Fawlty Towers Revisited

Episode 1 of 1

Go ahead. Google Fawlty Towers. You'll return 95,700 possible web pages, a number that we frankly think a bit on the low side. In the nearly thirty years since this series first made its appearance on BBC, it has become an iconic television reference point. Although stretching to just twelve half hours in its short production run, it transformed Britcoms and viewers' expectations of their television entertainment. It is widely, and we think rightly, hailed as the finest television situation comedy ever created. All British Comedy fans have watched the series uncountable times. They are shows that simply refuse to wear out their welcome. In this eighty-plus-minute pledge special for delivery in December 2005, we have drawn on an exclusive interview that series creator John Cleese did with the BBC in which he talks about the creative process, casting the show, how he and co-writer (and then wife) Connie Booth collaborated on each episode and provides sparkling inside commentary on the world's favorite comedy program. We also had the pleasure of doing a follow- up interview with Mr. Cleese in April of this year at his ranch in Santa Barbara, California and excerpts from this interview figure prominently in our program. But that's not all. Others from the cast & crew contribute their insights as well, including: Andrew Sachs (Manuel), Prunella Scales (Sybil), Connie Booth (Polly), Nicky Henson & Luan Peters (Mr. Johnson & Raylene Miles from "The Psychiatrist"), Bernard Cribbins (Mr. Hutchinson in "The Hotel Inspectors"), John Howard Davies (producer/director of season one) and Bob Spiers (director of season two). Cleese's friend and Monty Python colleague Terry Jones even chimes in with his take on the Pythons' now infamous stay at the Glenneagles Hotel in Torquay that provided the inspiration for the creation of Fawlty Towers. Three simple examples, we think, will give an immediate view to the structure of the special. Cleese points out that the average half-hour comedy script for BBC in the mid-1970s ran to something like sixty pages. The average script for a Fawlty Towers episode, on the other hand, ran to more like 120 pages. We illustrate this with clips showing unceasing, interwoven and hysterically funny dialogue. Perhaps the most memorable moment in all of Fawlty Towers is when Basil decides he has had enough of the treachery visited on him by his phlegmatic Austin 1100 Estate Car and proceeds to whack the beejesus out of the offending vehicle with a tree limb. Cleese and John Howard Davies give us a further appreciation of the fine crafting of that scene by recounting how it took finding just the right limb to do the work. Too sturdy a limb: not funny. Too limp a limb: not funny. Find the right limb and leave people laughing for years. As Basil's comedic foil, Manuel was absolutely perfect both in characterization and casting. Perhaps no other Britcom character has endured so much hardship and abuse in the service of comedy. In a scene that radically underscores that one firm basis of comedy is cruelty, Manuel is seen accidentally setting himself alight in trying to put out a kitchen fire and then repeatedly being hurled back into the room in conflagration by an outraged and disbelieving Basil. Cleese and Sachs himself go on to tell how the actor was definitely in harm's way as the smoke the prop people generated in his waiter's jacket was actually a real fire smoldering and inflicted some real damage! Speaking of Manuel, we are pleased to say that Andrew Sachs and John Howard Davies share the role of host during the program, giving viewers perspectives from both in front of and behind, the camera. And, of course, it's all woven skillfully together with the liveliest and funniest clips from the very best episodes of the series. On the very off chance that there is someone somewhere in America who has never seen Fawlty Towers, this special is a rollicking introduction. More importantly, for those of us who have been in love with the series for about as long as we can remember, Fawlty Towers Revisited is a celebration of comic genius.

Previously Aired

11 p.m.
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