strange creatures” might be met with disapproval by modern audiences.
The Character of Manuel
Waiter Manuel, portrayed by Andrew Sachs, also drew criticism for his portrayal.
Manuel, hailing from Barcelona, was often the target of Basil’s crude jokes due to his eagerness and chaotic nature.
Although willing to please, Manuel frequently struggled to understand, leading to the character being portrayed as unintelligent.
Some viewers from Spain felt the program was making fun of them through Manuel’s character.