No list of Great British sitcoms worthy of the name could leave out Fawlty Towers. It has been hailed as quite simply the best sitcom in history and, while it was written four decades ago, its universal central themes mean it’s arguably as funny now as it ever was.
The central character, John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, is a classic sitcom protagonist, in some ways the classic sitcom protagonist. He’s a put-upon hotelier for whom everything is too much trouble and who is never ever satisfied with his lot in life. He’s trapped in the precarious position of the English middle class. On the one hand, he’s terrified of his hotel attracting the wrong sort of people and going downhill. On the other, he devotes endless energy and stress to moving up in the world, securing custom from those higher up the social scale, to improve the reputation of his establishment.
The humour comes from all sorts of places: the acutely observed sniping of Basil and his wife Sybil, the over-the-top slapstick of the Spanish waiter Manuel, and the hectic farce of Basil’s latest scheme blowing up in his face. It was genius that didn’t last long – Fawlty Towers has just 12 episodes – but what was produced is very special indeed.