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Fawlty Towers (1975) – DVD Review

Fawlty Towers DVD cover art


Directed by John Howard Davies & Bob Spiers
Written by Connie Booth & John Cleese
Starring John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth, Brian Hall


  • Running audio commentary by director Davies for Episodes 1-6
  • Running audio commentary by director Spiers for Episodes 7-12
  • Interviews with Cleese, Scales & Sachs
  • “A Visit to Torquay – Home of Fawlty Towers”
  • Contemporary footage of the hotel used for the outside of Fawlty Towers
  • Multiple montages of various gags from the series
  • “Helpful Staff” – Information on the lead actors
  • “Guest Registry” – Information on the major guest stars
  • Various trailers for other BBC titles
  • Outtakes

Released by BBC Home Video
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Grab It.

[ad#longpost]Meet Basil Fawlty (Cleese). He’s the owner of Fawlty Towers (or Flay Otters, depending on the day), one of the strangest hotels in all of Britain, and certainly the most colorful in the resort area of Torquay. It’s colorful if for no other reason than the language Basil uses not only with his staff, Manuel (Sachs) and Polly (Booth), but also with his wife, Sybil (Scales). My personal favorite term of endearment he uses for her is “my little nest of vipers.” With an ever bizarre cavalcade of guests running through the place and with Basil going berzerk and flailing about trying to impress the blue bloods, it’s amazing somebody doesn’t just keel over and die from it all. Oh wait, in one episode, someone does.

This series has been hailed as one of the greatest (and sometimes the greatest) sitcoms of all time. Apparently people across the pond revere Cleese for this creation of his even more than they do for his part in bringing Python to life. And it’s easy to see why. Co-written by Cleese and Booth, the dialogue is sharp (and most times downright gouging), the characters are sympathetic and amusing (even when they’re smacking the hell out of one another), and the situations are more preposterous and hilarious than anything you’ve likely seen on TV since. This set presents both series (I’m still getting used to the idea that for British shows, six episodes is an entire series) in all their disturbed glory.

The good news is that, just by themselves, the twelve episodes would be worth snagging and without a trace of guilt for doing so. The better news is that some of the features that come along with the set are pretty keen. The bad news I bring you is that the major part of any set that I get excited about–that’s right, fearful readers, the commentary–is abysmal.

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers

Both commentaries by Davies (first series) and Spiers (second series) are done with such poor quality that I was unable to finish a single episode’s worth. They sound like somebody handed the directors really shoddy microphones and a tape recorder and sent them off somewhere to record. And boy, did they record all right. They recorded everything: breathing and coughing being the majority of what you hear. That and Davies licking his lips right into the mic–which brings it right into the comfort of your living room! Egad. There’s no editing at all–how hard could it have been to at least remove the coughing jags which startle you off the couch? When you pick up your copy, just skip this feature. It’s saddening, it’s so shabbily put together.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the good stuff. First and foremost is the interview with Cleese, split up and spread out across all three discs. It covers everything you would have wanted from the commentaries–how the idea came about, what it was like working with all involved, the impetus for certain episodes…and so forth. Interviews are also provided with Sachs and Scales, but they’re hampered by a young interviewer who seems to have no clue what he’s doing. Sachs, obviously an old pro at interviews, makes the most of it and manages to turn it regardless into a worthwhile endeavor. Scales seems to be about as interested in the interview as I am in…something I’m not very interested in. There’s some good information, but it seems to be a chore for both Scales and interviewer. So, oh well.

John Cleese from Fawlty Towers

The “Visit to Torquay” is intriguing in that it tries to deal with the “actual” Fawlty Towers, or at least the hotel whose head burrito spawned Basil in the imagination of Cleese. Interviews with people in Torquay make it informative and amusing, so it’s worth a watch. Also of note is the “tour” of the hotel used for the Towers exteriors, which when the footage was shot was in a serious state of near demolition. It’s set to what sounds like a requiem mass of some sort, which makes it touching in a very Cleesian sort of way.

Finally, the bits talking about the actors who portrayed both hotel staff and guests (“Helpful Staff” and “Guest Registry”, spanning all three discs) are nice in that they give a quick snippet of the people’s work. Not exhaustive, but still worth going through. Also–the outtakes are terribly brief–so much so that I’m not sure why they were even included. Well, I know the answer: it’s another “feature” for the back of the box.

Despite the shortcomings of what was attempted for this series, again, the series itself carries the set where other features might not. Any fan of British comedy, much less Cleese, should have this on their shelf.

DVD Menu from Fawlty Towers

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