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13 High-Strung Facts About Fawlty Towers

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Co-created by and starring Monty Python’s John Cleese, Fawlty Towers ran on the BBC for just two short seasons between 1975 and 1979. The classic sitcom followed the inept Basil Fawlty (Cleese) as he attempted to bring a touch of class to his dilapidated Torquay hotel, butting heads with his employees, wife, and guests along the way. Here are 13 facts about Fawlty Towers for those who know nothing.

1. BASIL FAWLTY WAS BASED ON A REAL PERSON.

While shooting Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese and the rest of the Monty Python team stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, where they were constantly berated by the eccentric hotel owner Donald Sinclair, whom Cleese once described as "the rudest man I’ve ever come across in my life." Sinclair, who was known for being in a perpetually high state of anxiety, apparently threw Eric Idle’s briefcase into the street as soon as the team arrived, claiming it could be a bomb. He chastised Terry Gilliam for holding his silverware incorrectly and knocked on Michael Palin’s door to ask whether he meant to put up his “Do Not Disturb” sign.

According to The Spectator, “He’d be furious if a teapot meant for four was placed on a table for two. He marched about in his dressing-gown berating guests for wanting hot water to heat a baby’s bottle, early alarm calls, late suppers, or if they requested a taxi. ‘Why?’ he’d howl incredulously, taking a step back, his jaw dropping. If you went out late he might yell after you, ‘And where do you think you’re going?’”

While others might have found Sinclair’s outbursts off-putting, Cleese was inspired. When he began working on ideas for a television show, Sinclair’s antics immediately popped back into his mind, and he decided to model Basil Fawlty and his wife Sybil after Sinclair and his wife Beatrice.

2. THE "REAL" FAWLTY TOWERS WAS DEMOLISHED.

Fawlty Towers turned the Gleneagles Hotel into something of a landmark in Torquay. But though fans of the show would make pilgrimages to the Gleneagles, their patronage wasn’t enough to keep the little hotel in business. Earlier this year, the Gleneagles was demolished to make way for a new retirement home.

3. STUDIO EXECUTIVES HAD DOUBTS ABOUT THE SHOW.

In Fawlty Towers: The Story of Britain's Favourite Sitcom, author Graham McCann wrote that BBC executives weren’t too enthusiastic about initial scripts for the show. “Several producers who had gained a glimpse of a script had pronounced themselves distinctly underwhelmed by the quality of its contents (‘Oh dear,’ one of them had been overheard lamenting about John Cleese in the BBC bar, ‘why did he ever leave Monty Python?’),” McCann wrote. “One executive had gone so far as to distribute a memo complaining: ‘This is a very boring situation and the script has nothing but very clichéd characters. I cannot see anything but a disaster if we go ahead with it.’”

4. IT WASN'T AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Fawlty Towers didn’t make much of a splash when its first episode aired. The BBC did little to promote the show in the days leading up to its premiere (according to McCann, the only magazine coverage was a two-page article in Radio Times by a journalist who had not yet seen the show). McCann noted that the first episode pulled in a “decent” but not impressive audience: “1,868,500—compared with the 7,726,500 who watched the news on BBC1 and the 11,059,500 who tuned to Stanley Baxter on ITV.” After it aired, a number of periodicals dismissed the show harshly: According to The Sydney Morning Herald, “The Evening Standard complained that the plot was ‘thin and obvious’ while the Daily Mirror thundered—‘LONG JOHN IS SHORT ON JOKES.’”

5. IT WAS WRITTEN BY JOHN CLEESE AND CONNIE BOOTH. 

BBC Worldwide, YouTube

John Cleese co-wrote all of Fawlty Towers with his then-wife, Connie Booth, who played hotel employee Polly Sherman in the show. Though the two were divorced between seasons one and two, they continued to collaborate on the series together. According to The Spectator, Cleese focused on Basil’s dialogue, while Booth crafted Sybil’s lines. 

6. CLEESE SUPPLEMENTED HIS INCOME AT THE TIME BY APPEARING IN ADVERTISEMENTS. 

Cleese and Booth were perfectionists who insisted on spending up to a month and a half writing each episode (scripts could run up to 135 pages, around twice the length of most television screenplays). In order to support this lengthy scriptwriting process, Cleese periodically appeared in ads. “I have to thank the advertising industry for making this possible," Cleese once explained. "Connie and I used to spend six weeks writing each episode and we didn’t make a lot of money out of it. I was able to subsidize my writing time by doing commercials. If it hadn’t been for the commercials, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to spend so much time on the script.”

7. THE MAJOR WAS CARY GRANT'S FORMER ROOMMATE. 

Ballard Berkeley, who played the senile but lovable Major Gowen, had been working in show business for half a century when he was cast in Fawlty Towers. In addition to performing in movies and theater, Berkeley was close friends with Cary Grant, and even shared an apartment with the legendary actor back in their early days, when Grant still went by his real name, Archie Leach. 

8. THE DIRECTOR OF SEASON TWO WENT ON TO DIRECT SPICE WORLD. 

Bob Spiers, who was hired to direct season two of Fawlty Towers, began his television career in the 1960s, working as an assistant floor manager on shows like Doctor Who. After directing Fawlty Towers, he worked in film and television for several decades before being hired in 1997 to direct the Spice Girls in Spice World.

9. MANUEL WAS ACTUALLY BURNED DURING THE FIRE DRILL IN "THE GERMANS."

In the season one finale “The Germans,” Basil Fawlty struggles to organize a fire drill while, simultaneously, waiter Manuel—played by Andrew Sachs—manages to set an actual fire in the kitchen. While shooting, Sachs wore a jacket covered in smoke-producing chemicals, which ended up burning his arms so badly, they turned “plum red” according to McCann. The BBC ended up paying Sachs £700 (a little over $1000) in damages. 

10. MANUEL LATER GOT HIT WITH A SAUCEPAN DURING "THE WEDDING PARTY."

“The Germans” wasn’t the only time Sachs suffered for his art: Earlier in the first season, in the episode “The Wedding Party,” Basil hit Manuel with a saucepan in a bit of classic physical comedy. In rehearsals, Cleese tried to lighten the blow, but in one take, he accidentally hit Sachs so hard the actor nearly passed out. McCann quoted Cleese as saying, “We’d been practicing all week with me hitting him with a saucepan ... and I don’t know why we didn’t get a rubber saucepan. And I was trying to hit Andrew a sort of sliding blow, but just as I started he straightened up, and I caught him a terrible one, and I’m afraid he had a headache for about two days.”

11. THE HOTEL SIGN WAS REARRANGED BY THE SHOW'S PRODUCTION ASSISTANT. 

WatchMojo.com, YouTube

Each episode of Fawlty Towers begins with the hotel sign rearranged to spell comical phrases (“Farty Towels,” “Fatty Owls” and “Watery Fowls” for instance)—ostensibly a prank by a disgruntled paper boy. These were actually constructed by production assistant and crossword puzzle fanatic Iain McLean, who came up with a list of clever anagrams for the show.

12. IT HAS BEEN UNSUCCESSFULLY REMADE SEVERAL TIMES. 

Anyone who has seen Fawlty Towers knows the appeal of the show lies not so much in its premise—which essentially boils down to a cranky hotel owner repeatedly getting angry—as in its clever writing, and the chemistry of its extremely funny cast. Nevertheless, Fawlty Towers has been remade repeatedly, with largely unsuccessful results. It was adapted in Germany as Zoom, and unsuccessfully remade at least four times in the United States, with Bea Arthur taking over the Basil Fawlty role in one version, and Tim Curry and a young Steve Carrell playing the Basil and Manuel parts in another. 

13. FAWLTY TOWERS LIVE IS TOURING AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND THIS SUMMER.

Cleese has repeatedly sworn he'll never write new Fawlty Towers episodes without Connie Booth. And since Booth has expressed little interest in returning to the show after nearly four decades, it seems unlikely Fawlty Towers will ever return to TV. But that doesn't mean Cleese has bid a complete farewell to Basil Fawlty. This summer, a theatrical version of the show, adapted for the stage by Cleese, is set to go on tour.

Starring an all new cast, Fawlty Towers Live will make stops in Australia and New Zealand, though there's no word yet on whether the show will visit other countries. When asked why the show was premiering in Australia rather than England, Cleese replied, "The British press doesn't like me very much."

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11 Single Facts About Bridget Jones’s Diary
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While it's not officially a holiday movie, so much of the action in Bridget Jones's Diary happens around the most wonderful time of the year that the rom-com has become essential wintertime viewing for many movie fans. Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of a very single, and hopelessly romantic, working professional named Bridget (Renée Zellweger) who is determined to improve her love life. Enter two strapping gentlemen (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) to vie for her heart. Get to know more about the timeless dramedy that’s been delighting audiences since 2001. Just as it is.

1. THE SOURCE NOVEL CAME ABOUT FROM AN ANONYMOUS COLUMN ABOUT SINGLE LIFE.

In the foreword of Bridget Jones’s Diary, author Helen Fielding wrote about how she came to conjure up the story: “The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.”

2. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON PEOPLE IN HELEN FIELDING’S LIFE.


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These include Jude (Tracey MacLeod) and Shazzer (Sharon Maguire, also the film’s director). In a column for the Evening Standard, MacLeod described how she didn’t even realize she inspired part of her best friend’s story until Fielding’s book launch party. “At the launch party for the first Bridget book, I was cornered by a smug married friend, ‘So ... what's it like being Jude?’ she asked,” MacLeod writes. “I was outraged. Of course I wasn't Jude, with her self-help books and horrible boyfriend. My boyfriend wasn't anything like Vile Richard ... But as more people began to believe that Jude and Shazzer were thinly-veiled portraits of myself and Sharon, I secretly got to like the idea.”

3. TONI COLLETTE DECLINED THE LEAD, AND KATE WINSLET WAS CONSIDERED FOR IT.

Before Zellweger stole the show, Aussie Toni Collette and Brit Kate Winslet were up for the part. According to AMC, “Toni Collette declined the role because she was on Broadway starring in The Wild Party at the time, and Kate Winslet was considered but the producers decided she was too young.”

4. HUGH GRANT ONLY SIGNED ON WHEN RICHARD CURTIS WAS ANNOUNCED AS THE WRITER. 


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“The only reason [I was a hard sell] was because I didn't feel they had the script quite right for a long time,” Firth told Cinema.com. “And I kept saying, ‘It's not working. Just get Richard Curtis to come in and help rewrite it.’ Eventually they did, and as soon as Richard came on board, I signed on the dotted line. So that's all it was.”

5. RENÉE ZELLWEGER GAINED 17 POUNDS FOR THE PART.

Zellweger’s weight gain for the role had the media abuzz for a while. According to The Guardian, “In order to play the eponymous heroine in the film adaptation of Fielding's bestseller, the actress gained 17 pounds, consulting a dietitian and endocrinologist who devised a regime of three full meals a day, multiple snacks, and no exercise.”

6. ZELLWEGER WORKED AT PICADOR FOR THREE WEEKS.

Zellweger went full Method for her iconic role, and became a temporary employee of the Picador publishing house. “We came up with a plan: she would be Bridget Cavendish, Bridget for obvious reasons and Cavendish as she was to be passed off as the sister of Jonathan Cavendish, a friend of one of our company chairmen,” Picador publicist Camilla Elworthy told The Guardian. “That last bit at least is true, and no one was to know that Jonathan Cavendish was one of the film's producers.”

7. ZELLWEGER KEPT A PHOTO OF JIM CARREY ON HER DESK.


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While working at Picador, Zellweger kept a picture of Jim Carrey on her desk—which made her alter ego Bridget Cavendish seem like some sort of obsessed fan. “Under the name Bridget Cavendish, she answered phones, served coffee, and made photocopies—without being recognized by any of her co-workers, who offered career advice and wondered privately why she kept a photo of Jim Carrey (her then-boyfriend) on her desk,” noted Hollywood.com.

8. ZELLWEGER INVITED HER BOSS AT PICADOR TO BE AN EXTRA ON SET.

In Camilla Elworthy’s write-up for The Guardian, she noted how she became a part of the production. “Renée sent me a thank you letter and gift after she'd gone and I have seen her a few times since then," Elworthy wrote. "She invited me on to the film set one day. She informed me that I had to stick around and be an extra and made sure that I was put somewhere that I would be seen ... As a result, half my head can be seen for half a nano-second in the launch party scene.”

9. THE EPIC FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN GRANT AND COLIN FIRTH WASN’T CHOREOGRAPHED.

You can thank the two actors for the hilarity of the iconic scene. In a Vulture article about the greatest fight scenes in movie history, writer Denise Martin recalled the improvised spar, writing, “No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant.”

10. FIELDING ASKED FRIEND SALMAN RUSHDIE TO CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Recalling how he came to be part of the film, famed novelist Salman Rushdie told Texas Monthly, “Helen Fielding, the author of the book, is an old pal of mine, and she asked if I’d come along and make a fool of myself, and I said, ‘Why not?’”

11. GRANT DIDN’T HEAR ZELLWEGER SPEAK IN HER AMERICAN ACCENT UNTIL THE FILM’S WRAP PARTY.

Zellweger was so engrossed with Bridget Jones that one of her leading love interests didn’t meet the real actress until the end of the shoot. “Not once did she stop speaking with that accent, until the wrap party,” Grant told Cinema.com, “when suddenly this weird ... Texan appeared. I wanted to call security, I didn't know who the f*ck she was!”

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10 Fabulous Facts About Absolutely Fabulous
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In the early 1990s, long before it was acceptable for women on TV to act in a juvenile manner, BBC scored a major hit with Absolutely Fabulous, a.k.a. Ab Fab, which featured two British women who behaved badly—chain-smoking and abusing drugs and alcohol. Jennifer Saunders played Edina, a publicist who said “sweetie darling” a lot and raised a mature-for-her-age daughter, Saffy (Julia Sawalha). Edina’s best friend was Patsy (Joanna Lumley), a model-turned-fashion magazine director who donned a beehive hairdo and came out as transgender (and also said “sweetie darling” a lot). She also enjoyed the booze, and asked important questions like, “Who dies in their own vomit these days? Nobody.” Edina’s nameless mother (June Whitfield) and Eddy’s personal assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), also added flavor to the show.

The story began in 1990 when Saunders and Dawn French were a part of sketch TV show French and Saunders. Saunders did an eight-minute skit as Edina and French played Saffy. A few years later, while on hiatus from the show, Saunders jotted down the idea for what would become the pilot for Ab Fab. “At the beginning it was all about Saffy and Edina, because when I first wrote it, Patsy was a sort of add-on character who supported Edina in her awfulness,” Saunders told Out Magazine. “But actually I just love working in a double act.” 

The series originally aired off and on between 1992 and 2003, with a total of eight specials sprinkled between 1996 and 2012 (including a 2012 Summer Olympics special). In 2016, Fox Searchlight distributed Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, written by Saunders. The film revived the debauched antics of the friends and included an opening sequence in which Edina accidently killed Kate Moss. Here are 10 fabulous facts about the series.

1. JENNIFER SAUNDERS BASED THE SHOW'S CHARACTERS ON REAL PEOPLE.

By the time Saunders created the sketch on French and Saunders, designer fashion was becoming more widespread, and she knew a fashion publicist. “I thought, ‘That’s a genius job for a sitcom character,’ so we did her as a sketch,” Saunders told Lena Dunham during an interview with Lenny. “We also had another friend who had an absolutely bonkers mother who was eccentric and wild, and me and Dawn just combined the two.” Patsy was originally a “low-life journalist,” but Lumley’s background as a model helped shaped the character into someone who was more polished.

2. IT DEVELOPED A DEVOTED FOLLOWING IN THE GAY COMMUNITY.


BBC

When discussing the series, Saunders told V Magazine that the reason the show was such a hit with the gay community is because "[gay people] refused to be offended—and I admire them for that. Thank God you’re hanging on in there.” Looking back on the series, Lumley said that all the gay references seemed normal to her. “It’s really normal that one of [Edina’s] ex-husbands now lives with his young boyfriend,” she said. “It’s completely normal that [Edina] wants Saffy to be a lesbian or that Serge [Edina’s long lost son] is gay and living in New York. It’s completely normal that Patsy is transgender.” Lumley also said she thinks Patsy makes a good drag queen, “because Patsy’s quite tall,” she said. “You just want to get your good yellow wig on.”

3. IT PROBABLY WOULDN’T FARE WELL IN TODAY’S CULTURALLY SENSITIVE CLIMATE.

When Vanity Fair asked Saunders if Ab Fab would air today with the same jokes intact, she said: “I think it’s a tricky time for comedy, because people are now so aware of not offending, and everyone is quite precious now about their identity. I don’t think we could make half the jokes we did then.”

In fact, Saunders admitted that she did run into some issues while working on the 2016 feature version of the series. “If you write a movie, you have raft of lawyers telling you who you can offend and who you can’t offend, and who’s going to sue you and who won’t,” she said. “So, it was quite an issue, I have to say.”

4. AMERICA (UNSUCCESSFULLY) TRIED TO ADAPT THE SHOW.

In 2009, James Burrows directed a U.S. version of the show, which was set in L.A. It starred Kathryn Hahn as Edina, Kristen Johnston as Patsy, and Zosia Mamet as Saffy. Fox jettisoned the pilot, and Jon Plowman, executive producer of British Ab Fab, knew why. “The trouble with doing Ab Fab in America is that it will have to end with Edina and Saffy hugging, Patsy giving up drink and drugs, and them all hugging mum,” he said. “It won’t work. It’ll be too nice.”

5. THE SHOW WAS INFLUENCED BY THE BAND BANANARAMA.

Lumley and Saunders were guests on The Graham Norton Show and Lumley said in the ’80s, she and Dawn French used to party with the group. “Bananarama were the hardest drinking girls I’d ever met in the ’80s,” Saunders said. “I never met girls who drunk so hard. They drunk so much vodka. I remember one of them opening a cab door and coming out ass first, and I thought it most brilliant thing I’d ever seen.”  

6. SAUNDERS SAID IT WAS "PAINFUL" TO PORTRAY EDINA.

Edina wears clothing that are two sizes too small because she refuses to wear anything that fits her. “Edina gets to wear some extraordinary costumes but they’re always so painful,” Saunders told Elle. “When I think of Edina, I think of painful shoes and painful clothes.”

7. IT’S A FEMINIST SHOW.

“It’s never been about them finding a relationship, or defining themselves by having to have a man,” Saunders told Vanity Fair. “They live life entirely on their own terms as women, and to be honest, men don’t really affect them much. I mean, occasionally they want sex, but who doesn’t? They’re not defined by normality. They create their own normality.”

8. JULIA SAWALHA’S FAVORITE SCENE TO FILM INVOLVED BOMBAY MIX.

BuzzFeed asked Sawalha, who played Edina’s daughter, what the funniest scene she had to shoot was. She said it was the moment when Edina asked her if she wanted to nibble on some Bombay mix. “It was my most painful scene moment,” she said. “It took about half an hour, because she had to come up behind me and say [puts on accent] ‘Bombay mix.’ And for a week she did it and for a week in rehearsals I couldn’t hold it together, and on the night it had that thing of I know it’s coming, and it just went on and on and on.”

9. A MENTION OF IVANA TRUMP LED TO AN ENCOUNTER WITH DONALD TRUMP.

Twenty years ago, Patsy mentioned Ivana Trump in an episode. As Lumley told Vanity Fair, Trump got wind of it and invited Lumley to a party in London. “He was with Marla Maples then, and first she came and was the sweetest little character: ‘Oh, I think you’re so gorgeous, you look so beautiful,’” Lumley said. “And then the Donald came along, with that Brillo Pad hair stretched across his head, and gave me a very odd look, as if he was sizing up a horse or something. And after examining me, he muttered, ‘Yes, she’s quite good-looking, she’s a bit like Ivana.’”

10. SAUNDERS AND LUMLEY ACCIDENTALLY MADE PATSY AND EDINA RELATABLE.


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In an interview with Lena Dunham, Lumley stated that Edina and Patsy were “really vile and dreadful” people. However, Lumley had fans coming up to her saying the characters reminded them of people they knew. “And some people would queue up to say, ‘My mother and my aunt are just like you and Eddy, and this is a picture of them.’ And you go, ‘Oh, no, how great. Well done, you. But oh my God, we are awful.’ And they went, ‘Oh, yeah, they love it. They go out, they get drunk.’ And you go, ‘Oh my God, we weren’t trying to teach people to get drunk.’”

Lumley further explained they didn’t set out to do that. “I don’t think we had expected that, because we painted them with such broad brushstrokes. We were trying to be high satire.”

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