The Complete Fawlty Towers
by John Cleese
and Connie Booth
 

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

12 scripts televised in 1975 and 1979

Methuen: London, 1988
333 pages

May 2004

  

[Vienna. The city gates.]

Mariana:

They say best men are moulded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad.

William Shakespeare
Measure for Measure, 5.1.431-433
  

This collection of teleplays, The Complete Fawlty Towers by John Cleese and Connie Booth, contains the scripts for all twelve (and only twelve!) Fawlty Towers shows that ran originally in two seasons, 1975 and 1979. This is a great television series, winning polls as the most popular in British history. The episodes are jam-packed with comedy:

  1. A Touch of Class
  2. The Builders
  3. The Wedding Party
  4. The Hotel Inspectors
  5. Gourmet Night
  6. The Germans
  7. Communication Problems
  8. The Psychiatrist
  9. Waldorf Salad
  10. The Kipper and the Corpse
  11. The Anniversary
  12. Basil the Rat
      

Just one sample here. In "The Psychiatrist", Basil Fawlty is justifiably self-conscious — if not paranoid — about having a psychiatrist staying in his hotel. If ever there was a man of parts whose best and worst parts so often seem to be faults, that man is Basil Fawlty. This episode serves up a typically generous assortment of confusions and minor disasters, followed by explanations or cover-ups that make things worse.

At the moment, Basil is lurking in a broom closet upstairs, trying to catch a girl that a guest, Johnson, has smuggled into his room. Basil mistakes overheard conversation among Johnson, the psychiatrist Dr. Abbott, and the latter's wife, for the compromising emergence he's hoping to expose:
  

  Dr. Abbot comes out. Basil leaps out of the cupboard brandishing a broom.
 
      Basil   Right! The game's up! (he sees who he has confronted, then looks at a point high up on the wall) Up there. Bit of game pie, got stuck up there. (he jabs at the wall with the broom; the Abbotts stare for a moment) There we are. Right. Everything back to normal. Enjoy your walk. (he starts sweeping the floor; the Abbotts move off downstairs)
 
      Dr Abbott   (quietly, as they reach the foot of the stairs) There's enough material there for an entire conference.

  

The Complete Fawlty Towers includes fifteen black-and-white photographs, but no introduction or notes or other matter besides the teleplays themselves. I wouldn't expect or urge a typical fan of Fawlty Towers to buy this book for the plays — far better to see the shows themselves, available on DVD.

However, for those studying teleplays for wonderful examples of playwriting — from structuring pratfalls to slipping in throwaway wit — these scripts are the text at the foundation of the hilarious screen series. Or for fans wanting to check the exact wording of some Gordian Knot that all Basil's efforts only tighten more hopelessly, this is the reference.
  

Physically the book seems a Basil Fawlty project, shiny on the outside. Methuen unfortunately packaged The Complete Fawlty Towers (my copy at least) as ephemera, a plastic-coated hardcover. It's inexcusably printed on cheap pulp paper that turns brown when exposed to sunlight as infinitesimal as that reflecting off the distant ocean prospect into the windows of Fawlty Towers. Storing one's copy on a dark shelf will postpone disintegration.

For background on the show and its actors, with illustrations, see Fawlty Towers:  Fully Booked, by Morris Bright and Robert Ross.

John Cleese and Connie Booth labored long and hard on these scripts, and the result is entirely delightful. Fawlty Towers puts almost all other television comedy in the shade.

  

[Forest of Ardenne.]

Rosalind:
... they were all like one another as halfpence are, every one fault seeming monstrous till his fellow-fault came to match it.
William Shakespeare
As You Like It, 3.2.321-323

© 2004 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
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