Fawlty Towers. The portrayal of foreign characters in the series

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Fawlty Towers
- Short overview of the series
- The Humour of Fawlty Towers

3. Foreign characters of the series
- Manuel from Barcelona - The Spanish waiter
- Mrs Peignoir - The French antiques dealer
- Mr Hamilton - The American gourmet
- The German tour party

4. Conclusion

5. List of Literature

1. Introduction

German Guest: Can I help you?

Basil Fawlty: Oh, you speak English?!

German guest: Of course.

Basil Fawlty: Ah, wonderful! WUNDERBAR![1]

Fawlty Towers, a British television series from the 1970’s, written by John Cleese and Connie Booth is famous for its eccentric characters, farcical humour and unintentionally funny moments. The life of Basil Fawlty, the choleric and perpetually overworked owner of a slightly run-down sea front hotel, his constantly nagging wife Sybil and their good-hearted but maltreated employees, the maid Polly and the Spanish waiter Manuel, is depicted throughout the series. All of them try to keep the hotel running and the guests satisfied despite several incidents and self-made catastrophes.

Due to the fact that the series focuses on a hotel, plenty of different guests visit the hotel Fawlty Towers during the 12 episode run of the series. Almost every visit leads to copious amounts of awkward situations and there’s always something Basil Fawlty dislikes about his clientele - may it be their outer appearance, personal taste, social class or their cultural background. Bearing that in mind this homework will take a closer look at the portrayal of foreign characters throughout the series and their interactions with the British hotel staff.

After a short introduction to the series and its main protagonists I’m going to point out how foreigners and people of different cultural backgrounds are portrayed in the series and which aspects of their behaviour or cultural peculiarities are made fun of. Furthermore, I will take a closer look at the English characters of the series as well.

How do they interact with the foreign characters? Which stereotypes, prejudices or clichés towards the different nationalities do exists in the minds of British people and how does the series Fawlty Towers make fun of them?

2. Fawlty Towers

- Short overview of the series

Fawlty Towers is a British television sitcom produced by the BBC and was originally running from 1975 to 1979. It features twelve episodes in two seasons and was written by John Cleese and his wife Connie Booth and directed by John Howard Davies.[2] The setting of the series is the fictional, run-down sea view hotel called Fawlty Towers in the small city of Torquay on the English Riviera. The main characters are the testy and very rude manager of the hotel, Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese), his bossy and somewhat disillusioned wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) as well as the two employees of the hotel which do most of the work: the young and very beautiful part-time chambermaid Polly Sherman (Connie Booth) and the Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs) who’s goodhearted but not good at speaking English.

The series focuses on the endeavours of the hotel staff to keep the hotel successfully running despite the mostly self-inflicted problems and chaos the manager Basil Fawlty causes. Being snobbish, aggressive and full of himself he often loses his temper, yells at his employees (and customers) and brings nothing but mayhem in his futile attempts to ‘raise the tone’ of the not very well equipped hotel. The idea to the series was inspired by:

“[…] a seethingly rude hotel proprietor John Cleese encountered whilst away filming with the Monty Python team. Unwittingly, Donald Sinclair became the blueprint for Basil Fawlty, the epitome of frustrated, social climbing middle-Englanders.”[3]

During the 12-episode run of the series several invited and uninvited guest appear at the Fawlty Towers: a deaf woman, a hotel inspector, a German tour party, the pet rat of waiter Manuel and many more. Basil Fawlty is depicted as a constantly frustrated and unnerved man who is unsatisfied with anything, above all with his wife and the clientele his hotel attracts.

His wife Sybil on the other hand is the bossy type and not in the least offended or inflicted by his behaviour or the nice nicknames her husband gives to her (‘my little piranha fish’, ‘the golfing puff adder’, ‘my little commandant’).

The plots of the show are usually farcical and contain a lot of misunderstandings, coincidences and accidents which lead to hilarious situations.

- The Humour of Fawlty Towers

The humour conveyed by the series is mostly farcical and derives to large extents from Basil Fawlty’s emotional outbursts and overly aggressive behaviour towards his wife, his employees and the guests of the hotel. Furthermore, Basil oftentimes becomes ‘an unfortunate victim of circumstances.’[4] The plots of the episodes are usually quite intricate and full of misunderstandings and ambiguous situations.[5]

The series’ humour can sometimes be offensive, considering the fact that it contains several moments of physical violence – particularly between Basil Fawlty and the waiter Manuel who gets beaten by his employer several times, e.g. with a frying pan or a spoon– and xenophobic behaviour, mostly during the episode ‘The Germans’. Although, Fawlty Towers does not contain plenty of it, some mild black humour can be found as well. The occasional black humour fits well into the concept of the series since ‘black humour often uses farce and low comedy […]’[6]. One example of black humour in the series is the episode ‘The Kipper and the Corpse’ in which course Basil Fawlty and his staff desperately try to hide the corpse of a guest who deceased during his visit at the Fawlty Towers. In addition to this episode there are several dialogues between Basil and other characters containing black humour as well:

During the episode ‘Communication Problems’ he is suggesting to a particularly unnerving guest: ‘May I suggest that you consider moving to a hotel closer to the sea? Or preferably in it.’[7], whereas he asks during the episode ‘The Wedding Party’ in reference to his wife: ‘Did you ever see that film ‘How to murder your wife?’[…] Awfully good. I say it six times.’[8]

In general the bad relationship between the married couple Basil and Sybil Fawlty is a running gag throughout the series – both doesn’t seem to bother anymore to hide their disdain for each other in the slightest. There are several other running gags mainly in connection with the Spanish waiter Manuel. Because he is from Spain (to be more precisely from Barcelona), he isn’t capable of speaking correct English, a fact that is constantly made fun of. Him saying ‘qué?’ if he doesn’t understand what his employer or a guest wants or the other members of the hotel staff saying ‘Oh, he is from Barcelona’ when Manuel acts strange or does something wrong occurs several times throughout the series. Furthermore, he is often smacked or beaten by his boss when he does something wrong, which more or less happens every episode.

Most of the series’ humour derives from the hot-tempered character of Basil Fawlty. In general the one-episode guests simply serve as vehicles or triggers for Basil Fawlty’s anger and emotional outbursts because each of them provide at least one characteristic he cannot stand. In addition to that Basil usually gets into situations he isn’t responsible or can’t be blamed for but instead of dealing with the problems in a normal way he generally chooses the most complicated and stupid method possible to solve them. Usually his attempts to safe the situation fail hilariously and make things even worse.


[1] „Fawlty Towers“- Television Series season 1, episode 6 “The Germans”, 1975

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/fawltytowers/ official BBC Fawlty Towers website

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/fawltytowers/ official BBC Fawlty Towers website

[4] Power Point Presentation “Fawlty Towers”, WS 2011/12 “Humour”

[5] Power Point Presentation “Fawlty Towers”, WS 2011/12 “Humour”

[6] Encyclopædia Britannica, Black Humour

[7] Fawlty Towers season 2 episode 7 „Communication Problems“

[8] Fawlty Towers, season 1 episode 3 „The Wedding Party“

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Fawlty Towers. The portrayal of foreign characters in the series
University of Paderborn  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Hauptseminar 'Humour'
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Die komödiantische Darstellung ausländischer Charaktere in der britischen Fernsehserie 'Fawlty Towers' vor dem Hintergrund bestehender nationaler Klischés und Stereotypen, sowie deren Umsetzung in der Serie.
fawlty, towers, cultural studies, television, series, humour, black humour
Quote paper
Selina Schuster (Author), 2012, Fawlty Towers. The portrayal of foreign characters in the series, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/233127


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