Fawlty Towers: Originally broadcast from September 19, 1975 to October 25, 1979
Is it just the nostalgia factor that makes us think that Fawlty Towers was so good? After all, you could never accuse the show of being politically correct. It's hard to believe that some of the episodes would be allowed today. But there's surely more to the show's enduring success than it just being from "the good old days". It can still make people belly laugh, after all.
Maybe it's because Fawlty Towers is so well-crafted. Basil can start out with the best intentions - he genuinely does want to make his hotel a good place to stay - but everything conspires against him. Often, it's not even his fault that everything gets so messed up (although equally, he often doesn't exactly help himself). The point is that the show was so carefully plotted that various strands would come together in a hilarious climax that you wouldn't quite be expecting.
It doesn't always have to be that sophisticated, though. A lot of Fawlty Towers' humour came from slapstick, and there's nothing wrong with that. Yes, comedy has tended to rely less on physical comedy in recent years (with Miranda a notable exception), but Fawlty Towers does it so well that it is genuinely amusing.
Take Manuel. Somehow, Fawlty Towers gets away with making violence against a vulnerable Spanish waiter really rather funny indeed. Perhaps Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross would be regarded as heroes if, instead of talking about relations with Andrew Sachs's granddaughter, they'd pinged him on the head with a spoon and told him he was a waste of space.
In fact, the characters are a big reason for Fawlty Towers' success. Basil is an awful, awful human being (and was apparently based on a real hotel manager who had appalled John Cleese and his then-wife and writing partner Connie Booth). There is nothing that can excuse a lot of Basil's behaviour, which is how Fawlty Towers can get away with its more outrageous moments - we're laughing at Basil, not with him. That said, he was eminently watchable and you could often sympathise with his inevitable downfalls. Who hasn't felt like thrashing their car with a branch? No wonder it became such an iconic scene.
Everyone can relate to the fact that you might have the best plans and the best intentions, but everything is out of your control. And we all know what it's like to deal with other people. Booth was lucky that she got to play basically the nicest person in the show, Polly, but even she had a dark side occasionally. And Manuel was sweet and overly enthusiastic, but not the shiniest spoon in the drawer.
Strangely, the characters never quite tipped into caricatures - even Manuel, the chef Terry, and Basil's awful wife Sybil. Sybil is a classic comedic character - her drawling voice, her badgering of Basil and her self-confidence are all fantastic. The guest stars were all great fun and fully rounded, too - it's interesting to see just how many "I'm disgusted and leaving" faces there are in the world. And special mention must go to Major Gowen, the only one Basil had any patience with.
The little things about Fawlty Towers are fun too. One of the most inspired things about the show is the way that the sign at the front changes in the opening credits in each episode. At first, it was just that a letter would be askew. By the end of the second series, it was getting a lot sillier. My favourite incarnation is unrepeatable on a family website, but, say, "Farty Towels" is just inspired.
Perhaps it's not only the nostalgia factor, but the fact that Fawlty Towers has been passed down from generation to generation. The show was on years before I entered the world, but I was shown it by my parents. I'm sure it's getting to the point now where parents were shown the programme by their mums and dads, and are now passing it on to their children. While it probably really shouldn't be a family show, there's no denying that the 'passing of the baton' feel of it will make people regard it more warmly.
And, of course, it's not like it takes a long time to watch Fawlty Towers. Wisely, Cleese and Booth quit while they were ahead, leaving us with just 12 episodes. That's probably for the best - all 12 are of a very high standard, and it lets us remember the show without thinking that it should all have just wrapped up earlier. The fact that the two six-episode series were four years apart proves how carefully the show was written.
Luckily, we can watch those instalments over and over again if we want to. The show's available on DVD and online, so we can remind ourselves just how funny Fawlty Towers was. Or maybe you don't think it's endured for all these years? Whether or not you're a fan, you can't deny that Fawlty Towers will now always be considered a comedy classic.
Are you a fan of Fawlty Towers? Leave your comments below!